As temperatures drop, many cocktail lovers crave warm beverages packed with wintery spices, cozy aromas and just enough potency to keep things toasty. The most popular hot cocktails often date back generations, like hot toddies, hot-buttered rums, cocoas and mulled wines. Another heritage cocktail that originated in medieval England needs a place in your repertoire: wassail.
Its name derives from waes hael, an Anglo-Saxon phrase believed related to the Old Norse ves heill, that translates to “be in good health.” Medieval toasts would often include this phrase. Revelers would raise mugs, or “wassail bowls,” filled with a popular drink of hot cider, ale or mead, mulled with spices and aromatics.
Starting around the 14th to 15th centuries, English households would often share wassail with local carolers, and “wassailing” became a synonym for door-to-door caroling. Wassailing was also used to toast apple orchards in appreciation and anticipation of healthy harvests, a practice that continues in many places today.
Rawnica Dillingham, market manager for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, says that wassail plays a major role in her holiday routine.
“Wassail [has been] a fall and winter staple going back as far as I can remember,” she says. “It is something my mother always made when I was growing up, and it has now become the signal of [the season] for me and my family.”
Dillingham prefers a selection of holiday staples in her cider, opting for “cinnamon, clove and allspice, mixed with the warm taste of oranges and cranberries.”
Spiced Cranberry Orange Wassail
Courtesy of Rawnica Dillingham, market manager, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
- 6½ cups unfiltered apple juice
- 5 mandarin oranges, sliced into wheels
- 1 cup cranberries
- 3 whole star anise pods
- 8 cinnamon sticks
- 2 tablespoons whole cloves
- 2 tablespoons whole allspice
- 1 medium piece ginger root, cut into small chunks
- ½ cup orange blossom honey
- Whiskey, to top
Place all ingredients except whiskey into pot. Bring to slow boil, stirring frequently to prevent scorching. Reduce to medium-low heat. Allow to simmer, without lid, for at least 1 hour.
Strain out spices and fruits. Reduce heat to low and return mulled juice to warm on stove. Alternatively, transfer to crockpot or warming carafe.
To serve, pour 6 ounces of wassail into mug. Top with 2 ounces of whiskey, or spirit of choice. Garnish with orange wheel and cinnamon stick. Serves 8.
Dillingham prefers Martinelli’s Pure Apple Juice, but she says that unfiltered apple cider, hard cider or mead will also work. If you use mead, she recommends to reduce or skip the use of honey, as mead is honey-based and sweeter.