Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wassail: A Holiday Toast

Definition -

Wassail: 12th century

1: an early English toast to someone's health

2: a hot drink that is made with wine, beer, or cider, spices, sugar, and usually baked apples and is traditionally served in a large bowl especially at Christmastime

Anglo-Saxon term, wæs hæil, meaning, "Be healthy".

Other than the Wassail toast, lets stick to the Wassail beverages. ;-} Over the centuries Wassail has evolved from Med-evil Honey Wine (MEAD) or a Beer Concoction to a variety of alcoholic combinations. Most modern Wassails resemble a mulled Cider or a mulled Wine. For the purpose of this article we’re doing to stay within the Historically old renditions of Mead and Beer.


Historical, Wassail was mulled beer or mead. Sugar, ale, ginger, and other herbs and spices would be heated in a bowl or pot and served in what was called a Wassail Bowl. The term Wassail Bowl could represent the bowl the Wassail was heated or a small bowl (mug) that you drank from… Think modern day punch bowls with their separate small serving glasses. These Wassail Bowls would be topped with small pieces of bread. The bread would soak up the Wassail liquid and be eaten while enjoying the liquid celebration.

These bread pieces were called “Sops.” The term Sops or Sop would centuries later evolve into the word we use today for SOUP! Although, drinking or eating this ancient Wassail Soup would induce a more euphoric experience than eating Mom’s Chicken Noodle soup… ;-}

Wassail was served for celebration, usually around Harvest or modern day Holiday season. British Holiday carolers of the time had songs written about the celebratory beverage:

Wassail! Wassail! All over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.

One of Dr Wort's Patients... ;-}

Wassail BEER

In the Middle-ages Wassail was mostly a Beer or Mead based beverage. Keep in mind; beer was very different in the Middle Ages compared today. Hops were not widely used as a primary bittering and flavoring for beer until the mid 19th century. Prior that time hops were used sporadically and slowly gained popularity. American colonists brewed with imported hops, spruce bark and sassafras root, until 1629 when the Massachusetts Bay Co. ordered hop seeds from England. In the Middle ages we mostly saw beer in the form of what was called GRUIT, a Barley based Beer beverage bittered and flavored with Wild rosemary, coriander, ginger, anise seed, juniper berries and even wood bark.

These were quite herbally, spicy and smoky beverages. Smokey? Yes, most brewing kettle were heated over WOOD Fires, the burning wood smoke would mix with the mashing and boiling beer to create a fairly smoky tasting beverage. Today, the smoky aspect of these beverages might not be very favorable.

Minus the smoky notes, we could recreate a Medieval Wassail in many ways. Here’s a modern Wassail recipe using some medieval ingredients:

Blended Wassail

½ Gallon of Brown ale or Scottish Ale
6 cinnamon sticks
¼ tsp. ground Coriander
1 Tblsp. Ginger

3-4 Apples and/or combination of Pears
½ Cup Brown Ale
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3/4 cup port wine
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large pot add ½ gallon of Beer. Add the cinnamon sticks, Coriander and Ginger, bring to a simmer over low heat.

Score (poke) Apples/Pears with a knife completely over surface of fruit. Place in a baking dish. Cover with one cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of ale, and the port. Cover baking dish and place in oven, cooking for 30 minutes.

Put remaining ingredients into Pot with Beer.

When fruit are done, and somewhat cooled, transfer all fruit and baking dish contents into Pot. Allow cooking over a low heat for another 30-40 minutes.

Serve hot.

For those of your home brewers out there! Here’s a home brew recipe for modern Wassail ale.

Wassail Ale


10 lbs British Pale Malt
2 lbs Munich Malt
1/2 lbs CaraMunich Malt
1 lb. CaraVienna Malt
1/2 lbs Victory Malt or Biscuit malt
Handful or Chocolate Malt
1/2 lbs Brown Sugar (20 mins to before end of boil)
1 lb. Honey (Add at end of boil)


2 oz. Goldings - E.K (60 min)
1 oz Willamette (30 min)

Spices. Use all or some. Add 5 minutes before the end of the boil and some can be added to Secondary fermenter:

2 inches of Chopped Ginger
1/2 tsp ground Nutmeg
1/2 oz Bitter Orange Peel
2 Cinnamon Sticks slightly crushed
2 Whole Cloves
2 Stars of Anise

Scottish ale Yeast

Mash 155’F


Mead is thought to be the most ancient alcoholic beverage on our planet! What would have been easier? Honey, Water and fermented with wild yeast!

Mead can be created in a variety of styles with a cornucopia of ingredients. Meads can be sweet with rich flavors like Port or they can be light and dry as Champagne. In the USA, Mead can be difficult to find and many of those Meaderies seem to concentrate on more sweet to even disgustingly cloyingly sweet Meads. A poor and misleading representation of Mead. A well make Mead can be sweet like Riesling or Port, but can also be found to be dry and complex as a Cabernet or bone dry like Champagne. Maybe, even found as a fruit Chardonnay or Pinot.

Metheglin: Mead that contains spices.
Cyser: Mead with Apples or apple juice
Pyment: Mead with Grapes
Melomel: Mead with Fruit/
Braggot: Mead with Barley malt

France mead makers prefer to age Mead for up to 10 years to acquire maturity and proper drinking condition!

Well…. We’re not waiting 10 years to toast each other with rousing Wassail! Although with maturity this beverage becomes more complex.

Mulled mead is warmed and with spiced. Of course, if there are already spices in the Mead, you may just need to warm the Mead. ;-}

If using a Melomel and then adding spice…. Now you may have quite a treat! Imagine a Cranberry Melomel with Fall spices!

Wassail Cranberry Mead

Ingredients for 1 gallon (recipe can be double, tripled, etc.)

3 1/2 lbs. fresh cranberries - chopped
1 lb. Golden raisins - chopped
2.5 lbs. Honey

½ tsp Pectin Enzyme
1 tsp. Yeast Energizer
1 Gallon Water

Chablis or Flor Sherry Wine Yeast


1. Freeze cranberries for 1-2 days. This will cause them to blister and the internal juice to become concentrated by crystallizing the sugar within!

2. Defrost cranberries and do a rough chop in a food processor.

3. Add water, yeast energizer and Pectin enzyme to pot and boil for 5 mins. Turn off heat and wait for temp to drop to 180’F.

4. Add Honey and dissolve; then stir in Cranberries and Raisins.

5. Allow to cool to 70 - 75° F. Add to plastic or glass fermentation vessel with fermentation lock. Add the wine yeast.

6. Allow fermenting 7+ days.. Siphon into sterilized secondary fermenter, leaving cranberry and raisins behind.

7. When fermentation ceases and Mead is clear (check gravity 2-3X!) it can be bottled and capped or corked.

.***Note!! The honey in Mead may continue to slowly ferment unless it is COMPLETELY done fermenting. This can take up to 6-8 months! It’s important to make sure fermentation has completely stopped, unless you want Bottles Mead Grenades!!

This Mead can be drank cold, room temperature or warmed with Fall spices for that true Wassail enjoyment.

Enjoy the Up coming Holiday Season!!!


1 comment:

kesha said...

This one-of-a-kind martini-inspired dessert is made with frozen, dark sweet cherries that are grown and harvested in summer. Freezing captures the cherries' height of flavor and juiciness, making the sweet taste of summer available all year. Try substituting cherries-fresh or frozen-for raspberries, strawberries and other fruits in your favorite recipes.



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