Our festive wassail recipe is the perfect drink to warm up by the fireplace this winter. This non alcoholic apple cider beverage has the right combination of fruit and spice. Plus, it's easy to make, so you can impress your guests with minimal effort.
You might be familiar with the popular 1850 British Christmas song "Here We Come A-Wassailing" that talks about wassail, but do you know what wassail is? It is an aromatic holiday beverage that can be alcoholic or nonalcoholic, and is composed of apple cider, other juices, sugar, and mulling spices.
The first time we remember having this delightful holiday drink was at the annual Christmas celebration at Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation. They made this in an enormous cast iron pot hung over an outdoor fire. It smelled and tasted wonderful, so I was determined to make up a batch at home!
All the ingredients for this festive wassail recipe are easy to find at your local grocery store during the holiday months of November and December.
- Apple Cider: If you can, use apple cider instead of apple juice, as it provides a more complex flavor.
- Orange Juice: This citrus provides a balance to this yummy drink.
- Pineapple Juice: Adds more fruity flavor, and makes this over the top amazing.
- Lemon Juice: Use fresh and not from concentrate. It will brighten this wassail drink.
- Sugar: Light brown sugar adds a bit of sweetness and warmth.
- Spices: Whole cloves, allspice, ginger root and cinnamon sticks add the right mix of holiday spice.
- Garnishes: Cut up some apple and orange slices and pour in some fresh or frozen cranberries to make this pretty and extra delicious.
How to Make
Gather all the ingredients and get started.
- For easy removal of the mulling spices, make a sachet using cheesecloth and kitchen twine. Cut a six inch square of double-layered cheesecloth and put the whole cloves and allspice berries in the center. Gather up the corners, twist, and tie with kitchen twine. If you don't have any cheesecloth, use a tea ball.
2. Score the orange and lemons into sections, then peel. Slice the lemon and orange peel into ¼ or ⅛ inch slices. (If you want to make wassail mix for a gift, dry out the peel on a baking tray and cook in a 170°F oven for four hours. Flip slices halfway through cooking time.)
3. Pour the apple cider, orange, cranberry, and pineapple juices into a large pot or crock pot. Stir in the sugar, then bring to a simmer.
4. Add the peeled and sliced fresh ginger root.
5. Add the small sachet (or tea ball) of the mulling spices to the pot or crock pot. If you don't have cheesecloth or a tea ball, that is okay. Just add the mulling spices loose, and strain them out later.
6. Add the freshly squeezed lemon juice.
7. Add the other mulling spices: orange and lemon peel and cinnamon sticks. Stir, cover, and simmer for 1 hour. If using a crock pot, cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours.
8. Remove the cinnamon sticks and mulling spice sachet from the pot or crock pot with a slotted spoon. If you are planning on serving this in a pot, keep the sliced peel and sliced ginger in the pot for added flavor.
9. To serve on the stovetop, keep the large pot of wassail covered on low heat, and serve the wassail with a large ladle.
If you made this in a crock pot, or want to transfer it to a crock pot, strain the mulling spices (if you didn't use a sachet), citrus peel, and sliced ginger by pouring it through a sieve that is set over a very large bowl, then pour the strained wassail into the crock pot and turn the setting to warm.
To garnish, add slices of apple and oranges and fresh or frozen cranberries. Keep the strained sliced ginger, oranges and lemon strips for snacking on, or add to your canning jars if making wassail for a gift.
10. Serve in large mugs with an orange slice as a garnish and three whole cloves.
There is actually two definitions for wassail. The first one is to give a toast to someone's health, and the second one is a hot drink that is served in a very large bowl during the Christmas holidays.
There are two traditions of wassailing. The first involves orchard wassailing where the merrymakers would sing while walking through the apple orchards in order to bless the orchard so they would have a good harvest the following season.
The second involves a group of merrymakers that spread fun and good wishes in their neighborhood by going from house to house singing traditional songs (aka caroling) while someone in their group is carrying the large wassail bowl that they share.
Traditionally, wassail was drunk in the U.K. on New Year's Eve (Dec. 31) and on 12th Night (Jan. 5th), the Eve of Epiphany. If you had enough money, people would drink it every night during the 12 days of Christmas, which ran from Christmas until Epiphany.
Traditionally, wassail was made of hard cider, apples, brandy, and mulling spices, but nonalcoholic wassail is made out of fruit juices (apple, orange, lemon) and mulling spices.
What does this drink smell like?
Our wassail recipe has the aroma of mulled apple cider with citrus smells of orange and lemon mixed with pineapple and cranberry. The mulling spices of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and ginger makes your whole house smell like the holidays. It is definitely an enticing scent.
What is a wassail mix?
It is a packet or sachet that consists of popular mulling spices. The sachet is stored in an airtight container until you are ready to use it.
The traditional mulling spices are that could be included in this mix are whole cloves, whole allspice berries, cinnamon sticks, dried orange and lemon peel, and possibly dried ginger slices or finely chopped candied ginger.
Other mulling spices that could be in this mix would be peppercorns, star anise, nutmeg, or cardamom pods.
To use this mix, you would stir the contents of the packet into your apple cider and fruit juices. Add some brown sugar. Stir and bring to a boil, then simmer one minute. Remove from heat. Cover and let steep 15 minutes or until well flavored.
How can I make this for a holiday gift?
The most popular way is it make up dry mixes using mulling spices and dried orange and lemon peels wrapped in cheesecloth, and stored in an airtight container like a small glass mason jar.
Another way you can make this recipe for a gift is to pour freshly made wassail into large canning jars. Add slices of orange and apples with frozen cranberries to the wassail. It will give it a sangria-like twist without the wine. Next, allow it to cool completely before screwing the lids on tightly and adding a gift tag.
- Make this ahead and reheat in the crock pot.
- Keep it hot for serving by using a crock pot, stove top, carafe, or warming plate.
- Leftover juice? Freeze leftover cranberry, orange, apple cider, and pineapple juice. Thaw and make another batch later.
- Can you freeze wassail? Yes, just freeze in an airtight container and leave about an inch of head space to allow for expansion.
- Make a spice sachet by wrapping the whole cloves and the allspice berries in cheesecloth. It makes for easy removal.
- Short on time? Leave the lemon and orange peels in larger sections instead of slicing to ¼ inch pieces.
- Transport the wassail in a carafe, crockpot (make sure it's not too full!), or large mason jars with lids on tight.
- Give wassail to friends and family. Pour the strained wassail into mason jars, and stuff with orange and apple slices and a few cranberries. Add a gift tag.
Love warm holiday drinks? You'll need to try these other ones.
The pleasure of a 5-star would be greatly appreciated.
Festive Wassail Recipe
For the Wassail
- 4 cups apple cider
- 4 cups orange juice
- 2 cups cranberry juice
- 2 cups pineapple juice
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 2 large room temperature lemons
- ½ cup lemon rind, from 2 large lemons
- ½ cup orange rind, from 1 navel orange
- 1- inch piece ginger root, peeled and sliced into coins
- ¾ cup light brown sugar, packed
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- ¼ teaspoon whole cloves
- ¼ teaspoon allspice berries
- 1 red apple, sliced crosswise to make a star in the center
- 1 navel orange, sliced
- ¼ cup fresh or frozen cranberries
- ¼ cup whole cloves, 3 per glass
- For easy removal, place the whole cloves and whole allspice berries in a double-layered square of cheesecloth. Tie with kitchen twine to make a spice sachet.
- Pour the apple cider, orange juice, cranberry juice, and pineapple juice in a large pot, then add the brown sugar and spice sachet. Cover and bring the mixture to a boil.
- While the pot is coming to a boil, peel the ginger root by scraping it with the edge of a spoon and slice it into thin coins. Score the lemons and oranges in four to six sections, then peel, reserving the fruit for another use. Slice the peels into ¼ or ⅛-inch strips. Squeeze the juice from 2 large room temperature lemons.
- Once the juice comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low. Stir in the ginger root, citrus peels, lemon juice, and cinnamon sticks. Cover and simmer for one hour.
- Remove the spice sachet and cinnamon sticks, as the flavor will be too strong if you leave them in for too long. (If you didn't use a spice sachet, just pour the wassail through a sieve set over a very large bowl.) Add the citrus peels back to the wassail for color and flavor, and discard the spice sachet and cinnamon sticks.
- If desired, garnish each cup with a half a slice of orange and a few whole cloves. Serve hot.
- Make a spice sachet and prep the ginger and citrus peels as written above.
- Add all the ingredients into the crockpot. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours, or on low for 6 hours.
- Remove the cinnamon sticks, citrus peel, and spice sachet with a slotted spoon or by pouring the wassail through a sieve set over a large bowl. Keep the citrus peel and discard the cinnamon sticks and mulling spice bag.
- Pour the strained wassail back into the crock pot. Garnish with three slices of orange and apple, and a few fresh or frozen cranberries. Cover and keep on warm.
- If desired, garnish each cup with half a slice of orange, apple, and a few cranberries. Serve hot.
- Make a spice sachet. To easily remove the spices, place them in a spice bundle by wrapping the whole cloves and the all spice berries in cheesecloth.
- Short on time? Leave the lemon and orange peels in larger sections instead of slicing to ¼ inch pieces.
- Want to give as a gift? Stuff mason jars with orange and apple slices and a few cranberries, then pour in the wassail and add a gift tag.
- Have leftovers? Wassail can be frozen in an airtight container; make sure to leave about an inch of headspace to allow for expansion.
Serving sizes and nutritional information are only an estimate and may vary from your results.
This post was originally published on October 30, 2017, and republished on Dec. 12, 2018 with new photos and expanded content. It was updated on Dec. 18, 2021 with resized photos and reformatted, expanded content.