Facilitating revelry throughout the ages.

The word “wassail” has been used for more than a 1,000 years, appearing as early as the 8th century in the poem Beowulf. Throughout the single digit centuries it was used as either salutatory gesture (wassail!) or an adjective (get wassailed). It was first applied to a steaming bowl of ale and fortified wine, called the “wassail bowl,” around the 13th century, when it became common for medieval party-goers to dip bread and cakes into a big bowl of ale. (By the way, this practice of floating bread in a big bowl of liquid gave birth to our modern celebratory use of the word “toast.”) The wassail bowl’s contents continued to evolve, but the practice of communal “wassailing” survived all the way through the Renaissance. During the 17th century the wassail bowl took to the streets and became an offering of peace and prosperity during the holidays, carried from door to door, the verb “wassailing” eventually evolving to denote drunken revelry in a more general sense.

When the puritans made their way to America, they brought the wassail bowl with them and it remained a fixture in America throughout the 19th century, giving birth to other wassail-like drinks, like the Hot Toddy and eggnog. While still a Christmas tradition in many households the Wassail has toiled in obscurity throughout most of the 20th century, but without reason. This simple, steamy combination of oxidized sherry, tart apple cider and spicy cinnamon are about as iconic as they come.



  • 5-6 apples, cored (preferably crisp, sweet apples like Fuji or honey crisp)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 cups hard cider, crisp and not too sweet
  • 3 cups ale
  • 2 cups sherry, (preferably oloroso)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, ground
  • 2 cloves, whole
  • 4 allspice berries, whole
  • 6 eggs, optional

Garnish: apple slice and a cinnamon stick

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put apples in a baking dish, and spoon brown sugar into the core of each. Add 1/4 inch water to the bottom of the dish, and place in the oven until softened, about 45 minutes.
  3. In a large sauce pot, add cider, ale and sherry. Place over low heat, and do not boil.
  4. In a square of cheesecloth, add cinnamon stick, cloves and allspice. Tie securely and drop into the warming pot with nutmeg and ginger.
  5. If adding eggs, skip to the next step. If not, let mixture simmer for 30 minutes and skip to step 11.
  6. Separate egg yolks from whites into two separate medium-sized bowls.
  7. With an electric mixer, beat egg yolks until frothy. Then beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.
  8. Beat egg whites into yolks until just combined.
  9. Slowly add 1/2 a cup of the warm cider mixture into the eggs while whisking the entire time.
  10. Whisk this mixture back into the cider pot.
  11. Add apples and baking liquid to the pot.
  12. Ladle into individual glasses, and garnish with an apple slice and a cinnamon stick.

Tagged: ale, cider, hot drinks, sherry