“It’s a crime against mankind!” my friend Poldi said. “I shall write a letter to Chancellor Merkel.”
Glühwein, the mulled aromatized drink obtained exclusively from red or white wine, flavored mainly with cinnamon and/or cloves, is a staple of German Christmas life and it is going through a crisis. A holy of holies, in its own way, experts have warned the public that they should beware of the poor quality of this year’s harvest. And a bad harvest has led to worse. Overcooking the beverage has helped reduce the alcohol content and flavor in more than one in ten mugs tested at random in Berlin.
Now normally, Glühwein has a bit of a kick to it, certainly more than your average Merlot, which comes in at around 12% alcohol. Just one mug of the hot beverage will normally raise the blood alcohol content of a person who weighs 176 pounds (80 kilograms) to 0.03 percent, according to Berliner Morgenpost. At approximately 24% alcohol, holiday merrymakers are urged to avoid driving, bobsledding or cycling home after enjoying the warm beverage.”
One kind of wink-wink fallacy everyone tells each other in Germany is that heating mulled wine diminishes the alcohol content, prompting most folks to drink it with an added shot of amaretto, kirsch or rum after it reaches a temperature of 78 degrees Celsius (172 degrees Fahrenheit). For this reason, street and market stall vendors only heat Glühwein to about 70 degrees Celsius.
Myths and street lore aside, though, Glühwein has less alcohol because it’s being watered down. Who exactly is doing this a matter of much speculation. Test samples taken in 2012 by officials at different Berlin Christmas markets showed that some 11.5 percent were of questionable quality, the daily Der Tagesspiegel reported on Monday, December 9, 2013. The biggest problems? Too little alcohol and an overcooked flavor.
Peter Scheib, a wine regulator for a number of Berlin districts recommended that customers check the color of their Glühwein to make sure it remains a pleasant dark-red hue. Should it take on a urine-like brownish tint, the wine has likely already oxidized after cooking too long. If so, he recommends returning it to your vendor. He also recommended customers ask vendors whether they are selling ready-made Glühwein or some kind of homemade mixture. Glühwein is not cheap, at US$4.80(€3.50) a mug, a high price is only justifiable for the homemade version because you can purchase an entire liter of ready-made mulled wine for as little as €1 at the supermarket.
Naturally, as much as it gets the German public’s nose out of joint, such quality discrepancies are a slap in the face of European Commission regulations for Glühwein, which has concrete rules stating the alcohol content must fall between 17 and 24.5 percent. Diluting the beverage with water is strictly forbidden, and failure to maintain these standards comes at the risk of fines of up to €1,000. Tradition in Germany has seen Glühwein survive both National Socialism and Communism because blood may be thicker than water, but good booze overrules all.
“This country is going to the dogs,” my pal Poldi says, echoing what both my father and my wife have been saying about England and the U.S. for years. “It’s those bastards in Brussels.”
“”It’s becoming a watered-down world,” I reply.
Exactly who is the perpetrator of this perfidious deed is becoming food for speculation on the part of one and all. Is it a kind of conspiracy perpetuated by one vile enemy of the public good, or a pluralistic conspiracy from some group out to take the joy out of Christmas?