Grzane piwo is a warm beer-based drink flavoured with honey, lemon and spices. Mulled beer, basically. It is commonly served during the winter as an alternative to the more common way of serving beer: ice cold. Winters in Poland can get pretty rigid, with temperatures dropping as low as -30°C on the coldest days of the year. On such days a cold beer is not always the best of options. Luckily you don’t need to give up your favourite drink only because of the temperature. You can make grzane piwo.
Grzane piwo literally translates as hot beer. It’s not just beer that has been warmed up alone, as it always includes some other ingredients. So the more correct translation is actually mulled beer. It can also go by another name, grzaniec. This word is a bit more broad because it means mulled alcoholic drink at large, and may as well refer to mulled wine, commonly known as grzaniec galicyjski. Since to me grzaniec means mulled wine, when I mean the beer I prefer to use the name grzane piwo. That’s just my preference, though.
Last year I got nostalgic for Christmas at home and free mulled wine offered at the end of midnight mass in front of the church. This year I’m nostalgic for Christmas in Poland. As a kid with a double nationality I always struggle placing home in the right spot on the map. Most of the times “back home” is Italy, but it’s not always there. Poland holds a big slice of my heart and my perception of home. Now home is Sweden. It’s a big mess. Although with my family we have a tradition of going for a cup of grzaniec galicyjski after the Christmas service in church, my winter-time drink in Poland is grzane piwo, mulled beer.
Mulled beer recipe
- 200 ml pale lager beer
- 2 tbsp water
- 3 tbsp honey
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- 8 cloves
- 1 lemon slice
In a small saucepan combine 2 tbsp of water and 2 tbsp of beer. Add the cinnamon stick, the cloves and the honey and bring to a boil. Stir to dissolve the honey and keep simmering in order to extract the flavour of the spices. The beer will froth as it boils, so remove it from the heat from time to time to check the level as it reduces. When about half of it has reduced, lower the heat and pour the rest of the beer into the saucepan. At this point also add the lemon slice. Keep on low heat until it has warmed up, but take it away before it boils. Strain the spices and serve warm. Optionally, you can reuse the lemon slice and cloves as decoration.
You want to make sure that some of the alcohol in the beer stays and it doesn’t all evaporate away, so this is why you take it away before it reaches boiling temperature. This is why at the beginning only a small amount of beer is used together with water to ectract the flavour of the spices. This recipe yields one portion and can be easily doubled.
In order to stick with the original recipe, you want to be using Polish beer. Actually most pubs in Poland use the most widespread “commercial” Polish beers on the market, namely Żywiec and Okocim. Any pale lager will do, really. In this recipe I used a local beer, of the most common beers produced in Sweden: Mariestads.
Mulled beer may be uncommon outside of Poland, but there is something about it that makes it quite dear to me. After all, nothing can make a winter day merrier than a hot drink and a handful of spices.