Seeking refuge from visiting relatives? Searching for a haven against the holiday hubbub? Disenchanted with the commercialization of Christmas? Wishing for a more traditional Noel? More importantly, are you in need of a drink? The solution to all of these problems lies at the corner of Arapahoe and The 16th Street Mall: The 14th Annual Christkindl Market presented by the German American Chamber of Commerce – Colorado Chapter (GACC – CO).
Walking past the vibrant, super-sized, German candle pyramid, under the archway festooned with conifers, and into the alleyways of the market, visitors feel instantly transported. The market is a quaint fairy tale oasis on the touristy 16th Street Mall, an island of independent retailers among monolithic corporate brands. The rows of wood sheds, each peddling hand-crafted gifts and snacks, paired with Christmas lights draped rooftop-to-rooftop offers a nostalgic escape from the looming real world beyond the borders of Skyline Park.
The Christkindl Market features all the trappings of an archetypal German event: Bavarian-style nuts, pretzels, brats, a stein salesman (touting such rarities as a real chunk of the Berlin Wall affixed to the lid of a Maß), and, of course, a beer tent. However, the market isn’t confined to the traditions of the Rhineland; it’s a pan-European celebration. There are Ukrainian-made wood carvings, Polish pierogies, and, perhaps the vendor that best exemplifies the Christkindl Market’s multicultural bent: the Hungarians who make Denmark-inspired baked goods to sell at German festivals. It’s a veritable European Union in downtown Denver.
Food and gifts are all well and good but nothing puts me in the holiday spirit quite like copious amounts of booze. Poke your head into the Holiday Tent—a cheery space decorated with wreaths, garlands, strings of light, and colorful banners—and you’ll realize Christkindl Market does not disappoint in that department. In fact, there’s something for all types of alcohol connoisseurs. For the beer geeks, there are four Paulaner beers from which to choose (Pilsner, Märzen, Hefeweizen, and Dunkel Lager). For those needing a kick of liquor, there’s apple cider and egg nog schnapp shots, perfect for a quick, core-warming sensation. It is, however, the wine lover that is in for the biggest treat even if said treat is an unconventional one by American standards.
I fancy myself a beer geek; wine and spirits simply aren’t my thing. Still, as much as I prefer beer, there are circumstances where I’ll opt for a different type of booze and one such circumstance is a chilly, outdoor market. A cold brewski would do little to soothe frigid bones so, instead, I went for an alternative German drink, one that’d heat me from the insides, develop on my cheeks a comfortable ruddiness: Glühwein.
Literally translating to “glow wine,” Glühwein is mulled (i.e. heated with spices) wine flavored with any number of diverse ingredients depending on the recipe. Cinnamon, clove, anise, citrus, and sugar, however, are perennial favorites. Brandy or rum is sometimes added to further fortify the drinker against winter winds.
The Christkindl Market Glühwein begins as a Burgundy wine. The typical spices are then added and, for the citrus, orange juice is mixed in. The resulting concoction is a beverage quite unusual to the unaccustomed palate. The flavor of red wine is dominant; despite the many additions to Glühwein, the foundational alcohol remains the backbone. The other ingredients do make an appearance, though. The nip of cinnamon licks at the lips and nostrils at the beginning of the sip, a medley of indiscernible spices flare up in the middle, and tangy orange juice finishes off the taste. In this country, Glühwein does not enjoy the same popularity as egg nog but, having imbibed it myself, I’d say that’s America’s loss. In my opinion, it’s the superior seasonal libation: it warms the soul with spiced goodness just like egg nog but without that weird, uncooked-pancake consistency.
Care to try Glühwein for yourself? First, I recommend visiting the Christkindl Market to get a handle on what German mulled wine is all about. Then, head to the market’s website, pull up their Glühwein recipe, and brew up your own batch, tweaking the formula to accommodate your unique tastes. While there’s definitely a quintessential Glühwein, Joshua Seeberg, Executive Director of the GACC – CO, explained that, as long as heated wine and assorted spices are involved, it’s good enough to be called Glühwein. Want to throw in some peppercorn or cardamom? Go for it. Prefer white wine? Give it a shot. And, for the beer geeks, there are pockets of Germany that favor Glühbier—mulled beer. Experiment with it; see what variation best suits you. I, for one, plan to cook up some Glühapfelwein (mulled cider) this December.
Whichever poison you pick, Christkindl Market’ gots it plus a whole lot more—food, crafts, and live entertainment on the weekends. Make it a point to stop by Skyline Park this holiday season but do so soon—like traditional markets of the Old World, Denver’s market closes shop after Christmas Eve.
Sunday through Thursday: 11am to 7pm
Friday and Saturday: 11am to 9pm