I cannot remember a single Christmas in my life where there wasn’t a big batch of wassail (AKA: mulled wine) simmering in the kitchen. Wassail is so intricately linked with all my memories of the holidays that I can’t imagine how to do Christmas without it! It honestly just doesn’t feel like Christmas until I have a hot mug of wassail in my hand while I sit by the fire.
Our wassail recipe is a true family favorite recipe. We’ve been tweaking it, testing it, and refining it for decades to get the perfect combination of spices, sweetness, tartness, and a little kick from some good red wine. My sister figured out we could cut the sugar and get more fruity flavor. My dad figured out the exact right number of whole cloves to put in so it tastes like glorious holiday spice without being overwhelming. And I stumbled on the fact that just a little bit of maple syrup adds an amazing layer of warm flavor. This recipe is a family secret recipe, and I am so happy to welcome you into our family. Enjoy!
What is the origin of wassail?
Wassailing is a British tradition, but how it was initially performed seems to have varied by region . The most modern version involves wishing good cheer and health in the coming year to the people around you, usually while drinking a warm spiced punch.
The wassail beverage likely started as a hot, sweetened mead or wine. Nowadays, the punch is a bit more complex, with fall spices, fruit juices, and sometimes other liquors added to the mulled wine or cider.
What is wassail made of?
Our family wassail recipe calls for dry red wine and unsweetened cranberry juice. As you might imagine, that would make for a very tart, mouth-puckering punch, which is why we sweeten it!
I discovered a few years back that replacing some of the sugar with maple syrup adds a warm holiday-worthy layer of flavor to our mulled wine. We add cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, and whole allspice berries to add even more holiday spice.
Are wassail and mulled wine the same thing?
They are almost exactly the same! The only main difference you’ll find is that mulled wine usually has whole citrus fruit added to it (typically oranges), and in our wassail, we just use a touch of lemon juice to add that acidic flavor.
Can I make this in a slow cooker?
Yes! In fact, it is our preferred way to make wassail. The slow cooker gently heats all the ingredients together, and then keeps it at the perfect temperature—no burnt mouths over here!
What does wassail smell/taste like?
Wassail tastes (and smells) like sweetened wine with classic holiday spices—because that’s what it is! It doesn’t feel like Christmas in my house unless I can smell that spice in the air!
Can you freeze wassail?
I’ve never tried it, but I imagine you could! I’d probably fish out the whole spices first though—I don’t think they’d hold up well to freezing and defrosting.
How long does wassail keep for?
Any leftover wassail can be refrigerated and used within 2 weeks.