Friday, December 18, 2009


Today's post has nothing at all to do with fashion, unless you count the subject's ability to stain your clothing. It does have to do with booze and lighting things on fire though, which may perhaps interest you. This post is about a little-known (in the US, anyway) German beverage called Feuerzangenbowle. And today I'm going to tell you how to make it, because it's a drink that's just perfect for this time of year. I'll start by describing the whole process and then I'll give the list of ingredients and quantities at the end.

Feuerzangenbowle is sort of like a mulled red wine, and starts out pretty much the same way, with red wine being steeped with spices and citrus fruit. But because of the way it's prepared, this drink is well-suited for a large party with friends, firstly because of the large quantity that the recipe makes, and secondly because the fire is pretty damn impressive. What's shown in the photo above is the final preparation step, which involves soaking a dense cone of sugar, called a Zuckerhut, in Bacardi 151 and lighting it on fire over the heated wine mixture. The idea is to carmelize and melt the suger, which drips into the wine through a long slot in the bottom of that metal tray.

My love of Feuerzangenbowle started years and years ago when a friend introduced me to it after spending some time doing an intership in Stuttgart, Germany. I used to have one of the metal trays, called the feuerzangen, but lost it to my ex; for years I've looked for a replacement, and finally found an entire set, which is sort of like a fondue set with an alcohol burner underneath. I special ordered it from Germany with the help of the delightful Erika at German Specialty Imports in Prior Lake, MN, and last weekend I gave it its first trial run. You really don't need a lot of fancy equipment to make this drink, but you've gotta love that gorgeous German engineering, which I assure you is a vision in all its gleaming stainless steel glory. If you can't get your hands on a proper feuerzangen, you can try using a large, slotted metal spoon or something similar. It's fairly important to rig up a system that you won't have to hold onto though, because the sugar takes a good 15 minutes to burn, and then of course there's the little matter of it being on fire.

Besides the feuerzangen (or your reasonably MacGyver'd-up substitute), the other unique thing you'll need for this recipe is a Zuckerhut, which can be found at German delis or import stores. Alternately, you can use a whole pile of sugarcubes, about 250 grams' worth of 'em, to be precise. Having made it both ways, I can tell you that although the sugar cubes work just fine, the zuckerhut is a lot easier to work with.

To get started, you'll first need to steep the spices (cinnamon, cloves, and optionally cardamom) and the citrus (oranges and lemons, both the juice and part of the peels), with the wine (choose a dry red wine). To do this you can either mix everything together and leave it in the fridge overnight, or alternately you can heat the mixture until the wine is steaming (not boiling!), and let it steep for 15 minutes or so. For my test run I tried the second method, and it worked great.

Once the wine mixture is ready, it's time to prepare the sugar and rum. When using a zuckerhut, I like to place it in a small container, pour Bacardi 151 over it until no more absorbs, and then let it soak for several minutes, because I find that more of the rum soaks in and the sugar will burn longer without additional maintenance (which I'll discuss shortly). If you're using sugarcubes you can still use this approach, just don't let them soak long enough that the sugar dissolves.

Now, remove all the spices and peels from the wine, and heat the wine in a metal pot it until it's steaming. Position the feuerzangen above the pot of wine, place the rum-soaked sugar in the feuerzangen, stand back, and light it. The sugar makes a beautiful blue flame as it burns (it's even prettier with the lights off), and the dripping caramelized sugar makes a satisfying sizzling sound as it hits the wine.

As the sugar burns down, two things can eventually happen: the flame can go out, or the sugar can start to burn and blacken. To prevent this, you will need to periodically douse the sugar with more rum. This is where the real pyrotechnics get going, because when you add more rum, the flame will shoot up about a foot and a half or more. Obviously, it's important to have a steady hand and nerves of steel. It's also EXTREMELY important not to pour the rum directly from the bottle. Have you ever heard of a Molotov Cocktail? Well, I'm almost 100% sure you don't want one to go off in your house, and putting an open flame near the mouth of a bottle of high proof liquor is, in essence, the same thing.

Instead, pour a small amount, maybe 2-3 tablespoons, of liquor into a metal ladle or large spoon, and carefully but quickly and smoothly pour it over the sugar. You'll need to brace yourself for the flame, but don't chicken out! -- just pour it right over the sugar, pull the spoon back slowly, and if necessary, blow out the now flaming spoon. Easy! If it's your first time making it, and depending on how adept you are with handling fire, having someone else standing by with a fire extinguisher might not be a bad idea. It's also a good idea to make sure you don't have a lot of loose clothing on that could get in the way of the flame.

Once the sugar is all melted, the feuerzangenbowle is ready to serve. I like to use regular old coffee mugs, since the drink will be piping hot. My favorite part is the initial sensation as you raise the mug to your lips; you're hit with a strong citrus smell, and the fumes from the steaming hot, residual Bacardi sort of sting your nose as you take a sip. The sugar and spices nicely balance the dry wine, the drink being far less sweet than you might imagine, given the amount of sugar that goes into it.

With my recent test batch I was also pleasantly surprised to find that the feuerzangenbowle will keep for several days in the fridge, if for some reason you find yourself unable to consume 3 liters of alcohol in a single evening. I've never tried scaling the recipe down, as I've usually only made it for a group, though I found this photo on the left that suggests there are also single serving approaches. That doesn't sound nearly as fun though, or as delightfully dangerous. 

Feuerzangenbowle Recipe:
2 cinnamon sticks
7-8 cloves
2-3 cardamom pods
3 oranges (juice and a large slice of peel)
2 lemons (juice and a large slice of peel)
3 Liters dry red wine
2-3 cups Bacardi 151
1 zuckerhut, or 250g sugarcubes

large metal pan
long-handled metal spoon or ladle


Alison said...

That is so cool! I'd love to try it someday. Sounds yummy!

jennine said...

oh wow! i've noticed germans really like anything that entails lighting something on fire.
(it was nice to meet you today!)

Goldelse said...

hi Audi, I've been following your amazing blog for a while and I love it. As a German, your post about Feuerzangenbowle has inspired me to leave my first post. I am based in Berlin, the town where anything goes (in terms of fashion). Unfortunately, my company's dress code and my position don't allow me to express myself the way I would like to. But with scarves and bold jewellery I manage to keep my work outfits fun. I have always been a huge fan of hats, and your blog has inspired me to add (more) belts to my wardrobe. Keep going, you have a lot of fans!

SK said...

Audi, as a German living in California I have a craving for Feuerzangenbowle this time of the year! Reading your post was a little bit like having one ;-)) Thank you!

kristophine said...

That sounds delightful!

Sheila said...

Wow, I love the whole ritual of this (I like absinthe for the same reason)! What fun! I'd never heard of this until now.

Anonymous said...

I was especially delighted to see the picture from the movie "Die Feuerzangenbowle" in the background of one of your pictures. In Germany, at every university that movie is shown in their biggest lecture theater several times before Christmas, and it's always completely crowded with students who know that movie by heart. Actually, you never hear a single word of the movie, because everybody is reciting it so loudly. I'm not sure whether a dubbed version exists, but I do recommend to watch it for the authentic experience - preferably while having a Feuerzangenbowle :-)

violetville said...

YUM. I love hot drinks! I spent Christmas a few years ago stumbling through Prague, where there were street vendors everywhere selling mulled wine and mead. This reminds me of so many great memories!

Starling said...

And here I was expecting more exciting fashion, what a surprise to see my favorite winter beverage instead! We did this (too much maybe) in college and had fun improvising. I'd like to note that using a metal mesh strainer can work in a pinch to hold the sugar but it probably wouldn't be too expensive to get a shallow pan and drill holes in the bottom either, that way your rum won't leak out too quickly! The strainer approach does drop a lot more unburned rum into the bowl, not always a good thing...

Excellent post!

Audi said...

How great to see some fellow feuerzangenbowle lovers drooping in!

Anonymous: Your comment makes me want to scour the city and find a copy of the movie. Hopefully I can find one with subtitles!

Melissa: Great tips! I actually love the residual rum in there because of the way it stings your nose, but it does make the drink far more potent!

Anonymous said...

Oh I wish you had been at our Norwegian glogg party last night--same concept! But without the drama of the fire! K

Unknown said...

Since I am not a fan of Barcardi (an unfortunately remembered episode in my youth) I used Meyers rum. It is not overproof, so to get it to burn, you need to warm it up a bit - I just zapped it in microwave for a minute for one cup, which was enough for one 2L batch and one Zuckerhut.

German Specialty Imports said...

I carry all the accessories you would need for the Feuerzangenbowle in my store
Please contact me at: , 952-226-2563 erika@germanspecialtyimport

Best regards,