In America, there's no place like home for the holidays. But all across Europe, the early months of winter bring locals out of their houses and into the streets to shop and stroll and taste seasonal treats at the holiday markets. In Prague, pork browns on a spit roast; in Copenhagen, Danes eat jam-filled ebelskiver doughnuts; and in Germany, they drink.
Nowhere are the libations as numerous — or as strong — as at a German Christkindlmarkt. Indeed, asking if Germany is the capital of winter drinking is like asking if cinnamon and clove are crucial to the winter months; or if bad wine is made better when it's mulled on the stove; or if you should you add alcohol to delicious lattes you're already drinking. The answer is clear: Ja, ja, a million times ja!
But you don't need to travel all the way to Europe to feel extra festive this holiday season. Take a cue from the Christkindlmarkts and enjoy Germany in a mug. Here's how.
1. Add a little alcohol to everything.
Hit the Christkindlmarkt at Marienplatz in Munich or Winter Welt at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, and you'll notice a theme: Anything that goes in a cup can (and will) be spiked with anything that goes in a shot glass.
Hot chocolate, for instance, comes with whisky, rum, Baileys, and egg liqueur, while black tea gets a kick with a shot of Jägermeister (and maybe a little brandy or wine—no one's judging). Even already-alcoholic beverages are kicked up a notch with a little something-something, like mulled wine with added amaretto or rum.
Is it overkill? Maybe. Does it get you in the holiday spirit? Unless you're a total Scrooge, absolutely.
2. Mull it over.
Hardly anything is more ubiquitous at a Christkindlmarkt than Glühwein. Like sangria, German's take on mulled wine runs the gamut from dry to sweet and red to white. At the markets, though, you'll most encounter a dessert-y version made with inexpensive red stuff.
And those who take their mulled wine with a side of pyrotechnics will also do well in Germany. To make the Feuerzangenbowle, a rum-soaked sugar cube perched over a bowl of mulled wine gets set on fire, creating a sort of caramel that drips into the hot beverage.
Tip: If you're more of a nutmeggy-eggnog type, give Eierpunsch a try. A cousin of the nog you're used to, it's fattened up with plenty of egg yolks but also features white wine and, on occasion, citrus juice. That may seem strange to an American palate, but have a warm mug with healthy dollop of whipped cream, and you may be a convert.
3. Redefine wein.
German beer gets plenty of attention, but the country's array of fruit wines, made from fruits like blueberries and cherries rather than grapes, remains a well-kept secret to many foreigners. In Werder, Germany, the Baumblütenfest draws visitors from all over the world to sample wines and other fermented drinks made from berries, stone fruits, rhubarb, and many other fruits. (They also crown a Fruit Wine Queen every year.)
Back at the Christkindlmarkt, fruit wines are often used to make mulled cider and punch, served warm. The guys in Sideways might turn up their noses at these unconventional spiced wines, but not you. As an omnivorous oenophile, you can appreciate the way the sweet, fruity concoctions warm your hands and your heart.
Bonus for teetotalers: Apfelwein, the German equivalent of cider, needn't even contain alcohol.
What winter beverages are your favorites to help ring in the holidays? Tell us in the comments!