The Hippo


Oct 23, 2019








Make wassail at home with Moonlight Meadery products. Photo by Kevin Harkins.

A mulled tradition
What’s up with wassail

By Allie Ginwala

 For some, the word “wassail” brings about images of carolers strolling through snow-covered streets, while for others it’s simply a drink to help warm your insides during the cold New England winters. The Hippo spoke with local cider- and mead-makers to get their knowledge on the history of the seasonal mulled beverage and ways to make it at home.

Steve Wood, owner of Farnum Hill Ciders & Poverty Lane Orchards in Lebanon, thinks that the tradition surrounding wassail — both the drink and the experience — is open for interpretation. 
“In the southwest of England ... it was a Twelfth Night celebration that got tied up with the health of apple trees,” he said in a phone interview. 
Though ale was most likely the original alcohol used in the mulled beverage, he said wassail has come to be widely associated with cider.
“We would say that wassail to us is the first racking of the current season’s cider, [the] first rough cider of the cider season,” he said. “I think in a way we’re sticking with what I consider to be the tradition and all the things associated with it.”
Berniece Van Der Berg, vice president of sales and marketing at Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, thinks that a hearty apple harvest was most likely at the crux of wassail tradition.
“In medieval days they would have a good apple harvest celebration, and the drinking ritual was they would drink the drink as a celebrator or a toast to a good harvest next year,” she said in a phone interview.
In the mead world, she said the term “wassail” has been adopted as a toast, used similarly to “cheers” or “bottoms up.”
“You’re supposed to look someone in the eye, raise your glass and take your drink,” she said. “And everyone will say ‘wassail’ and consume the beverage.” 
Try it at home
There are many ways to go about making wassail (just do a quick Google search for piles of recipes), each with just a few mandatory components. Since it’s a mulled drink, the first step is mulling the base liquid — which can be cider, mead, wine or beer — by slightly heating it.
“I would heat the base in a microwave or a saute pot,” Van Der Berg said. 
Make sure you don’t heat it too much though, because that could cause the alcohol to evaporate, she said. 
Next, add spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg, plus sugar and baked apples.
“I’ve even known people to add oranges and ginger so it’s become the mix that you like,” Van Der Berg said, noting that the flavor profile can change based on individual taste. “The main thing is [that] this a mulled and warmed concoction.”
Silas Gordon, co-owner of North Country Hard Cider in Rollinsford, doesn’t subscribe to the term “wassail” but does make a mulled seasonal cider for the colder months.
“It’s our Northern Comfort, and it’s a pretty wonderful thing,” he said in a phone interview. 
Packaged and sold cold, the cider is infused with a blend of mulling spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, orange peel and crystallized ginger, Gordon said.
“[People] can warm it up at home if they want, add some bourbon or rum,” he said. 
For those who want to add flavors on top of the cider or mead base, Van Der Berg recommended mulling spice sacks for an easy and tasty home-mulled wassail. 
“[They’re] almost like tea bags where it is pre-packed for you and you can just warm up your beverage and then just add in your little spice sack,” she said. “Just like tea, and steep it to taste.”
While they don’t sell spice sacks, Van Der Berg said customers coming to Moonlight Meadery to learn about wassail will be directed toward three base beverages. Kurt’s Apple Pie is an apple cider with cinnamon and bourbon vanilla bean mead that’s not overly sweet. Indulge has a vanilla cinnamon sweetness reminiscent of a Cinnabon.Breathless is “probably the most unique mead … a cinnamon oil mead that tastes like a fireball candy,” she said, with an “intense punch of cinnamon.”

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