The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

How to Kick it Old World This Christmas

By Roger Kamholz in Food on Dec 20, 2010 7:00PM

Our inbox has been constantly bombarded with holiday cocktail recipes lately. Many of them promise festive merriment in a glass. Some deliver. Others just suck. And one - let's just say its title included the word "razzleberry" - finally put us over the edge. We suddenly felt the urge to return to a simpler, purer style of imbibing this holiday season. With the help of Yolanda Luszcz, co-owner of Gene's Sausage Shop & Delicatessen, we scouted out some classic beverages that our Old World counterparts uncork during the holidays. (Gene's works with more than 100 distributors to source its products. It shows.) We cherish obscurity, so these off-beat spirits and wines are just the kind of thing we want to show up with at our next holiday gathering.

A suitable entrée into Old World drinking tradition is mulled wine. It's essentially wine blended with a mix of spices. Germany's contribution to the canon is Glühwein. Available in red and white varieties, Glühwein is typically drunk hot. Just warm it in a saucepan and toss in a cinnamon stick to help bring out its fruity, spicy undertones. Swedish Glögg is another example of mulled wine, although it's usually sold as a non-alcoholic mixer to which you add conventional wine.

If you dig hot drinks, Gene's also carries Freihof Jagertee. This Austrian import is a kind of spiced rum that is traditionally paired with hot water or tea. "The flavor is brandy-ish," Luszcz says. "People go crazy for this stuff when we do tastings." Our internet research yielded other interesting descriptors: "caramelized bacon," "mineral ore," "strange." Luszcz has heard folks claim Jagertee has medicinal properties: it can supposedly ward off colds. Similarly, the centuries-old Polish honey liqueur Krupnik is served hot during the winter months. Made from herbs and wild-bee honey, Krupnik can be intensely sweet, floral and spicy.

Too tame? From the Balkans and Czech Republic we get the plum brandy Slivovitz. Approach this one with caution. Typically in excess of 100 proof, Slivovitz probably could power a Yugo in a pinch. It's fiery yet deeply flavorful. And no Scandinavian Christmas is complete without Aquavit - a potent, vodka-like spirit commonly flavored with caraway (think rye bread). "We have a lot of requests for this over the holidays," Luszcz says. "It's primarily drunk with marinated herring. They drink it straight, ice-cold." Gleeful singing usually comes next. Now that's our kind of holiday.

Gene's Sausage Shop & Delicatessen operates two locations, at 4750 North Lincoln Avenue and 5330 West Belmont Avenue.