Here We Come A-Wassailing


Wassail, first started as a greeting or as a toast. Waes hael, revelers might say holding up a mug of spiced cider. Eventually, as things go, wassail referred less often to the greeting and more often to the drink. Similarly, the toast that was traditionally floated atop the wassail eventually became our toast; that is, when you hold up your glass and announce, “Let’s have a toast,” or “I’ll toast to that,” you’re paying homage to this very old ritual of floating a bit of toast in a spiced ale, a mulled wine or a traditional wassail as an honor or in celebration. In another wassail tradition, the spiced cider was offered as an ancient honor to the trees. In wintertime, wassailers would prepare the traditional wassail – soaking pieces of bread, cake or toast in it – and travel from apple orchard to apple orchard in effort to ensure a good harvest for the coming year. Wassail-soaked pieces of bread or toast were then buried at the trees’ roots or hung in the trees’ branches to appease the tree spirits and feed them well until the next harvest.

The holidays are full of tasty treats, gourmet meals and yes, the perfect cocktail or complimentary beverage for your holiday table or party. There are some, like Egg Nog or Wassail, that are time tested; having been the holiday staple for generations. New-fangled contemporary contributions to the season’s cup of cheer could be a champagne Poinsettia Punch, a Candy Cane Martini or a rum-filled cup of cider. Cheers to the bevy of beverage options to fill your holidays with a magical light, and here are a few of the timeless and the modern classics to try at your next gathering.

Traditional Wassail

Serves 10-12

4 small apples
¼ cup unrefined cane sugar
1 medium orange
13 whole cloves
2 quarts hard apple cider
½ cup brandy
1 Tablespoon powdered ginger
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
6 allspice berries
2 cinnamon sticks
6 large eggs, (separated)
Toast, (optional, to serve with)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Scoop out the core of the apples without fully penetrating the apple – a melon baller works well. Fill each apple with about a Tablespoon of unrefined cane sugar. Place the apples in the baking sheet. Stud an orange with thirteen cloves and place it in the baking sheet. Bake the apples and orange together for forty minutes.

While the apples and orange bake, pour apple cider and brandy into a heavy-bottomed stock pot and warm over moderately low heat. Whisk in powdered ginger and grated nutmeg. Do not bring the wassail to a boil.

Cut a small square of the butter muslin and place allspice and cinnamon into the square; tie with 100 percent cotton cooking twine and float this sachet of spices in the wassail as it warms.

Beat egg yolks until light in color and set aside. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold egg yolks into whites, then temper the eggs by slowly pouring one-half cup wassail into the eggs. Remove the spice sachet from the wassail and pour in the tempered eggs. Transfer to a punch bowl. Float baked apples and orange in the wassail and serve by the mug, topping each much with a small slice of toast if desired.

Holiday Poinsettia Punch

Serves 12-16

A big bowl of bubbly punch makes a festive centerpiece for a holiday celebration and is also an easy way to serve a crowd, but be sure to plan ahead and make an ice ring, a large block of ice or large ice cubes a day before serving. To make a decorative ice ring, find a Bundt pan that’s no wider than your punch bowl, fill it about three-fourths full of water and freeze overnight.
1 1½ cups chilled cranberry juice
1 1½2 cups chilled orange juice
½ cup vodka
1¼ cup Cointreau
2 bottles chilled dry Champagne or sparkling wine
Molded ice ring, a large block of ice or large ice cubes
8 orange slices, each about ¼ inch thick
2/3 cup fresh or frozen cranberries

In a large punch bowl, stir together the cranberry and orange juices, vodka and Cointreau. Place a molded ice ring or a large block of ice in the bowl. Pour in the sparkling wine and stir gently to combine. Garnish with the orange slices and cranberries and serve immediately.

A Nod to the Nog

Serves 24

Egg Nog, historically also known as milk punch or egg milk punch, is a rich, chilled, sweetened, creamy dairy-based beverage traditionally made with milk, cream, sugar, whipped egg whites and egg yolks and, in some contexts, distilled spirits such as brandy, rum or bourbon.

1 liter Maker’s Mark® Bourbon
1-quart milk
1-quart heavy cream
2 dozen eggs
1 ½ cups sugar
Garnish nutmeg

Separate eggs and beat yolks until creamy. Whip sugar into yolks. Beat whites until they stand in peaks, adding 1/2 cup additional sugar, if desired. Beat yolks and Makers Mark® Bourbon together. Add whites. Beat cream. Add cream and milk to mixture. Add nutmeg to taste, and garnish each cup with nutmeg.

Spiked Mulled Cider

Serves 10-12

2 quarts apple cider
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole allspice
2 cinnamon sticks
¼ teaspoon salt
1 dash ground nutmeg
1 ½ ounces rum (per mug if desired)

With cloves and allspice in a tea ball, cook all ingredients in a crockpot on low 2-8 hours. Stir occasionally to dissolve sugar. Or cook in a pan on the stovetop on low heat 20-30 minutes until it simmers.

Add 1 ½ ounces Bacardi Gold Rum per mugful when poured, if desired. Don’t cook it with the Rum.


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