First things first.

Before he started pouring wine into the pot on the stove top and stirring in fruits and spices, David Carlson pulled on a bright yellow hockey jersey, one with three bright blue crowns on the front to indicate he’s on Team Sweden. He called it his “shameless Swedish promotion.”

He’s allowed since he’s a second-generation Swede who grew up in the little town of New Sweden in Aroostook County. He’s here to make a batch of his Swedish family’s holiday glögg and discuss the correct pronunciation of this Scandinavian version of mulled wine. (It’s closest to glug, according to Carlson.)

Carlson’s family recipe is a traditional one that involves lighting sugar, red wine and aquavit on fire until the sugar melts. He also brought the ingredients for the tamer version he serves at his Belfast bar, Three Tides, every December. That version uses a glass of port to replace some of the red wine, vodka instead of aquavit, and no flames.

Both versions will make your home smell like Christmas.

“For 14 years we’ve been serving glögg at Three Tides,” said Carlson, who is the founder of Marshall Wharf Brewing Co. “It’s something that our customers look forward to. No matter how you feel about the holidays, whether you embrace them or don’t like them, it’s really fun to see some of the people we know look forward to it every year walk into the bar. That smell hits them in the face, and they’re, like, ‘Oh, glögg is back.’ ”

This year the $5 drink went on the menu on Dec. 1 as usual, and by closing time Dec. 2 the bar was sold out and ready for another batch.

Carlson begins making his family’s flaming recipe by pouring a bottle of red wine and a bottle of aquavit into a pan.

“This is a Malbec that is medium dry, but it’s got a really nice dark fruit to it, so that goes well with the fig and the raisin that’s in the recipe,” he said. “Any dry red wine will do.”

The aquavit Carlson uses, called Brennivín, is known as “the signature spirit of Iceland,” according to Iceland Magazine. (It’s called ákavíti in Icelandic.)

Its use in Carlson’s glögg is special because Brennivín is one of the first fruits of the collaboration between the Icelandic shipping company Eimskip and Portland, including the Maine Beer Box project.

Carlson helped develop the Maine Beer Box, which shipped Maine beer to Iceland last summer. Carlson always carries aquavit at his bar, but over the years Maine has not had a decent inventory of the Scandinavian spirit because brokers didn’t consider it a big enough seller. Now Brennivín is here, and available throughout the Portland area.

“It’s a big deal that this is here,” Carlson said. “It’s a really good Icelandic brandy that lends itself to glögg perfectly. I think it’s a nice tip of the cap to the relationship that has been built between Eimskip and Iceland and the state of Maine.”

Carlson crushes cardamom pods with his fingers and adds them to the alcohol, which he is warming on the burner. Next comes the dried orange peel, cloves, dried figs, raisins and almonds. A few of the raisins and almonds typically end up as garnish at the bottom of each glass.

“I have relatives who will make this at Thanksgiving, as a tradition, and then save it until Lucia, which is the 13th of December,” Carlson said as he prepared to light the glögg. “That’s a big Swedish holiday. They’ll bottle it, and over those three weeks, the spices will impart themselves quite nicely.”

Next comes the fun part.

Carlson places sugar cubes in a metal sieve, then moistens the cubes in the hot wine/aquavit mixture. He lights the sugar with a match, then dips the sieve in and out of the pot until the cubes have dissolved. The sugar hisses with each dip into the drink.

The flames are gentle, but burn for longer than you’d expect. “It’s the high proof on the aquavit,” Carlson explains. The fire isn’t extinguished until Carlson places a lid on the pot.

Carlson pours the glögg into his traditional copper glögg pot, which has tiny copper cups that attach around the rim and a small flame underneath to keep the mulled wine warm. It looks like a fancy, vintage fondue pot. Carlson inherited it from his grandfather, along with the recipe.

We take a sip of the glögg, and a wave of gentle warmth spreads through the mouth and down the throat. The sugar has left behind a subtle sweetness, and the other flavorings provide some toasty notes. The drink starts out with a lot of alcohol, but in the end it goes down smoothly.

“The word glögg translates roughly to glow or burn,” Carlson said. “The idea was that in the caramelization process, you’re burning off a little of the alcohol but you’re also melting that sugar, so you’re adding an extra depth of flavor there.”

David Carlson adds a bottleful of Brennivin, an Icelandic aguavit now available in Maine, to the glögg made from his family recipe.

Carlson’s grandfather apparently got the family glögg recipe from a 1940s-era Swedish cookbook whose name has long been forgotten. His grandfather was Nils William Olsson, who was born in Washington state but lived in Sweden from the time he was 9 until he emigrated back to the United States as an adult. According to Carlson and his grandfather’s obituary, Olsson served in the U.S. Navy as assistant naval attaché at the American Legation in Stockholm during World War II. After returning to the States to get his doctorate at the University of Chicago, he joined the U.S. Foreign Service and was stationed in Reykjavik, Stockholm and Oslo from 1950 to 1966.

Carlson says he thinks his grandfather’s official title was press liaison, but he suspects Olsson, who understood and spoke all the Nordic languages, may have been working for naval intelligence. In his official job, Olsson’s duties included entertaining.

“I think he felt the pressure was on him to put on a good show,” Carlson said. “This (flaming glögg) was something he did for his parties and that he passed on to his kids – my mom, my uncles. After he retired to Florida, I would visit him and my grandmother for the holidays, and I would always enjoy standing around in the kitchen talking to them while making glögg with them.”

When Carlson was too young to partake, he sometimes sneaked a soaked raisin or two, which had, of course, absorbed the glögg.

“I remember as a kid just eating a couple of the raisins and feeling like, ‘Oh, I just had some alcohol,’ ” he said. “I don’t think I felt any effects from it, but I felt like I was getting away with something by doing that.”

After Olsson retired, he helped found the Swedish Council of America, and he was active in Swedish genealogy. The Royal Academy published his Swedish Passenger Arrivals in New York (1820-1850) in 1967. He started a quarterly journal called Swedish American Genealogist in 1981.

Carlson visited Iceland four times between October 2016 and June, working on the Maine Beer Box project. While he was there, he retraced his grandfather’s steps and visited the American Embassy to look for records of his stay. He found no records, but did find the home his mother grew up in.

Olsson left the family glögg pot to Carlson when he died, but Carlson is not the only member of the family who keeps the tradition alive. His mother sometimes helps out when the bar runs out of glögg. His brothers, who now live in San Francisco and Providence, make it during the holidays, and an uncle in Stockton Springs makes a batch every year for a Scandinavian holiday party.

And will Carlson pass along the tradition to his daughters?

“Absolutely,” he said. “It’s too fun. Anything that has fire and smells this good …”

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