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Wassail

  • Serves: 10
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 1 hr
  • Calories: 128
homemade wassail in a pot with a ladle and slices apples and cinnamon sticks

Brimming with apple cider, spices, tea and fresh ginger, our festive wassail recipe—which can be made on the stove, or in a slow-cooker or Instant Pot—is ready to warm all your holiday celebrations!

Here We Come A-Wassailing!

And if you’ve ever sung the wassail song and wondered what the heck going a-wassailing meant, you’re not alone. But before we get into the history of wassail—and we’ll nerd out just a bit, because if you’re into Christmas and you’re into delicious drinks, you’re going to want to know all the juicy stuff—let’s talk about this yummy wassail recipe! Our love for wassail is rooted in Holly’s family’s New Year’s tradition. They always make a big batch of wassail punch, but their recipe (which includes grape juice) is a bit different from the wassail recipe that we’re sharing today. This sweet, slightly tannic, spiced cider punch is much more like a traditional English wassail recipe, and we find it to be completely irresistible. It’s sure to warm you head to toe. Plus, we’ve included directions for making wassail in a stock pot, slow-cooker OR Instant Pot, so our recipe is ultra versatile.

apple cider, black tea, sliced oranges and lemons, and spices on the counter

What Is Wassail?

Grab yourself a cup of cheer (by which we mean wassail) and settle in for a little holiday food history. So, what is the tradition of wassail? Wassail and “wassailing” are rooted in British Christmas traditions and likely date back even beyond that to pagan harvest rituals. But for the sake of simplicity, we’ll focus on wassail as a Christmastime tradition. As you probably know, advent is the time leading up to Christmas and “Christmastide” is celebrated beginning on December 25th. December 25th isn’t just Christmas Day, it’s also the first day of the 12 days of Christmas which end on Epiphany. Historically in the U.K., Epiphany eve, aka the Twelfth Night, was welcomed with as much (or more) celebration as Christmas itself. Wassailing was a part of that, and involved roving groups of revelers, who would roam around together in celebration—banging pots and pans, singing and visiting local orchards. When wassailers arrived at the orchard owner’s door, they’d be welcomed with cups of warm cider. Believe it or not, this little explanation is just the TL;DR! Read more about the history of wassailing here.

cloves and all spice in a coffee filter
homemade wassail in a pot

What Is the Drink Wassail Made Of?

Traditional English wassail was a drink that celebrated successful harvests in the orchards, and would have been made primarily from apple or pear cider. It was most certainly alcoholic, and served warm to help revelers get toasty (in more ways than one!) as they roamed around on a cold autumn or winter night. So, what's the difference between wassail and cider? Well, wassail recipes usually begin with cider as a base, but they don’t stop there. All of the wintery, Christmassy spices that we associate with this time of year are lovely additions to most cider recipes and ours is no different. So, grab your grocery list and scribble down….

homemade wassail steeping 
in a pot
homemade wassail in a pot with sliced apples and a ladle

Wassail Ingredients

We always find the very best apple cider at the farmers markets. Vendors who sell apples and pears often sell wonderful unfiltered cider as well! Our very favorites even make delicious blends like apple-cherry cider. But we digress! Get your hands on some good unfiltered cider and hit up the bulk spice aisle (and possibly the liquor store, depending on the crowd you’ll be sharing this with) and let’s make some wassail! Here’s everything you’ll need to make wassail:

  • Whole allspice

  • Cinnamon sticks

  • Whole cloves

  • Apple cider

  • Black tea (decaffeinated or regular)

  • Brown sugar

  • Fresh ginger

  • Oranges and lemons

  • Liquor if you want to make spiked wassail! Brown liquor is the way to go—whiskey, brandy or even aged rum.

homemade wassail in a pot  with a ladle and slices apples and cinnamon sticks

How To Make Our Favorite Wassail Recipe

Black tea brings a tannic boost and an unexpected depth to our wassail recipe. You can use decaf black tea if you’re serving this in the evening or to a group that includes kids, or you can use regular black tea with caffeine if you’re serving this at a daytime gathering. Just be sure to warn parents if you’ve got kids in attendance! If you want to serve this at a grown-up gathering you can always put a good bottle of bourbon or brandy out next to the punch bowl or slow-cooker.

homemade wassail in mugs garnished with apple slices and cinnamon sticks
homemade wassail in mugs garnished with apple slices and cinnamon sticks

Tools You’ll Need

More Festive Holiday Drink Recipes

homemade wassail in mugs garnished with apple slices and cinnamon sticks

Love and Joy Come to You, and to You Your Wassail, Too!

Wassail is about the joy of gathering, and about celebrating all that we’re so lucky to have, even (or perhaps especially!) on the darkest and coldest days. We hope this wassail recipe encourages you to share a cup of cheer with your nearest and dearest and becomes a drink that you make memories around! When you make it, snap a photo of your drink and your merry-making! Share a photo and tag us on Instagram using @themodernproper and #themodernproper so that we can share your joy! Happy eating!

Wassail

  • Serves: 10
  • Prep Time: 10 min
  • Cook Time: 1 hr
  • Calories: 128

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp whole allspice
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 cups apple cider (preferably unfiltered)
  • 2 cups unsweetened black tea (home steeped or store bought, decaf if desired)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 lemons juiced, about 1/4 cup
  • 1 oz fresh ginger, peeled about 2-inch piece
  • 3 fresh oranges juiced, about 1 cup
  • Bourbon, Brandy or Rum, optional

Method

To Make Wassail on the Stovetop

  1. Using a coffee filter and cooking twine or a piece of cheesecloth, tie up the cloves and allspice into a little bundle. Alternatively, you can make the wassail with the spices directly in the pot and strain it through a fine mesh strainer after steeping.

  2. In a large pot set over high heat, add the spice bundle, cinnamon sticks, apple cider, tea, brown sugar, lemon juice, ginger and orange juice and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour.

  3. Remove and discard the spice packed. Serve warm.

To Make Wassail in an Instant Pot

  1. Using a coffee filter and cooking twine or a piece of cheesecloth, tie up the cloves and allspice into a little bundle. Alternatively, you can make the wassail with the spices directly in the pot and strain it through a fine mesh strainer after steeping.

  2. In a large (6 quart) Instant pot or electric pressure cooker add the spice bundle, cinnamon sticks, apple cider, tea, brown sugar, lemon juice, ginger and orange juice and stir to combine.

  3. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes, about 30-40 minutes total for pressurizing and releasing of pressure. Slowly release the pressure. Discard the spice packet. Serve warm.

To Make Wassail in a Slow-Cooker

  1. Using a coffee filter and cooking twine or a piece of cheesecloth, tie up the cloves and allspice into a little bundle. Alternatively, you can make the wassail with the spices directly in the pot and strain it through a fine mesh strainer after steeping.

  2. In a large (6 quart) slow cooker/crock pot, add the spice bundle, cinnamon sticks, apple cider, tea, brown sugar, lemon juice, ginger and orange juice and stir to combine.

  3. Cook on high for 1-2 hours, or on low for 2-3 hours.

  4. Discard the spice bundle. Serve warm. To keep warm in the slow cooker, switch the heat to the “warm” mode.

Note: If you'd like to offer an option for guests who'd like their wassail boozy, put out a bottle of bourbon or brandy and invite guests to spike their own wassail as they see fit. We'd suggest about 1 oz. of brandy or bourbon per 6 oz. cup of wassail.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories 128
  • Protein 0 g
  • Carbohydrates 32 g
  • Total Fat 0 g
  • Dietary Fiber 1 g
  • Cholesterol 0 mg
  • sodium 11 mg
  • Total Sugars 27 g

Wassail

Questions & Reviews

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  • Paola

    Sounds really good! Here in Ireland (and in UK and France) cider is an alcoholic drink, but I know that in the US is not - which one are you using in the recipe? (in Europe the non-alcoholic is simply called apple juice ) Thank you !

    Apple juice and (non alcoholic) apple cider are two different things. Apple cider (non alcoholic) is an unfiltered apple juice. And here Apple juice is normally filtered unless otherwise labeled. So if you can get your hands on a Non-Alcoholic, unfiltered apple juice, then that's what you want! If not, just use apple juice. : )

  • Jenn

    Made this Christmas morning and everyone enjoyed it! Skipped the booze for the younger ones and we just spiked our adult cups like recommended. Both versions was perfect.

    Thank you Jenn, we are so glad you loved it!