Originally Published: December 23, 2014

At every Christmas market in Prague you’ll find multiple stands selling svařák (also known as svařené víno or “hot wine”), but they won’t all taste the same. Why? Because recipes vary from region to region and household to household. Eva Jasná has been making svařák at home for years, but admits “I’ve never in my life read a recipe for it. I just copied what my mum did or what other friends put in it.”

Svarak recipe - Prague
Ingredients for Svarak – except the wine, of course!

In that spirit, I scoured every recipe I could find for the basic ingredients, asked some friends for tips, and attempted my first batch. Here’s what you’ll need to do the same:

Recipe for Svařák

Ingredients (roughly 4 servings)

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 5-10 cloves
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 orange, or 2 small mandarins or tangerines
  • 1 oz (25ml) Czech Tuzemský rum (optional)
  • 3 cardamom pods (optional) 
  • 1-2 star anise (optional) 
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg (optional) 
Svarak recipe spices
Svarak spices

Method

  1. Prepare your spices. Count out the cinnamon sticks and cloves into a bowl and place to one side. You may also add other spices, such as cardamom, nutmeg or star anise at this point.
  2. Grate or zest the peel of ½ the orange and ½ the lemon. Add to your bowl of spices.
  3. Set your burner to low heat and pour the bottle of wine into the pot. Add the bowl of spices to the pot and stir regularly.
  4. While the spices are releasing their flavor, slice the lemon and orange, but do not add yet. Continue to stir the pot intermittently.
  5. After about 20 minutes, add the sliced fruit and 2 tbsp of brown sugar. Stir for an additional 5 minutes.
  6. For an extra kick of alcohol, many people like to add Czech Tuzemský rum (domestic rum), which is made from sugar beets. Start slowly with one shot of rum, and add to taste because the flavor is quite distinctive – you’ll either love or hate it.
  7. Serve and enjoy!
Svarak recipe - mulled wine
A pot of svarak, merrily mulling…

Pro Tips

  1. Start simply. Renata Schwarzbachova of Kavarna Bez Konceptu in Liberec, CZ, recommends, “Add just cinnamon, cloves, sliced orange and bit of sugar. Do not put in any nutmeg or rum. Otherwise you kill the taste of the wine.” You can always tailor the flavor to your tastes with additional spices later, but it’s almost impossible to remove anything once you’ve added it.
  2. Don’t waste your money on expensive wine. No, I don’t mean you should buy the stuff that comes in a box, but with all of the spices and fruit, you won’t taste much difference between a decent and an amazing merlot. A decent red table wine will do.
  3. DON’T boil the wine! Schwarzbachova (and many recipes) stressed this point. High heat will boil off the alcohol content and ruin the consistency. Who wants that?
  4. Don’t skimp on citrus. One of my favorite features of svařák is that it’s not overly sweet, thanks to the tangy strength of lemon and orange. You can’t add too much fruit.
  5. Make to order. Svařák will keep overnight – cover with plastic wrap to avoid evaporation – but the spices will become stronger the longer you let them sit. Second-day svařák will produce a very different flavor.

Na zdraví (cheers)!

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