How to Make Wassail, that steamy, bold, tummy warming Christmas Punch y’all have caroled about for generations. Friends Drift Inn’s version is a comforting blend of apple cider, bourbon and spices that will keep you toasty for Christmas reveling or just enjoying a cozy winter’s evening by the fire.
Old Christmas, candlelit church where you tote a quilt to keep warm, wassailing with neighbors and family, bonfires and snifters of steaming wassail, now that is how the holidays are best enjoyed. Joyce Pinson, Friends Drift Inn
How to Make Wassail Recipe-At-A-Glance
Christmas Holiday Punch Recipe
Stovetop Method Prep Time 15 Minutes Cook Time 30 Minutes Total Time 45 Minutes
Slow Cooker Method Prep Time 15 Minutes Simmer Time 3 Hours Total Time 3 Hours and 15 Minutes
Ingredients Apple Cider – Cranberry Juice – Bourbon – Cinnamon Sticks – Allspice – Whole Cloves – White Pepper – Friends Drift Inn Orange Marmalade – Friends Drift Inn Apple Butter – Oranges – Apples
Equipment – 6-7 Quart heavy saucepan or 6-7 Quart slow cooker – Measuring cups and spoons – Paring Knife
Yield 30 Servings (It bears noting you can make wassail ahead and store in refrigerator up to 3 days)
What Does Wassail Taste Like?
Friends Drift Inn Wassail Recipe respects our family tradition of growing apples. Our Kentucky-style Christmas holiday punch recipe features tart apple cider, coupled with cranberry juice, our citrusy orange marmalade and a robust bourbon.
Of course, there are spices. So many spices!
Warmed over the stove, or simmered in a slow cooker, the comforting smell of mulling apple cider with orange slices studded with cloves, wedges of red apples, cinnamon, allspice, and white pepper will have your kitchen smelling like the holidays should.
Apples combined with bourbon; how can you go wrong?
You could simmer wassail with the bourbon, and it will be fine. Perhaps a bit more mellow. But we like to add the bourbon at the last possible moment. We want that bourbon kick of caramel and oak to shine through.
How to Make Wassail Christmas Punch – The Basics
Making wassail is so easy! I don’t know why folks let the process intimidate them. All you need are ingredients and equipment. No fancy pants chef hat required!
- Assemble ingredients
- Decide to make either in slow cooker or stovetop.
- Prep apples and oranges for mulling and garnish. Make plenty!
- Decide to add bourbon and let simmer or add bourbon at the last minute for a holiday jolt.
- Simmer wassail and serve. We use brandy snifters, but copper mugs would be nice too.
It is tempting to use Granny’s antique punch glasses for this recipe. I would advise against it, as the hot wassail may cause your treasured cups to crack.
You can make cider ahead of time, cool and store covered in the refrigerator for 3 days.
When the weather is chilly, we make this ahead of time for tailgating parties or camping adventures.
Selecting Kentucky Bourbon by Taste
Holiday cocktail parties call for the best – but also what is comfortable for your pocketbook. When it comes to bourbon for cocktails, you do not have to spend a bundle.
Raised up in Bourbon Country, we choose bourbon by taste, understanding that each brand has a mash-bill that varies up the grain combinations of corn, wheat, barley or rye.
If you have not sampled different bourbons, take the time to do so. Expand your flavor palate.
For Friends Drift Inn Wassail, we choose a robust bourbon that is near barrel strength. The mash bill is corn, wheat and barley – no rye. I don’t like rye whiskey in this wassail recipe!
As you select, we would recommend a bourbon with a heavy char. If you don’t know, bourbon is made in oak barrels which are scorched on the inside. As the bourbon ages, the spirit works in and out of the barrel innards giving the final product notes of oak, caramel, and a deep brown color.
Look for spicy notes, with a finish of maple and vanilla. Some say a butterscotch finish is apparent in the brand we choose for wassail. I cannot find it. I’ll keep trying!
Because we do live in Bourbon Country and work with several distilleries, we won’t tell you exactly which bourbon we use in our Friends Drift Inn Wassail. But we will tell you if you love Thanksgiving, you are on the right track! Winks and Giggles.
Stove or Slow Cooker – Simmering Wassail
You know what? I think either way is fine.
My thought process is this. If we are going caroling, wassailing if you will, I make it on top of the stove. It gets hotter so it is still steamy when the brisk crisp winter air hits our faces.
Total time for Stovetop Wassail is about 45 minutes.
The wassail will have a flavor BOOM if you add bourbon at the last. Again, if it’s cold outside wassail will warm your tummy and maybe even your toes. Ha!
But if we are throwing a party, I make wassail in a slow cooker placing a ladle close by so friends can help themselves. Let simmer at least 3 hours to bring up to temperature.
Because the wassail simmers longer in the slow cooker, the flavors tend to meld more making it a tad mellow. That is okay.
This is your party – do what YOU want.
Choosing A Good Apple Cider
For our wassail, we use a sweet cider – not hard cider. The best apple ciders are found at u-pick apple orchards where they make it on site.
Apple cider is dark, cloudy and mysterious.
Apple juice is sweeter and filtered.
Cider is going to give you more depth of flavor. Like our apple butter, most ciders include several varieties of apples to add flavor balance.
You could substitute apple juice in a pinch. If you go that route we suggest adding 4 tablespoons of Friends Drift Inn Spiced Apple Butter, increasing from 2 tablespoons called for in the wassail recipe.
Studding the Oranges
You remember those pomanders they used to make in elementary school? Studded oranges with cloves embedded in the pithy flesh, smell so good!
Just take a paring knife, make a little incision in the orange skin for the clove to nest in, and push a clove inside. It is simple!
We stud the oranges, after they have been sliced. It is just easier.
For Slow Cooker wassail, I like whole slices studded all the way around.
But for caroling, we serve in brandy snifters and half-slices work just fine.
It is all a matter of presentation. You choose.
Friends Drift Inn Orange Marmalade
Friends Drift Inn Marmalade has a mellow citrus profile, not as sharp as traditional marmalade. There is a little orange peel in the preserves. Orange Marmalade is thicker than most of our jams and jellies.
Marmalade is gaining in popularity, so get a couple jars to be ahead of the trend.
Here in Appalachia, oranges were and still are a traditional stocking stuffer. Nowadays, so many of our retirees come home for Christmas from Florida, bearing crates and crates of fresh oranges we call Christmas “The Snowbird Express.”
I guess that is why we associate fresh oranges with the wassailing season.
Friends Drift Inn Spiced Apple Butter
Our Spiced Apple Butter contains a blend of apple varieties balancing sweet and tart. Inspired by Apple Stack Cake, our apple butter features ginger more prominently than cinnamon. This lets the apples take on a starring role.
Like all our products, apple butter is handcrafted in small batches by our family. We work in a commercial kitchen near Pine Mountain. Our apple butter contains no added preservatives, food colorings or high fructose corn syrup.
But Why Do We Wassail Anyway?
Wassailing traditions come from England, especially the South of England where Apple production has gone on for centuries. In Medieval times, agrarian communities counted on an abundant apple harvest to make cider.
Back then, they drank cider as casually as we drink beer.
Wassailing involved going to the apple orchards for a night of revelry.
Some of these rituals including hanging cider-soaked toast from apple trees, encircling the oldest tree and singing, reciting incantations, banging pots and pans, and even shooting shotguns.
The ritual was meant to awaken the apple trees from their winter sleep, ward off evil spirits, and encourage a “howling” harvest. (A big ‘un!)
One of my favorite Wassail blessings goes like this:
Bud well, bear well
God send you fare well;
Every sprig and every spray
A bushel of apples next New Year Day.
— 19th century Worcestershire Source Wikipedia
Old Christmas in Appalachia
Charlie’s family celebrates Christmas on Christmas Eve, as do many kin here in the mountains. It is a night of appetizers, holiday desserts, and opening piles of gifts. We play board games and crank up the karaoke. It is fun.
The next day we sit down to a Christmas feast, with turkey, ham, and all the fixings. We enjoy that too.
But all that excitement wears us out! That is where Old Christmas comes in.
Wassailing was traditionally done on Twelfth Night or Christmas Tide. In some Appalachian communities, the Christmas season extends one day more to January 6.
Christmas in Appalachia was not always celebrated on December 25th. Whether because calendar reform in 1752 had removed 11 days, turning December 25th into January 6th, or because January 6th marked the arrival of the three wise men on the 12th day of Christmas, many Appalachian people celebrated Old Christmas on January 6th.
For Charlie and me, Old Christmas gives us time to breathe and reflect. It is not the hustle and bustle of a hectic Christmas Season, the fancy cocktail parties of New Years, but rather a time to remember our ancestors, dream about our future plans, and reconnect to each other before the madness of planting and harvest take us on yet another journey of growing a good life in Appalachia.
Kentucky weather is unpredictable. If the weather is warm at Old Christmas we celebrate with a chilled Bourbon Apple Cider Cocktail.
Wassail – Apples and Good Cheer
We love apples, all kinds of apples. The Friend family has a long tradition of growing apples and making apple cider as well as apple butter. I talk about our family history and the old Friends Drift Inn apple orchard in an article, “What is Apple Butter?”
Apple farmers come in all shapes and sizes, just like apples. I do not know about the generations of folks that grew up with wassailing in the apple orchards of England, but here apples are something we cherish not just for flavor but for economy.
The United States has 7,500 apple producers who, collectively, grow 240 million bushels of apples on average each year on 322 thousand total acres of land. The farm-gate revenue, or wholesale value, of the U.S. apple crop annually is close to $4 billion, with a predicted additional $15 billion related downstream economic activity each year.
“Downstream economic activity” refers to value-added products like apple butter and apple cider.
Who would have thought the ancient tradition of wassailing, began in apple orchards by farmers so wanting an abundant harvest?
Make Wassail! What Are You Waiting For?
Make wassail throughout the Christmas season and beyond; right on up to the last of the “Little Winters” in April. Pray for the farmers who fight blight, pests, early freezes, drought, windstorms, and bears to bring you apples for your celebrations.
I leave you with this. Sing it with me, y’all know the tune.
Here we come a wassailing
Among the leaves so green,
Here we come a wandering
So fair to be seen.
Love and joy come to you,
And to you your wassail too,
And God bless you and send you a happy New Year.
And God send you a happy New Year.
— Somerset, 1871 (Source Wikipedia)
Choose Your Assortment
Apple Cider and bourbon steeped with fruits and spices is a tummy-warming crowd-pleasing Christmas tradition. At Friends Drift Inn we serve wassail from October to April. A winter warming bourbon cocktail with a kick!
- 1 gallon Apple Cider
- 2 quarts Cranberry Juice
- 2 cups of Kentucky Bourbon (we add at last-but you can simmer all together-your choice)
- 4 sticks of Cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon Allspice
- 1 tablespoon White Pepper
- 2 tablespoons Friends Drift Inn Orange Marmalade
- 2 tablespoons Friends Drift Inn Apple Butter
- 2 Oranges studded with Whole Cloves
- 3 medium Apples
1. Slice oranges into rounds (halves if doing stovetop and snifters method).
2. Using paring knife, make small incisions in orange skin and press whole cloves in.
3. Slice apples – either in wedges or in thin rounds. (We usually add a few slices to the simmering pot-but reserve raw sliced apples for garnish-so guests get crunch apples not soggy ones)
4. Combine all ingredients (your choice to add bourbon now or at end).
5. Bring to a simmer on low to medium heat.
6. Serve in Brandy Snifters making sure to float oranges and apples on top.
You can make this in the slow cooker or on the stove top. Stove top version takes about 45 Minutes.
A 6-7 quart slow cooker will make the wassail more mellow, the stove-top version has a seriously vibrant flavor. If you opt for slow cooker, increase cooking time to 3 hours.
If you substitute apple juice for cider add an extra 2 tablespoons of apple butter to help develop the apple ginger flavor.
We add bourbon at the very last minute to showcase the bourbon flavors against the apples and fruit. Adding during the simmering process gives a more mild flavor profile. It’s your choice.
Like all our recipes, this bourbon cocktail celebrating winter, features Friends Drift Inn orange marmalade and apple butter. We cannot predict how other products will taste or perform.
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