I Think You Should Make Hot Wassail

It's not the traditional Old English method but it's dang tasty in the winter months

I gave up coffee (and caffeine) two days after my 36th birthday. I mostly did it to stabilize my sleep and lower the number of migraines I have per month (many) to something I can manage (many fewer). And, to my surprise and relief, it worked!

Editor’s note: I’m not a doctor and you should talk to one about migraines if you have them.

But you know what? I really, really, really miss the ritual of drinking something hot in the morning. Black tea still has too much caffeine in it. Herbal teas don’t really do it for me. Hot chocolate rules but it’s so heavy and sweet. But hot cider? Hot cider scratches a bunch of itches for me. And hey! It’s November now. That means it’s appropriate to introduce you to wassail.

Click here if you want to jump to the recipe or stick around if you want to read my good good words.

Wassail is a key component of wassailing, which you might recognize from song if you’ve ever watched a Christmas movie or TV show. Wassailing is simply an Old English concept (likely derived from Old Norse) where folks would go door to door wishing good health or apple harvest in the coming year. Wassail is consumed during wassailing. Wassail is historically a super strong, super boozy drink.

I’m not telling you you should make super strong, super boozy wassail. I’m telling you you should make a simplified and less…challenging version of wassail. Wassail that’s a much closer cousin to a simple hot apple cider. Wassail that doesn’t involve the “Wassail Butler” of Chepstow, a concept I was introduced to on wassail’s Wikipedia page. TL;DR it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the English could make a drink racist somehow, but holy shit.

Another Fanbyte staffer asked me why I wouldn’t just have hot apple cider instead of going to the trouble of all of this. And to that I have two responses:

  1. This is not a complicated recipe and doesn’t take a lot of time or energy to make
  2. I like the added citrus — in this case orange and lemon — in this wassail, which cuts a little bit of the sweetness and makes a more complex drink; one that could break through the booziness of alcohol if you chose to add it while still being more interesting than plain cider without it

My secret with this recipe are pre-made satchels of mulling spice I get from Williams Sonoma. You can probably get something similar from other places and you could just as easily procure the necessary spices individually and add them yourself. In fact, fresh spices would probably taste the best, but I’m also someone unafraid to take shortcuts when the result is super tasty all the same. If you’re adding your own spices, you can even play around with the proportions a bit to get things to your liking. Maybe add more ginger if you like that back of throat burn. Maybe add star anise if you want a more complex spice note. The world is your oyster.

However you want to ration out your ingredients, the steps are the same. Heat up the liquid, add the spices, let it simmer for a while, then pour in a mug or large bowl (if you’re serving many) and let the flavors of the cold winter months radiate inside you like a delicious electric blanket.

wassail tall


John’s Hot Wassail Recipe

  • 64 oz (8 cups) of apple cider — you get buy bottles of this size pretty much anywhere, I’ve found
  • 16 oz (2 cups) of orange juice — the fresher, the better
  • the juice of one (1) lemon
  • 8-12 bags of Williams Sonoma’s mulling spice satchels


  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • 8-12 whole cloves
  • 2-4 allspice berries (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Orange and lemon peels (optional)
  1. Pour/squeeze all juices into a large pot and heat on medium and do not bring to a boil
  2. Stir the liquid periodically and when it is hot, turn to medium low heat and add all spices or the spice bags (and the citrus peels if you’re using)
  3. Periodically stir and let simmer on the stove for 15-20 minutes
  4. Taste and if it’s not spiced enough, add more spice and simmer again for 5 minutes
  5. Use a slotted spoon or tongs to fish out any bags or whole pieces of spice before pouring into a mug or pitcher
  6. Serve hot with a decorative cinnamon stick or lemon peel
  • If you’re not sure about the spiciness level, start small and go up. You can always make something spicier but you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, so to speak.
  • Consider booze! I don’t booze it so much anymore but this is a prime vessel for booze. Traditionally this would be made with an English ale and Madeira wine (which is fortified, meaning it’s both boozier and sweeter than a normal wine). You could also just spike it with brandy or whiskey and it would be great.
  • When you want to reheat, you can pour a little into a microwave safe mug and heat it on high for 60-70 seconds.

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