Traditional Wassail


Photo: Annie Witkamp

You might be familiar with wassailing songs, but have you ever tried the drink?

Every year, my family goes to our friend Gayle’s house for Christmas Eve and enjoy traditional wassail, a hot, spiced punch. Gayle and her husband, Walt,  mix and heat the steamy drink to perfection and we all enjoy it as we chat and eat hors d’Å“uvres before the big feast. But this year I’m not making it home for Christmas, and I’m thinking of trying to mix up the concoction myself. I asked Gayle if she’d be willing to share her secret recipe with me, and I’m letting you all in on it!

Gayle and Walt’s Traditional Wassail

  • 2 bottles  Madeira or Sherry/Marsala
  • 2 quarts dark ale
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1 bottle cognac
  • Sugar to taste (usually up to 1 cup)
  • 6 cloves
  • 6 allspice
  • 4 cardamon seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  1. Mix everything in a pot, and heat on medium-low. Do not boil the mixture.
  2. Pour the cognac into a small pitcher and set it to the side so each person can choose the amount they want. (If you pour the cognac into the heated mixture on the burner, the alcohol evaporates.)
  3. If desired, add some triple sec to taste, or bake or roast some small apples to decorate the top, and serve it in a silver bowl.

About Turi

When Turi isn’t blogging, you can find her nose behind a book. But reading isn’t her only pastime. She loves running (cue jogging stroller), taste-testing pizza and burgers, and working on the next great American novel. Her latest homage to all things literary? Her son is named after writer Dashiell Hammett. How apropos.

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  1. Kristin 12/21/2009 at 6:02 pm #

    This sounds so delicious!

  2. Victoria 12/21/2009 at 8:29 pm #

    I had to sing that song in the 4th grade choir and loved it but had no idea it was an actual drink. Thanks for giving the history lesson. . . and now the song is stuck in my head.

  3. Susan 12/21/2009 at 11:28 pm #

    I’ll admit it – I used to think this was “Here we go a waffling”…. not sure how one waffles, but it sounded delicious!

  4. c_tyler 12/22/2009 at 10:47 am #

    OK, I’m going to totally geek about this – because I LOVE Wassail and its good cheer. So I used to work in Colonial Williamsburg as a costumed historical interpreter. Every year, our house would make a batch (minus the ale) and go wassailing around! It was so fun to sing, drink and spread the holiday spirit. Happy Holidays and cheers!

  5. Walt Leberg 12/22/2009 at 1:12 pm #

    This is just the wassail base. It is not wassail until you add spirit.
    To add spirit every guest must “sample” the wassail and add an ingredient.
    Again every guest must add an ingredient.
    The wassail must then be re-sampled.

    It will take about two hours before the wassail is worthy of song.
    After two hours the quality of the wassail is measured by how many are singing.

  6. b 12/22/2009 at 4:14 pm #

    thanks for this! it made me realize i had no idea what wassail (or wassailing) actually was and sent me off on a wikipedia quest. now i know 🙂

    ps. colonial williamsburg sounds like a sweet job.

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