This traditional Wassail recipe is quick to prepare and incredibly versatile, promising good cheer and good health with every warming sip!
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Wassail is a delightfully delicious drink with a fascinating history that at least dates back to the 12th century. The deliciously warm and fruity fragrance of this hot mulled cider drink is enough to fill a home with holiday spirit! It's a delightful addition to any Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve gathering and something I remember enjoying when my mom would make it when I was growing up.
This easy, historical recipe is a great way to introduce children to the joys of cooking, and the process of making wassail could become a cherished Christmas tradition in itself!
What is Wassail?
The word wassail originates from the Old English phrase 'waes hael', which means 'be in good health'. Wassail has been a part of winter celebrations since the Middle Ages.
It has evolved over centuries from a simple spoken greeting of good wishes to a potent, spiced ale used for a toast to good health and the hope of a good harvest.
By the 17th century, wassail had become a staple of Christmas and Twelfth Night celebrations, where people would go 'a-wassailing'.
The purpose of wassailing was to awaken the cider apple trees by singing traditional songs and drinking to their health. This was a blessing to ward off evil spirits, in the hopes that they might better thrive to ensure a bountiful crop of apples in the coming year.
Whether you're sharing it on a cold day outside with friends and family or while cozying up to a warm fire on a cold winter night, this hot cider drink is sure to bring warmth and joy throughout the winter season.
Why We Love This Recipe
- This recipe can be easily adapted to suit your taste. The delicious blend of fruit juices, spices, and optional alcohol makes it a drink that can be enjoyed by all.
- Steeped in tradition, this recipe connects us to centuries of history, bringing the good cheer and communal spirit of the past into modern celebrations.
- With ingredients that can be found in any grocery store and a simple cooking method, anyone can bring this holiday tradition into their home.
What You'll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
- Apple Juice or Apple Cider - This forms the base of the wassail, offering a sweet and fruity foundation. Any kind of unfiltered or refrigerated apple juice will work fine here, but apple cider will give a richer, more robust flavor.
- Orange Juice - Adds a pop of citrus to compliment the sweet apple flavors.
- Brown Sugar - Enhances the sweetness of the juices and adds a depth of flavor, melding beautifully with the spices.
- Cinnamon Sticks - A quintessential holiday spice, cinnamon infuses the drink with warmth and a hint of spice.
- Star Anise - I'd highly recommend using star anise for its licorice-like flavor; it adds an exotic twist, but it is optional.
- Ground Ginger - Brings a subtle, spicy kick, which balances the sweetness of the juices.
- Ground Nutmeg - Adds a nutty warmth, perfect for cold weather indulgence.
- Orange Zest - Fresh orange zest is best to enhance the citrusy orange flavor of this drink.
How to Make this Traditional Wassail Recipe
- Heat the juices. Add the apple juice and orange juice to a medium or large pot on high heat.
- Stir in the sugar and spices. Add the brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, ginger, and orange zest to the juice mixture and stir to combine.
- Simmer and add extras. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes. You can add apple slices, orange slices, or star anise to the mixture once it is cooked through.
- Garnish and serve. Pour the wassail into mugs and garnish with fresh apple slices, cinnamon sticks, or star anise.
Yes! Simply place all the ingredients into the slow cooker and cover it on low for four hours or on high for two hours.
Wassail can be made up to one day beforehand. When you want to serve it, simply heat the entire drink gently on the stovetop or warm each glassful in the microwave.
Allow the wassail to cool to room temperature before storing. Storing it while hot can raise the temperature inside your refrigerator, affecting other stored food. Put the wassail to an airtight container or sealed pitcher, and keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Tips for Success
- The better the ingredients, the better the wassail. Use fresh, high-quality fruit juices and freshly ground spices for the best flavor.
- Allow the wassail to simmer gently. Boiling and overheating can cause the flavors to become too concentrated or even bitter.
- Don’t be afraid to taste your wassail as it simmers and adjust the spices and amount of sugar to your liking.
- Wassail is best enjoyed warm. Keep it over low heat on the stove or in a slow cooker during serving to avoid it cooling.
- Having garnishes set aside in bowls allows guests to customize their mug of wassail with garnishes of their choice, adding a personal touch to the experience.
How do I serve traditional Wassail?
I like to allow guests to fill their mugs or drinking glasses directly from the pot on the stove so that each cup is always nice and hot. You can transfer the wassail to a punch bowl for serving.
Traditionally, wassail would have been drunk directly from a Wassail Bowl. This is a large, decorated bowl made from wood, pottery, or tin. It would have had an ornate lid featuring sculptures of animals and people, with many handles on it for shared drinking!
Substitutions and Variations
The iconic flavor of wassail is spiced apples, but the simple nature of this recipe means it is open to be easily customized to make your perfect drink for the holiday season. Each substitution will produce its own unique taste and may require an adjustment of the amount of ingredients used to balance the flavors.
- Instead of apple juice, try using another juice for the base. Pear juice, orange juice, white grape juice, cranberry juice, or even ginger ale would work well. For an alcoholic holiday drink, use red or white wine.
- You can swap the orange juice for other citrus flavors such as grapefruit juice, lemon juice or non-carbonated lemonade, lime juice or non-carbonated limeade, or pineapple juice.
- If you don't have cinnamon sticks, use ½–1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon for each stick. Ground allspice can also be a good substitute for cinnamon sticks.
- Brown sugar adds a depth of caramel flavor that blends perfectly with the spices, but you can use white sugar if you'd like to or are in a pinch.
- Whole spices such as whole cloves and cardamom pods are a great addition. Whole or sliced oranges, apples, limes, and lemons can be added to the pot before serving, as well as fresh or thawed frozen cranberries for an extra festive touch.
More Festive Drink Recipes You’ll Love
- Peppermint Hot Chocolate Bombs
- Instant Pot Apple & Pear Cider
- Homemade White Hot Chocolate
- European-Style Hot Chocolate
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
- 6 cups apple juice or apple cider
- 1½ cups orange juice
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 star anise, optional
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- Add the apple juice, orange juice, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and orange zest to a medium pot over high heat. Once the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer for 30 minutes.
- Pour the wassail into mugs and garnish with apple slices, cinnamon sticks, or star anise.
- Make Ahead: You can make it up to one day beforehand and warm it in the microwave or gently on the stovetop as you want to serve it.
- Store: Allow the wassail to cool to room temperature before storing. Storing it while hot can raise the temperature inside your refrigerator, affecting other stored food. Put the wassail to an airtight container or sealed pitcher, and keep it in the refrigerator for up to a week.