Wassail

This easy, traditional Wassail recipe can be enjoyed all winter long. This cozy holiday drink is made with apple cider, mulled ale and spices on the stovetop.

A mug holds a hot beverage called Wassail recipe with a cinnamon stick and gold spoons rest in front

Traditional Wassail recipe

Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green…”

I grew up singing that Christmas carol, not knowing what it meant. Years later, I discovered the wassail song was actually about a hot drink.

I’d never had wassail until a few years ago, but I fell in love with this holiday punch full of warm spices. It might be my new favorite holiday drink. (So sorry to mulled wine and apple cider.)

Made with baked apples, beer, brandy (or bourbon or rum) and a bevy of spices, this warm holiday drink is perfect for the winter months. It’s sweetened with brown sugar and maple syrup.

Why you’ll love this recipe

Wassail is a traditional holiday beverage that can be enjoyed all winter long. Here are a few reasons this recipe might be your new holiday tradition:

  • Cooked on the stovetop, Wassail is an easy recipe to make.
  • Made with baked apples and spices, it makes your kitchen smell incredible.
  • It’s a unique drink to serve at the holidays, and a great alternative to apple cider or mulled wine — try something different!

Wassail is the perfect holiday drink for winter parties and gatherings of any kind. You can serve it at any holiday party, brunch, Christmas Eve or even on Christmas morning. Or add it to a thermos and take it caroling!

And it’s technically a New Year’s beverage too (see the section on history below) but you can enjoy this delicious drink all season long.

Ladle scooping mulled cider with a stream pouring back into the larger batch

What is wassail?

Wassail is essentially an apple cider punch made of hot mulled cider, ale and spices. It is served warm and enjoyed throughout the holiday season, though it is traditionally a New Year’s drink.

The word “wassail” comes from the Anglo-Saxon phrase “waes hael,” which means “be well” or “be whole,” or is loosely translated to good health.

Most recipes include some kind of beer, apple cider, fruits, spices and a spirit, usually brandy, whiskey or rum. Some versions include pineapple juice or lemon juice as well.

History of wassail

This flavorful drink dates back to pre-Christian Britain when an Anglo-Saxon tradition included a New Year celebration on Twelfth Night that included a feast with a giant bowl of a sort of punch made from a mix of cider, ale and mead infused with spices and apples.

According to The Williamsburg Cookbook, the head of an English household would drink to the health of those present with a bowl of spiced ale, and everyone would pass the bowl around and repeat the Saxon phrase “waes hael.”

A clear glass mug holds Wassail garnished with a cinnamon stick. Gold stirring spoons and a whole star anise are around the mug with additional cinnamon sticks

The wassail song

This wassail drink is similar to the one mentioned in the Christmas song called the “Wassail Song,” an old English song meant to wish good health.

According to Reader’s Digest, beggars and orphans of that time would “dance their way through the snowy streets of England, offering to sing good cheer and to tell good fortune if the householder would give them a drink from his wassail bowl or a penny or a pork pie or, better yet, let them stand for a few minutes beside the warmth of his hearth.”

The wassail bowl contained a hot combination of mulled ale (or beer), spices and mead. It was just alcoholic enough to bring warmth to the singers.

A wassail recipe featuring a delightful list of ingredients for a mulled cider.

Ingredients

Here’s what you will need to make your own Wassail at home:

  • medium apples
  • brown sugar
  • water
  • an orange
  • cloves
  • beer such as brown ale
  • brandy, rum or bourbon
  • apple cider
  • whole spices including allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, star anise
  • ground ginger
  • ground nutmeg
  • maple syrup

Substitutions

For the beer, any Scottish- or English-style ale, such as a brown ale or dark ale, works well. You could also use a blonde ale or a golden ale. A lager would work as well. Stay away from anything too hoppy, like an India pale ale. (I used a maple brown ale.)

Brandy is more traditional, but Madeira, Irish whiskey, bourbon, dark rum or spiced rum would all work instead.

Instead of the whole and ground spices listed here, you could use a tea ball or tea bag of mulling spices. Follow the package instructions and use enough for 8 servings.

Maple syrup gives it a delicious holiday flavor, but you can use honey, brown sugar or simple syrup instead.

If needed, you can add ¼ cup orange juice and ~12 cloves instead of the clove-studded orange.

How to make Wassail

Making this apple cider wassail recipe is easy to do and the steps are pretty simple overall. Here’s what to do:

Whole red apples that have been cored stuffed with brown sugar and spices in a light blue baking dish.
Cored apples stuffed with brown sugar before baking
Baked apples in a light blue baking dish.
Baked apples ready for adding to wassail

First, preheat the oven to 350°F to bake the apples.

Core the apples (an apple corer or sharp knife is helpful here) and place in a baking dish.

Fill each cavity with brown sugar. Add 1 cup of water to the baking dish around the apples. Bake for 1 hour until soft. Meanwhile, you can start the wassail.

A whole orange with cloves stuck into the skin.

With a skewer or toothpick, pierce 12-20 small holes in the skin of the orange. Fill each hole with a clove.

Liquid is poured into a pot on a stovetop from a glass bottle

In a large pot or Dutch oven, pour in the brown ale, brandy and apple cider.

Spices are added to a pot to season a hot holiday beverage

Add the clove-studded orange, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, star anise, ground ginger and ground nutmeg. Stir together until combined. (The mixture may be foamy from the beer, that’s okay!) Simmer for 1 hour.

Baked apples and an orange with cloves sit in a pot with a mulled wassail recipe on a stovetop

Using tongs, add the baked apples to the mixture and all their juices. Simmer for 15 minutes more, then reduce the heat. Stir in maple syrup.

A white pot with handles holds a brown warm beverage with a wooden spoon resting in it

Keep warm on the stove or add to a large slow cooker (e.g. a Crock Pot or Instant Pot) on low heat.

Ladle this spiced drink into mugs and garnish with orange slices, apple slices or cinnamon sticks.

Tips & tricks

This hot wassail recipe is delicious as written, so I don’t recommend skipping any steps, especially the step of baking the apples. It’s very easy to do and the sweet fruit juices extracted from the melted sugar and baked apples really add to the flavor.

Instead of throwing in the orange and cloves separately, make sure to stud the peel of the orange with whole cloves. This lets out more of the orange juice and essential oils, infusing them with clove flavor as the juices escape.

Glass mugs hold mulled cider with rosemary and star anise around them on a white background

FAQ

How do you pronounce “wassail?”

Wassail is pronounced, “wah-sull.”

What does wassail mean?

Wassail is a warm mulled beverage. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon toast “waes hael,” meaning “be well.”

Where is wassail from?

Wassail is an English tradition dating back to the 1400s.

What is the difference between apple cider and wassail?

While both apple cider and wassail are mulled drinks enjoyed during the holiday season, they are different. Apple cider is made with apples and spices. Wassail often includes apples, apple cider and spices, as well as brandy and ale.

More holiday drinks

— Did you make this recipe? —

Please leave a ★★★★★ review or comment below.

A glass mug holds a warm cider drink surrounded by whole spices and rosemary sprigs.

Wassail

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Spice up your hoildays with traditional Wassail, a hot beverage of spiced cider, ale and brandy or whiskey. Makes 1 ½ quarts.
5 from 2 votes
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ingredients

  • 6 apples medium
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 orange
  • 12 cloves
  • 48 ounces brown ale
  • 2 cups brandy rum or bourbon
  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 12 allspice berries
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup maple syrup to taste

instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Core apples and place in a baking dish. Fill each cavity with brown sugar. Add 1 cup water to the baking dish. Bake for 1 hour until soft.
  • With a skewer or toothpick, pierce 12-20 small holes in the skin of the orange. Fill each hole with a clove.
  • In a large Dutch oven or pot, pour in the brown ale, brandy and apple cider.
  • Add the clove-studded orange, allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, star anise, ground ginger and ground nutmeg. Simmer for 1 hour.
  • Using tongs, add the hot baked apples to the mixture and pour in any juices left behind. Simmer for 15 minutes more, then reduce the heat. Stir in maple syrup.
  • Serve warm. Garnish with orange slices or cinnamon sticks.

notes

For the beer, any Scottish- or English-style ale, such as a brown ale or dark ale, works well. You could also use a blonde ale or a golden ale. A lager would work as well. Stay away from anything too hoppy, like an India pale ale. (I used a maple brown ale.)
Brandy is more traditional, but Irish whiskey, bourbon, dark rum or spiced rum would all work instead.
Instead of the whole and ground spices listed here, you could use a tea ball or tea bag of mulling spices. Follow the package instructions and use enough for 8 servings.
Maple syrup gives it a delicious holiday flavor, but you can use honey, brown sugar or simple syrup instead.
If needed, you can add ¼ cup orange juice and ~12 cloves instead of the clove-studded orange.

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nutrition information

Yield: 8 servings

amount per serving:

Serving: 6ounces Calories: 456kcal Carbohydrates: 69g Protein: 2g Fat: 1g Saturated Fat: 0.1g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.1g Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g Trans Fat: 0.001g Sodium: 22mg Potassium: 358mg Fiber: 5g Sugar: 54g Vitamin A: 116IU Vitamin C: 16mg Calcium: 75mg Iron: 1mg
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