(Craft Beer) Wassail
Wassail (Old English wæs hæl, literally ‘be you healthy’) refers both to the salute ‘Waes Hail’ and to the drink of wassail, a hot mulled cider traditionally drunk as an integral part of wassailing, an ancient southern English drinking ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year.
My first introduction to wassail was here in Texas, 4 or 5 years ago. Browsing around a shop in the downtown area of a small town decked out with holiday cheer, the salesperson asked if I wanted some wassail while I shopped. After I stared at her blankly for a second, she explained that it was a warm cider drink. (The version I had was non-alcoholic.)
The baked apples and oranges can almost be a separate dish, so you can play around with that and try different fruit or flavors. It also makes the house smell pretty amazing. I used small apples (cored, with brown sugar inside) and clove-spiked oranges and cooked them in a mixture of Full Sail Wreck the Halls hoppy holiday ale and pure apple cider.
For the wassail, I used a crockpot so I could keep it simmering and warm for a prolonged period of time. I went with a base of Madeira wine, hard cider, apple cider, and a mixture of beers we had on hand (Upslope Brown Ale, Anchor Brewing Merry Christmas & Happy New Year, and Deschutes Jubelale). I also poured in the liquid that the apples/oranges had been baking in. Austin now has a few local craft cider producers and if making this wassail hadn’t been a spur of the moment decision, I would have sought out some of their stuff or maybe even attempted a homebrew batch, but our local grocery store had Crispin in stock and it worked pretty well.
Once that warmed up, a spice packet of cloves, allspice, and cinnamon sticks went into the mix, followed by a sprinkling of ground ginger and nutmeg.
Thanks to lots of helpful user comments on the Food Network recipe, I left the egg mixture out of the crockpot so it wouldn’t set and become a chunky mess. Instead, I mixed the eggs up separately and just added some to my cup right before drinking. It is not very pretty to look at, but it does make the drink a little richer and frothier. You can also float some of the baked apples or oranges on top.
I don’t have much to compare it to, since I’ve never had the alcoholic version of wassail, but I liked the dryness of this batch and aside from a bit of fumes early on, it was pretty mild overall. The longer you let it cook in the crockpot the more pronounced the spice flavors seem to get, so if you like more of the clove/allspice in your beverage, start early and let it simmer for a while.
Bonus: I had a number of leftover baked apples that made a tasty snack by themselves. They also made an appearance the next morning as a pancake topping!
- 6 small apples, cored
- 2 oranges
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 22 ounces hard apple cider
- 2 cups apple cider
- 60 ounces ale, various
- 750 ml Madeira
- 26 cloves (for oranges)
- 10 cloves (for spice packet)
- 10 whole allspice berries
- 1 cinnamon stick, 2-in long
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 6 large eggs, separated (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Core the apples most of the way, but not all the way through. A small melon baller works well for this. Spoon a teaspoon of brown sugar into each apple. Stick about 10-13 cloves into each orange. Place the apples and oranges in a baking dish and add liquid. I used holiday ale and apple cider, but you could use water. Bake until tender, about 45 minutes.
- Pour the ale, Madeira, and cider into a large slow cooker. Put the cloves, allspice, and cinnamon into a small muslin bag or cheesecloth, tie with kitchen twine, and add to the slow cooker along with the powdered ginger and nutmeg. Bring the mixture to at least 120 degrees F, but do NOT boil.
- Add apples and liquid from the baking dish to the wassail and stir to combine.
- Add egg whites to a medium bowl and beat until stiff peaks form. Put egg yolks into a separate bowl and beat until lightened in color and frothy (approx 2 min.) Add the egg whites to the yolks and beat until just combined. Slowly add 4-6 oz of the alcohol mixture to the egg mixture to temper and beat at low speed. Add a portion of this to your cup, or to the main mixture if you will be serving it all immediately.