Saturday, December 21, 2013


Here we come a-wassailing... No doubt you've heard this Christmas carol all throughout your life. It's one of the most popular traditional carols. But what is wassailing? Here is the definition of Wassail in my American Heritage Dictionary:
Wassail n. 1.a. A salutation or toast given in drinking someone's health or as an expression of good will. b. The drink used in such toasting, commonly ale or wine spiced with roasted apples and sugar. 2. A festivity characterized by much drinking -v. wassailed, wassailing, wassails. -tr. To drink to the health of; toast. -intr. To engage in or drink a wassail. 
It doesn't even include an entry for wassailing as a synonym for caroling. The word wassail stems from the Middle English saying "wæs hail," which translates to "be healthy." It was a toast no different than toasting to your health today. The more recent 18th and 19th century incarnation of wassailing (before it simply became synonymous with caroling) was something more akin to trick-or-treating at Christmastime for alcohol. The traditional Wassail Song even has verses alluding to this. According to the Oxford Book of Carols from 1928, the fourth verses goes as follows:
Call up the butler of this house,
Put on his golden ring.
Let him bring us up a glass of beer,
And better we shall sing.
"The butler brought in a huge silver vessel, which 
he placed before the Squire...being the Wassail 
Bowl, so renowned in Christmas festivity".
 - Washington Irving
The book does concede that the verses mentioning beer are "not suitable when the carol is sung in church," though.

Now, since your neighbors probably aren't ready with the Wassail Bowl at the door for you anymore, it might not be the best idea to try this trick-or-treating out. At the very least we can celebrate Christmas with a little wassail on board ourselves. Luckily, it's super easy to make. There are lots of (overly complicated) wassail recipes out there online, but it's a pretty basic formula. As opposed to mulled wine (Glühwein, glögg, etc.), which typically calls for various spices and citrus fruits, wassail uses spices and roasted apples. Here's my completely unscientific approach to making wassail (yea, it usually turns out different every time, usually based on how much I've already drank by the time I make it):

1. The Beer. I would recommend a beer that has very little hops flavor and aroma. Hoppy flavors and aromas have the tendency to clash with the roasted fruit and spice flavors. A little bitterness does help to keep the wassail from becoming overly sweet and cloying though. I think that a Belgian Dubbel style beer works great as a base, since it already has some of those spicy flavors & aromas like clove and pepper from the Belgian yeast and is relatively dry for it's alcohol content.

2. The Apples. After you've got your beer selected, get yourself about six small baking apples like granny smith or fuji for a 6-pack's worth of beer. Core them, then fill and cover the cored apples with brown sugar (about one cup's worth), and throw them in a 350 deg F oven in an uncovered casserole dish for about 45 minutes. They're ready when they're soft throughout and carmelized on top, but not roasted black. (It's pretty hard to overcook them.)

3. The Spices. While the apples are baking, put the beer into a saucepan and heat it on the stove up to a simmer and add a healthy dose of whatever spices you like. I am partial to allspice, cloves, and cinnamon in mine. I will throw in three or four cinnamon sticks, about a dozen whole cloves, and a teaspoon of allspice for a 6 pack's worth of wassail. Be careful to never let the concoction boil. Also, be sure to strain out the cloves and other whole spices before you serve it (or put them in a spice ball). No one likes getting a surprise clove bomb stuck in their teeth.

4. Serving. Once you've let your spices simmer for 20 minutes or so, throw in your apples, sugar and delicious juices left in the bottom of the casserole dish into the beer and let it simmer for another 10 or 20 minutes. You can put the apples in whole and just let them flavor the drink, or you can slice them up and serve each glass with a few apple slices if you want to be fancy. If you're feeling a little crazy, why not throw some bourbon or brandy in there? Or even put in a little 151 proof rum and light it on fire? Just be careful not to light yourself or the Christmas Tree on fire.

Then drink it and watch this video! Merry Christmas and wassail!


  1. Love this! Best recipe and explanation ever!

  2. Your wassail sounds yummy... so why not do this beyond Christmas?!