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This old fashioned wassail recipe is the center of my personal Venn diagram, where singing, drinks, and the winter holidays meet. It’s warm, cozy — and nonalcoholic, but with a bottle of bourbon on the side.

wassail in a mug and pot with a bottle of bourbon
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What does wassail mean?

The word “wassail” comes from Old Norse and Old English, and means, more or less, to be in good health, to be fortunate, or to be hale and hearty. It refers to both a category of hot mulled beverages and the ancient English tradition of gathering to drink, sing, and ask for the good health of the apple trees. In modern times that tradition has evolved into Christmas caroling.

Why you’ll love this recipe

I’m not a personal fan of warm wine or mead, and I wanted to create a wassail that drinkers and non-drinkers could all enjoy together. This recipe:

  • Starts with good-quality apple cider and other flavorful juices
  • Quickly and easily takes on the cozy flavors of winter spices and fruits
  • Tastes equally great by itself or with a big splash of bourbon

It’s make-ahead friendly and great for a crowd.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

ingredients for this old fashioned wassail recipe
  • Apple cider is a gently sweet, complex ingredient in its own right. I tend to grab whatever local, unfiltered cider I see in the shops in the fall and winter.
  • You can squeeze your own fresh orange juice or use a pulp-free variety from the grocery store.
  • Cranberry juice cocktail gives the wassail a gentle pink hue and adds a lovely, bright flavor. Use the run-of-the-mill stuff from the grocery store with plenty of added sugar.
  • You’ll use three types of warm, wintery whole spices: cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves.
  • Thinly slice red apples (I use honeycrisp) and navel oranges, and rinse off a couple of cups of fresh cranberries, which will pop as the wassail simmers.
old fashioned wassail in a pot

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make this old fashioned wassail recipe. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

step by step
  1. Pour the apple cider, orange juice, and cranberry juice into a large pot, and bring to a boil.
  2. Add sliced apple studded with cloves, sliced orange, cranberries, cinnamon, and star anise.
  3. Simmer for half an hour, then strain.
  4. Add fresh fruit and spices, ladle into mugs, and splash in some bourbon if you like. That’s it!

Expert tips and FAQs

Can I make this recipe in the slow cooker?

Yep. You’ve got two options: cook on the stovetop and keep warm in a slow-cooker, or do the whole thing from start to finish in the slow-cooker. Please refer to the recipe card below for details.

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

Definitely. You can simmer the wassail up to a week in advance, cool it and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat and add fresh fruit and spices right before serving.

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week and can be reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop.

More favorite recipes with cider

P.S. Want a soundtrack to sip to?

If you’d like a soundtrack for your sipping — or, hey, to program a beautiful choral and orchestral piece for your next holiday concert, if you’re into that sort of thing — please enjoy this spirited setting of the classic Gloucestershire Wassail by my friend Ryan.

old fashioned wassail in a pot

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old fashioned wassail in a pot
5 from 4 votes

Old Fashioned Wassail Recipe

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
This old fashioned wassail recipe is the center of my personal Venn diagram, where singing, drinks, and the winter holidays meet. It's warm, cozy — and nonalcoholic, but with a bottle of bourbon on the side.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 40 minutes
Total: 50 minutes
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Ingredients 

  • 8 cups 1(893 ml) apple cider
  • 2 cups (475 ml) pulp-free orange juice
  • 2 cups (475 ml) cranberry juice cocktail
  • 2 navel oranges, divided
  • 2 red apples, divided
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 2 cups (200 grams) fresh cranberries, divided
  • 6 cinnamon sticks
  • 6 star anise
  • 1 to 2 cups up to (475 ml) bourbon, optional

Instructions 

  • Pour the apple cider, orange juice, and cranberry juice cocktail into a 5-quart pot. Set over high heat and bring to a boil.
  • While the mixture heats, slice the oranges and the apples crosswise into thin slices. Remove apple seeds.
  • Press a few cloves into the flesh of each apple slice until all the cloves are accounted for.
  • When the mixture boils, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.
  • Add half the apple slices (including all of the ones studded with cloves), half the orange slices, half the cranberries, four of the cinnamon sticks, and three of the star anise to the pot.
  • Simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Strain the wassail through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a large bowl. This removes any accumulated foam along with the spent fruit and spices.
  • Pour strained wassail back into the pot or into a slow cooker. In either case, set on low heat to keep warm.
  • Place the remaining cinnamon sticks and star anise into the pot, along with some of the apple and orange slices and cranberries. Reserve some of the fruit to garnish individual servings.
  • To serve, ladle wassail into mugs, and garnish with fruit if you like. Stir an ounce or two of bourbon into the mugs of any takers.

Notes

  1. Apple cider is a gently sweet, complex ingredient in its own right. I tend to grab whatever local, unfiltered cider I see in the shops in the fall and winter.
  2. You can squeeze your own fresh orange juice or use a pulp-free variety from the grocery store.
  3. Cranberry juice cocktail gives the wassail a gentle pink hue and adds a lovely, bright flavor. Use the run-of-the-mill stuff from the grocery store, which has plenty of added sugar.
  4. You'll use three types of warm, wintery whole spices: cinnamon sticks, star anise, and cloves.
  5. You can use any variety of red apples — I like honeycrisps.
  6. Navel oranges are seedless and slice easily. 
  7. The fresh cranberries will pop as the wassail simmers, adding more flavor and rosy color to the result.
  8. You can simmer the wassail up to a week in advance, cool it and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat and add fresh fruit and spices right before serving.
  9. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week and can be reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop.

Slow cooker directions

Follow all of the instructions above, but cook the wassail on low for about six hours before straining as directed and returning to the slow cooker to keep warm.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 253kcal, Carbohydrates: 59g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 1g, Sodium: 50mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 46g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Virgin Drinks
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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Carolyn Gratzer Cope Bio Photo

About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

5 from 4 votes (4 ratings without comment)

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