Has dancing around a maypole celebrating the arrival of spring left you feeling thirsty? Or are you just in the mood for a traditional springtime wine-based drink? In either case, Maiwein may be the perfect option.
Maiwein (May wine) is a centuries-old beverage of German origin enjoyed in the spring, traditionally on the May Day holiday. It is made by flavoring white wine, usually a Riesling or Moselle, with sweet woodruff (waldmeister), a fragrant herb native to the forests of Northern Europe. In some regions, it is made into a punch (known as Maitrank, Maibowle or Waldmeisterbowle) by adding ingredients such as brandy, triple sec, sugar, lemon, sparkling wine or carbonated water—even orange slices, strawberries, pineapples, a piece of sugar cane or a cinnamon stick might be added.
To make Maiwein, all one needs to do is chop up some fresh, tender sweet woodruff leaves and steep them in white wine. However, the herb should be used in moderation as excessive doses can cause negative side effects. Many make versions of Maiwein for their own personal consumption, but it is also produced commercially and can be found in European stores and restaurants in the spring.
It is not clear when Maiwein was first produced, but according to the Arlon Brotherhood of Maitrank, the first written mention of the beverage dates back to 854, where it can be found in writings by Wandalbert, a Benedictine Monk at the Abbey of Prüm. At the time, sweet woodruff was widely used in herbal medicine. Reportedly, the monks macerated it, steeped it in wine, and consumed the resulting beverage to flush away winter toxins and fortify their health. The monks also shared the beverage with local people who started making it themselves.
Today, centuries later, Maiwein remains popular, not only in Germany, but versions are also enjoyed in Luxembourg, Alsace France, and Arlon Belgium, which is the site of an annual Maitrank festival held the fourth weekend of May. The festivities include two days of music and street performances from various bands and folk groups, free tasting stands in the center of town where there is a free-flowing Maitrank fountain, and fireworks.