Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Mulling Over the Holiday Tradition of Mulled Wine

Winter makes us want to hibernate; to sit by a roaring fire filled with comfort food, and sip something warm, maybe even spirited. That’s why mulled wines are a natural go-to for the holidays, and those cold winter days ahead.

Mulling Spices
“Mulled” means to heat and spice. A mulled wine is usually created using a red wine, Syrah or Zinfandel are good choices, as is a Port or claret. Then select spices, like cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, anise, cardamom, citrus, even vanilla, along with sugar or honey for additional sweetening. Fruits such as raisins, apples, and figs, even cranberries can be added along with vodka, rum, sherry or brandy for an added kick. Top it off with a cinnamon stick for stirring, and you have a mulled wine.

Early Rome
So where did we get this inclination to heat up a wine? It goes back to the First Century in Rome. It was the early Romans who spiced wines and heated them up. It was thought to be a way to save wine that was spoiling.

The Greeks claim that Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, invented mulled wine and called it Ypocras. It was to be used as a medicinal tonic. Either way, word spread of the wonderfully warming concoction and soon other countries were creating their own versions.

In Germany and Austria it is known as Glühwein, which loosely translates into “glow wine.” The wine was named because of the hot irons pulled from the fire and placed in the wine to mull it. The recipe has been basically the same since the 1400’s; the wine is made by taking a red wine, adding cinnamon, sugar, cloves, star aniseed, citrus and sometimes, vanilla, then heated, or “mulled” together. Glühwein has become an essential beverage of the German Christmas season.

The Nordic countries call it gløgg and usually serve it with ginger snaps, rice pudding, or lussekattre (a sweet saffron bun.) There are alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions available for purchase at stores and holiday markets.

Making Glogg
But most still prefer to make their own gløgg, using red wine, sugar, and a variety of spices including ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and bitter orange. Other spirits may also be added such as vodka or brandy.

The British embraced mulled wine after Charles Dickens touted it as the traditional holiday drink in A Christmas Carol. In Victorian England Negus was a take on mulled wine using Port, spices, sugar, and water. Negus was extremely popular, and was even served to children at special celebrations.

Mulled Crockpot Wine
In the U.S. mulled wine is also a holiday favorite. We tend to mix the ingredients together, place everything in a crockpot turned on low, and let it simmer. That way a mulled glass of wine is always ready, whether you’ve been shoveling snow, decorating the Christmas tree, or addressing holiday cards – cause you never know when that urge to hibernate and stare into a fire will overtake you at this time of year - and you should always be prepared.

Cheers! And Happy Holidays!

~ Joy

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Have a Holly, Jolly, (Felony) Holiday if You Ship Wine

At this time of year spreading holiday cheer is almost required – unless it’s cheer of the bottled variety. But what about sending a nice bottle of homemade watermelon wine to Aunt Sarah? Sorry, that’s illegal. No matter how you try to ship it.

Thanks to a Prohibition-era law, an individual cannot send a bottle of wine to family, friends, or business contacts. Why? Because of a 1909 law that lists a postal ban on delivering "spirituous, vinous, malted, fermented or other intoxicating liquors."

Currently, the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) cannot accept any alcohol in the mail. That leaves only private shipping companies like UPS and Fed Ex. Unfortunately, you must have an alcohol license to ship wine - in other words, be an alcohol business. No license – no shipping!

FedEx has a company policy that “only accepts shipments of wine from licensed shippers that have executed a FedEx Alcohol Shipping Agreement with FedEx.”

The same type of policy applies to Brown. UPS “only accepts packages containing wine from shippers who are licensed under applicable law and who have signed and entered into a contract with UPS for the transportation of wine.”

Shipping Advocate

Sen. Charles Schumer
But U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York is proposing an end to the restrictions on shipping wine, beer and spirits. Schumer says the law is outdated and no longer needed.

By ending this law, several businesses would profit including the US Postal Service, which could then ship alcohol for individuals and businesses. This would level the playing field for all shippers in the country. In Schumer’s state of New York alone that means jobs for almost 12,100 postal workers.

The current law also limits the growth opportunities of small wineries, breweries, cideries, and distilleries throughout the country. Doing away with it would help boost sales in these micro businesses, especially during the holidays, which can equate into more jobs for winery workers, tasting room and wine club personal, and shipping departments.

And before the anti-postal shipping crusaders step upon that soapbox - Regulations would remain in place to prevent minors from gaining access to alcohol that was shipped.

But, instead of alcohol businesses having to ship through a private carrier at whatever prices they deem collectable, a flat-rate shipping option would be offered across the country, and that would mean lower shipping prices across the board. The flat rate pricing system would be more of a “what the market will bear” and not “what we can force them to pay” situation.

Will It Go Round in a Circle?

Although it is an idea whose time has been long in coming, it will be interesting to see if the bill makes it to the floor for a vote. While many Senators have states that would benefit (think California, Washington, Oregon, New York, and Texas) from a law change, there are big businesses that would not, with Fed Ex and UPS being just the tip of the shipping hierarchy.

The change in law could help save the USPS, which in 2012 lost $16 billion and defaulted twice on payments to the government that were to be used to pre-fund retiree health care benefits. A flat rate for alcohol shipping could provide an estimated increase of $225 million in annual revenue for the USPS.

Congress is expected to take a look at Schumer’s postal reform bill soon, and sources say changes could come sometime in 2014. Let’s hope this time next year, we can send a bottle to a friend, then pop a cork and celebrate the new era of alcohol shipping in the U.S.

~ Joy

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Celebrate Repeal Day - 80 Years After the End of Prohibition
Tomorrow, December 5, 1933, is Repeal Day, the date on which Prohibition was revoked by the 21st Amendment. The “Noble Experiment” had lasted 13 years.

The Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution was enacted on January 16, 1920. This amendment prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes.”  Many groups including the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Salon League, the Ku Klux Klan, and various Protestant religions expected to see a dramatic decrease, if not an end to crime and domestic violence, mental unstableness, and poverty. They felt that alcohol was the source of wanton behavior in the country, and was also responsible for the decline in public health and the advent of loose morals.

But it was soon apparent the experiment was failing.

It didn’t take long for citizens around the country to realize that instead of reducing problems, Prohibition was creating more. Organized crime grew and thrived on the profits made from bootlegging liquor, taking in over 3-billions dollars a year in untaxed income.

Crime syndicates created a black market where illegal alcohol could be bought and sold. Speakeasies became popular and bootleggers souped up their transport vehicles in order to outrun the revenuers.

Cops During Prohibition
Statistics showed that instead of reducing crime, Prohibition added to it. Crimes increased by 24% in thirty major U.S. cities from 1920 to 1921. Assaults and battery intensified across the country, a 44% increase in drug addiction was reported, and homicides were up almost 13%.

Destroying Alcohol
And the effects on the alcohol industry were devastating. Thousands of jobs in the industry disappeared overnight. The budding wine industry was ruined. Vineyards were destroyed, family wineries closed, and many winemakers left the U.S. after the country turned hostile to the alcohol industry.

Busting Barrels
Over half of the breweries that closed never reopened.

The Crash
When the stock market crashed in 1929 the country began to take a more earnest look at life. People needed jobs and the government needed cash. By reconsidering the 18th Amendment, jobs would be created for thousands and sales tax revenue from the sale of alcohol would begin to stream through the government, aiding a desperate country, instead of making gangsters richer.

Anti-Prohibition Poster
By the early 1930’s there was an anti-Prohibition movement spreading throughout the U.S. Americans just wanted to get on with life. Many felt that the consumption of alcohol should be regarded as a personal, local or state issue and not something governed by the Constitution.

So on December 5th, 1933 at 5:32 p.m., the required three-fourths majority of states ratified the 21st Amendment repealing the 18th Amendment. Once again it was legal to craft, purchase and consume alcohol in the United States. This is the only time in U.S. history that an amendment has been repealed.

Although Prohibition was repealed 80 years ago, the founding group, the Prohibition Party,, started in 1869, still exists. It is the oldest existing third party political group in the U.S. In fact, the Prohibition Party ran a candidate for President in the 2012 election: he received 519 votes. Presently the party has no representatives in any major political offices.

Jeffrey Morganthaler
On the other side of the glass, the Museum of the American Cocktail has a web site devoted to Repeal Day For years Jeffrey Morganthaler has been advocating the idea of making December 5th a national day of celebration in the U.S.

So tomorrow raise your celebratory drink and offer up a toast because you can - because you have the constitutional right to enjoy a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, a mixed drink or a shot of whisky.

As FDR said in March 1933 after signing the Cullen-Harrison Act, which legalized the sale of beer and wine with low alcohol content, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.”


~ Joy