Beer Culture

Stories about great beer from the countries that invented it.

Mulled Beer in Central Europe and the Czech Lands

Given the frigid winters of central Europe and the region’s longstanding love for a hot mug of mulled wine, you might expect mulled beer to be more popular. And yet the drink probably best known by its German name, Glühbier — like the more common mulled wine, Glühwein — seems to remain largely unloved by beer lovers just about everywhere, including here in central Europe’s brewing heartland.

In part because of its pin-up marketing, it’s hard to take the new, pre-mixed, orange-flavored Glübi mulled beer from just over the border in Saxony very seriously, despite its claim as “the ultimate alternative to classic mulled wine.” And in the Czech Republic, the new “winter radlers” recently announced by Heineken’s Zlatopramen brand are being met with derision — called “beer in the microwave” at  — by traditionalists.

But mulled beer — generally meaning warmed and spiced, and often sweetened — has a healthy tradition of its own. Andrew Smith’s Drinking History notes that several warm beer drinks were served in the early American colonies, including the “hotch pot,” a mix of rum and warm beer, which became a “manatham” when sweetened with sugar, and a “tiff” if pieces of buttered toast were added to it. Martyn Cornell, as ever, has a great article about wassail and other mulled ales in British beer culture.

And while many in the Czech lands might consider warm beer to be nothing more than a gimmick, and a newfangled one at that, there is a clear history of mulled beer here, too, though it seems to have been largely forgotten.

Obscure as it may be today, mulled beer makes several appearances in the literature of the region. In Anton Langer’s 1871 historical novel Kaiserssohn und Baderstochter, written in German but set in Renaissance-era Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II offers his equerry “Glühbier, cooked with ginger and cinnamon” on a particularly frigid night, noting that the drink “warms and guards against fever.”

Recipes for mulled beer are also found in several historic Czech cookbooks. Karolina Vávrová’s classic Pražská Kuchařka (or “Prague Cookbook”) of 1873 includes instructions for teplé pivo, or warm beer:

Boil three “žejdlíky” of beer [about 1.5 liters total] and eight “loty” [about 130 grams] of white sugar, with a piece of lemon peel well cut out and a piece of cinnamon, whisk in four or five egg yolks with a bit of cream, pour the boiled beer into it, stirring constantly, then strain through a fine sieve, make it foam a little, and pour into glasses.

In 1873, this recipe would have almost certainly been based on pale lager, though I find that dark lagers work much better for mulling, due to their lower levels of bitterness and frequent gingery, spicy notes.

Other versions of mulled beer are based around wheat beers, like this recipe for horké pivo, or hot beer, from the 1894 edition of the Kuchařská Škola (“Cooking School”), a doorstop culinary textbook by Marie B. Svobodová:

Heat 1 liter wheat beer, piece of cinnamon, lemon peel and 125 grams of sugar to the point of boiling (do not boil). Meanwhile whisk a cup of cream, a small glass of rum, 2–3 egg yolks and whip with the beer over heat until it foams. Serve in the morning during hunts to warm up, or even otherwise, if the weather is damp and cold.

While many would imagine nineteenth-century Bohemia to be an isolated, far-off place, note that that Ms. Svobodová was cosmopolitan enough to identify this drink as a “flip,” using the English word for mulled ale. (Not coincidentally, Ms. Svobodová’s cookbook is a favorite of Oldřich Sahajdák, the Michelin-starred chef of classic Czech cuisine in Prague, who has praised a similar worldliness throughout her writing.)

Also worth noting: Ms. Svobodová is referring to wheat beer as bilé pivo, literally meaning “white” beer. With less bitterness even than dark lagers — and far less than most pale lagers — a modern mulled wheat like Primátor’s Weizenbier might make for a very pleasant winter warm-up indeed.

As for the other examples, I have my doubts — Heineken’s current take on pre-loaded mulled beer seems unlikely to win over many Czech fans, though it might make some beer lovers curious enough to look up the drink’s local history. Another option is the special event at Pivovarský Klub this coming Tuesday, November 13, at 6 p.m., which will focus on tasting a number of mulled beers or other warm drinks made with beer or wort.

Stay warm and enjoy. Just don’t call them “new.”

Mulled Beer Tasting
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
6 p.m.
Pivovarský Klub
Křižíkova 17°
Praha 8–Karlín
Tel: 222 315 777


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  1. Evan,

    This sounds great and it’s a shame I won’t be there, I look back fondly on our visit to Klub. On another note, I found a 1938 Nat. Geo. article, “Czechoslovaks, Yankees of Europe” in which people are drinking pivo from their steins with a metal candle-like object in them. Boiling water was placed in the metal, before it was placed in the beer. Is this still happening in Prague?

  2. Evan Rail

    Hey Mike, wish you could be there — it would be great to catch up over a cold (or warm) one. The thing you mentioned is called an ohříváček; they’re still around, but pretty rare. I’ve actually got one on my desk, but mostly as a paperweight.

  3. This is a 100% honest question:

    “In 1873, this recipe would have almost certainly been based on pale lager.”

    Is there any evidence anywhere that pale lagers were the most popular back then? Sometimes I am not so sure, I’ve seen photos from the turn of the century of blokes at pubs or beer gardens, most of whom are holding what is clearly a darker beer. On the other hand, at the beginning of Švejk, the good soldier orders a dark beer making clear that it is for a special occasion, implying that he was a pale lager drinker (though we are speaking about 40 years later).

    I wish there were some figures of the sales of the early lagers. Given the relatively wide range some breweries were making, one tempted to assume that the market was a bit more diversified style-wise than it is now (or was until a few years ago).

  4. Evan Rail

    Max, yes — there is some evidence that pale beers were much more common at this time. In the “Nový Poupě” brewing manual of 1880, there’s a passage that asks about the correct color of Czech beer. “Pale,” is the answer, mentioning a few variations on gold. The next question asks where dark beers are found. “In Bavaria.” There’s no talk of dark lagers in the text, and an insistence on pale or gold as the color of Bohemian beer. This is the definitive Czech brewing text of its day, published just seven years after the cookbook.

    It’s more common to find references to dark lagers in Bohemia around the turn of the century, but as you note, that’s much later than the period we’re talking about: Švejk starts more than 41 years after the appearance of this recipe (and was written even later than that). A lot can change in 41 years. Just 31 years earlier, there weren’t any pale lagers anywhere.

  5. seth

    Hi Evan. I work for We love your site and wondered if we can speak to you about some writing and posting ideas? Please email me if so. Thanks!

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