Wassail, from the Saxon phrase “Wass Hael” or “Good Health” is a custom carried on throughout the holiday season. A Wassail bowl filled with a variety of festive drinks is welcome at any good celebration. Here are some ideas for spirited drinks to fill your wassailing bowl so you are ready for holiday cheer and even the carolers that may show up at your door!
The Festival of Dyonisius occurs on October 3rd, kicking off a season of wine festivals. Martinmas on Nov 11 is the traditional time for the first drinking of New Wine. Mulled wine was known as ‘Ypocris’ in the Middle Ages, when wine would be warmed and steeped with expensive foreign spices. (A non-alcoholic version of this can be made with red or white grape juice steeped with the same spices. It can be a delightful treat served warm on a cold night!)
2 liters of moderately drinkable red wine
1 ½ cups honey
2 large cinnamon sticks
1 tsp whole cloves
1 oz fresh ginger, sliced
Warm the wine over medium low heat and add the whole spices. Allow them to simmer for 20 minutes, then remove from the heat and let them steep for up to 8 hours. Strain and serve warm.
Hot Toddies and Hot Buttered Rum
A Hot Toddy is a drink made with liquor, hot water, sugar and spices and served hot. It comes to us from Scotland and England, perhaps via India where fermented palm leaves create a toddy beverage. In the mid-western US, Hot Toddies are made with whiskey or bourbon, warmed ginger ale and lemon juice.
Hot Buttered Rum originated after molasses production became a major industry for the American colonies and rum started making its way into drinks, cakes, and punch. Hot Buttered Rum should be made with brown sugar and dark rum to bring out its classic molasses taste. It will take the chill off on a cold day and soothe a sore throat.
Combine ¼ cup of brown sugar with ¼ cup of softened butter. Add island spices such as nutmeg, allspice and cloves, ¼ tsp of each or to taste. Add up to ½ tsp. powdered ginger to give the mixture some warmth.
Place 1-2 tablespoons of the spiced sugar and butter mixture on the bottom of a tall mug. Pour in ¾ cup of boiling water, followed by a shot of dark rum. Stir to blend.
This Wassail bowl contains: apple cider, orange juice, ale, hard cider, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, molasses, and sugar. It created the centerpiece to a Victorian Christmas celebration.
“Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle lamb’s wooll;
Adde sugar, nutmeg and ginger;
With store of ale too;
And thus ye must doe
To make the Wassaile a swinger.”
– Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)
Made with roasted apples and hot ale, Lamb’s Wool was popular in a Wassail bowl. In Shakespeare’s time they would have been crapapples. In a poem called “Spring and Winter”, he called Winter the time “when roasted crabs hiss in the bowl”. Sometimes it was served with snippets of bread floated on the top of the bowl or with individual cups, which is the origin of ‘offering a toast’.
1 quart ale (dark ale is best)
8 medium apples
½ cup sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2-3 slices fresh ginger
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Toasted bread, cut into diamond points
Core the apples and then bake at 350 degrees until they are soft. Scoop out the flesh of the apples and mash.
Heat the ale in a large pot, adding the spices and allowing to steep for 20 minutes. Add sugar and whisk in to dissolve. Pour into a crock pot to keep warm, blending in the apple mash. Remove the spices and sprinkle some powdered cinnamon on top for decoration. Serve in warm mugs with a toast point on top.
Wassail, and a Spirited Good Season to you and yours!