Let's Get Crafty, Wining & Dining

Wassail!!! And Other Holiday Delights

By Timothy Long

Wassail!!! And Other Holiday Delights

“Wassailing? What the hell is wassailing?” Was the reply my 15-year-old self gave to his friends when they said we were going wassailing.

“Caroling” they said.

“You mean door to door?”


No way! I was too cool for that! Not happening!

Then the girls showed up to join us. Suddenly my attitude changed, and I’ve been wassailing ever since.

The word “wassailing” has evolved for over 1000 years. It is derived from Old Nordic and Old English words that meant “be in good health”. A British tradition, it originally referred to a drink made of mulled ale or cider, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs cloves, ginger, nutmeg and sugar.

According to WhyChristmas.com:

“One legend about how Wassailing was created says that a beautiful Saxon maiden named Rowena presented Prince Vortigen with a bowl of wine while toasting him with the words ‘waes hael’. Over the centuries, a great deal of ceremony developed around the custom of drinking wassail. The bowl was carried into the room with great fanfare, a traditional carol about the drink was sung, and finally, the steaming hot beverage was served.”

Wassailing was traditionally celebrated on New Year’s Eve, or Twelfth Night. But as time moved on, rich people began to drink wassail during the twelve days of Christmas. Starting in the 1600s it was common to take a bowl of wassail from door to door while caroling. Over time, wassailing became known as caroling. The drink’s heyday is in the past. But it is still not forgotten.

Lost Boy Cider in Alexandria will be hosting a Wassail event on January 7th‘ complete with the traditional drink and wassail songs. They are also releasing a 12-pack of their monthly explorer series ciders representing the 12 Days of Christmas. With flavors such as gingerbread, cherry bomb, and sage advice, these ciders could be a great addition to any wassailing activity.

While the British were developing their wassail, Christmas beers were beginning to flourish on the European continent. From Frances Biere de Noel to Germany’s Weihnacht, the spicing of beer for the holidays was becoming a tradition. It all began with the Vikings. According to vinepair.com:

“Our story begins in pre-Christian Scandinavia. Vikings would brew winter beers during “Jul,” also known as “Yule,” in late December to honor Norse gods and the winter solstice. As Christianity was introduced to the region in the 10th century, certain laws actually mandated its citizens create Christmas beers to honor the new deities and earmark the holiday. Failure to do so could result in fines or forfeiture of property.”

Today we enjoy a variety of holiday beers. Craft brewers all over the country have revived the Christmas spiced beer tradition. The Beer Judge Certification Program states that a Christmas beer should be “a stronger, darker, spiced beer that often has a rich body and warming finish suggesting a good accompaniment for the cold winter season.” Not all holiday beers follow this rule, but I recommend that you go with the ones that do.

I suggest starting with the American original, Anchor Steam’s Christmas Ale. First released in 1975, it was the first craft brewed Christmas Ale in the country. It evolved over time, and in 1987 became the first spiced ale ever brewed in the United States. What I really love about this beer is not only does the Christmas tree on the label change every year, so does the recipe. It’s always spiced ale, but they do tweak the secret recipe each year to produce slight differences in taste. This bold and unique approach makes it a fun holiday tradition. And if you see this beer on any store shelf, grab a six pack. Between decreased production and supply chain problems, this Christmas Ale was in short supply last year.

Another great holiday ale is Great Lakes Christmas Ale. Great Lakes Brewing Company is located in Cleveland Ohio. Now, being from the Pittsburgh area myself, I am hard pressed to state that anything good comes out of Cleveland. However, these guys make great beer. This award-winning Christmas Ale is packed with holiday flavors. The honey, ginger, and cinnamon blend perfectly to produce a delightful ale.

But beer isn’t the only beverage of delight during the holidays. Whiskey is also necessary. And you will need to have a good cigar to go with it. For your whiskey, I suggest Blade and Bow Bourbon. Produced by Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, this smooth wonderful bourbon is a perfect holiday delight.  You’ll detect peaches, honey, and hay on the nose. But then the white pepper, vanilla, oak, and spice on the palate make for a fantastic smooth experience. I must admit that I love this bourbon. There is always a bottle on my shelf. But it never seems to be there for very long.

You’ll need to pair that fine bourbon with a good cigar. May I suggest the My Father Le Bijou 1922. This smoke will hit you up front with spice, but these cigars are never harsh. The spice blends with a subtle sweetness as you smoke it. This cigar is captivating. It’s moist, chewy, and delightful. And the spices will blend well with the Blade and Bow Bourbon you’ll be drinking.

The holidays are meant to be enjoyed with friends and family. Beers, whiskeys, and cigars are meant to be as well. It’s the perfect pairing. Be sure to share these delights with your family and friends this holiday season. It’ll be nice to be able to gather and celebrate with loved ones this year. Enjoy yourselves but stay safe. Have a great holiday season. And have fun trying those great holiday and winter craft ales. Tis the season my friends. Cheers!!!

Wassail Recipe:

4 pints of Dry Cider

A bare 1/2oz root of Ginger

6 Cloves

A blade of Mace

1/2 small Nutmeg, grated,

or 1 level teaspoon grated Nutmeg

1/2 level teaspoon ground Corriander seeds or 4 seeds

1/2 level teaspoon Cardamom seed or 4 seeds

8oz granulated Sugar

2 lemons

½ pt Water

2 Egg yolks

Demerara Sugar

6 small cooking Apples

Bruise the ginger with a hammer, then put it into a large pan with the cloves, grated nutmeg, mace, coriander, cardamom and sugar. Finely grate the rinds of the lemons and add this to the spices with the water. Bring these ingredients to the boil and simmer them for five minutes. Squeeze the lemons, add the juice to the spices with the cider, and heat the mixture slowly. Put the egg yolks into a bowl and gradually beat in half a pint of the hot, but not boiling, liquid-this should make a good froth.

When the rest is almost at boiling, whisk it into the basin.

Meanwhile, core the apples and put them in a roasting tin, fill the centers with demerara sugar and bake them in a moderately hot oven about 190C / 375F / Gas Mark 5 for approximately twenty minutes. Put them into the Wassail.

Drink, Sing and enjoy!!!

Here We Come A-Wassailing

Here we come a-wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a-wassailing,
So fair to be seen:

Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you,
A happy New Year,
And God send you,
A happy new year.

The above courtesy of whychristmas.com

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