There is nothing that warms the soul around the holidays more than family traditions, especially if those family traditions involve grain alcohol and small explosions. My father’s side of the family is mostly Swedish and during the holiday season they had several traditions. They would always get together and make Swedish potato sausage, my grandmother would bake cookies, and, of course, there was always a little lutefisk. One of the traditions that intrigued me the most was Glug, this strange drink that only the adults could have. Whenever a bottle of Glug was brought out, it instantly became the center of the conversation. The recipe had apparently been passed down through the generations, and there were always stories about how it was made and rumors of relatives who had accidents while making it. Whenever Glug was brought out, everyone enjoyed it and was excited to have some, unlike the lutefisk.
From what I have been able to find out, Glug, also called Glogg, Grog, and Gloog, is a mulled liquor of sorts. Most cultures have a version of it, and while the basic preparation of each is very similar, each one is unique in the spices and liquor it uses as ingredients. There are versions that use red wine and there are versions that use whiskey, and some recipes I have read use combinations of alcohols, like rum and port. There are even non-alcoholic versions. The one thing they all seem to have in common is that they use cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves to help flavor the alcohol. Many versions also use almonds and orange peels, and some use raisins and currants. The great thing about Glug is that you can change the recipe to fit your tastes.
My family’s version is a little higher octane than others because we use 190 proof everclear as our base alcohol and then add the spices to that. When I was growing up, my uncle Gregg was the only one in the family who made the Glug for all of our big family get togethers. For many years I asked Gregg to show me how to make Glug, but he kept telling me that I would have to wait. Many years passed, and when I returned from my time in the Navy, Gregg finally agreed to show me how to make Glug.
The process is very simple but does require some attention. You mix the alcohol with distilled water, sugar, and the spices you choose, then heat the mixture to just about a full boil, at which point you remove it from the heat and light it on fire. If done correctly you can get a small 6-8 foot mushroom shaped blue flame to shoot up from the pot. If done incorrectly, or if you don't pay close enough attention, the mixture will ignite itself and then you have trouble.
After the mixture has burned off for about five seconds, the flame is put out and the mixture is allowed to cool before bottling. Gregg always used to tell me that the longer the Glug sits in the bottle, the better it will get. When we bottle the Glug we always add a cinnamon stick and a few almonds to the bottle so that the flavors can continue to blend. An added bonus to letting the bottles sit is that with time Glug will change colors from a light amber color to a dark mahogany. It also becomes sweeter and the cinnamon flavor intensifies.
When Gregg first showed me how to make Glug he told me that I should keep the recipe secret and not give it out to anybody. For many years I did exactly as he had asked, and then in 2005 Gregg was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury. That got me thinking about the secret recipe, and why we should keep it secret. So many people I know enjoy the Glug and have asked, and in some cases begged for the recipe, so I decided that our family recipe didn't need to be kept a secret. The way I see it, Glug should be shared with people I love and enjoyed by all. That is when I decided to start having a yearly Glug party. I invite people over and we spend a day eating good food and making Glug. Everybody brings an empty bottle so they can take home some Glug. When I first shared the recipe with my friends, they started hosting their own parties and making each batch of Glug their own way.
Over the years, I have tried Glug in every way I could think of, I have used it in deserts and made ice cream with it. I add a shot of glug to my eggnog and use it in place of rum in my hot buttered rum; it also goes perfectly with apple cider. I think my favorite thing to do with Glug, other than drink it, is to whip it in to heavy cream and fill Krumkake with it like a Scandinavian cannoli. Everybody that I have introduced Glug to has enjoyed it and I have enjoyed making it and sharing it with others.
It is important to remember two tips if you decide to make a batch of Glug yourself. First, you don't have to follow my recipe; you can change it in any way you would like to fit your tastes. Second, don't walk away from your Glug while you are making it. As the steam builds up inside the pot it will condense on the edge and run down your pot and if that happens the lid will blow off your pot and you will have a small fire to contend with. The last thing I will say about Glug is to always make it with somebody, not just for safety, but because it should be something that is shared and enjoyed with the people you love. Believe me, when you share this with people, they will love you.
Glug (otherwise known as Glog, Grog, and Gloog)
Makes about 2 liters of Glug
1 750ml bottle of 190 proof everclear
1075 ml distilled water
2 cups sugar (I prefer Crystal sugar made from beets)
4 cinnamon sticks
18 cardamom seeds
15 raw almonds
- Combine the alcohol, water, and sugar and stir until completely dissolved.
- Add the remaining spices and heat covered over medium heat until the mixture just comes to a boil.
- Remove from the heat and ignite, burn for 5 seconds, then let the mixture cool.
- Pour into bottles and add 1 cinnamon stick and a few almonds to each bottle. Let bottles sit for as long as you can take it. (The flavor will develop over time.)
Jamie Carlson lives in Burnsville, MN with his wife, Amanda, and their two kids Eleanor and Charlie. He works as an Rn at the Minneapolis VA hospital. He enjoys hunting, fishing, foraging, and, of course, cooking. He believes that all food can be tasty if it is prepared with care, and he writes about his adventures cooking everything from Pickled Venison Heart to Roasted Dove on his food blog, You Have to Cook it Right. Follow him at @youcookitright. His last post for SGT was Hunting for Dinner: Mom Bags Her First Deer.