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Properly Sauced: Yule Wassail

By Rob Christopher in Food on Dec 22, 2008 7:00PM

Who wants an ice-cold cocktail when temps are this bone-chilling? Not us. And certainly not your party guests, should you be throwing a holiday party over the next few weeks. Place a warm mug full of something high-octane in their frost-bitten hands as soon as their coats have come off and they'll be toasty in no time.

2008_12_23wassail.jpg In fact, the word "wassail" comes from the old English wæs hæil, a toast meaning "be healthy" or "here's to your health." The Accidental Hedonist gives a humorous account of wassail's history:

People would walk around their community, knocking on other people's doors, and sing "Waes Hael!". The people answering the door, feeling a tad lonely, and a little concerned at the mental health of these door to door hailers. So they offered them heated alcohol.

Our recipe is based, believe it or not, on one found in the liner notes of Christmas Cocktails, Part Two (which happens to be one of our favorite wintertime albums). Don't let the bizarre list of ingredients throw you. It's actually something of a trend to serve warm beer these days (Ed. Note: Indeed!); and if the end result isn't the most beautiful beverage you've ever seen, well, after a few sips you won't care.


4 bottles ale (we like Berghoff Hazelnut Winterfest Ale or Goose Island Christmas Ale)
1 lemon, with the skin roughly sliced into strips and the fruit cut into quarters
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
5 tablespoons brown sugar

Add ingredients to a large stockpot and heat gradually over low-medium heat. While the ale is heating beat 3 eggs in a small bowl. To the eggs add 4 oz. white sugar and 3 oz. falernum or spiced rum. Rebeat egg mixture until smooth.

When the ale is nearing the boiling point and you can see steam rising from the surface, very, very gradually whisk the egg mixture into the ale, stirring constantly. Then add:

36 oz. brandy
24 oz. unsweetened apple cider

Stir thoroughly and then simmer wassail over lowest heat. Don't let it boil! Serve in mugs, garnished with a cinnamon stick. The wassail will continue to sweeten as it simmers, so resist the urge to add more sugar! Makes 25ish servings.