What the Heck is Wassail?

Or, “Why You Should be Drinking Wassail on New Year’s Eve.”

Winter Warmer Mead from Groennfell Meadery

At the Midwinter Fest, Groennfell Meadery went through 76 gallons of Wassail. While few people bothered to ask at the time, we’ve been getting a flurry of e-mails and questions in the tasting room about… well… what exactly they were drinking.

Like everything from a long time ago, the origins of Wassail are mostly the stuff of legend. Here are the facts:

Wassail, the term, comes from “waes hael” which means “good health.” The base alcohol was beer or mead, with cider and sometimes wine being thrown in for good measure. It was always spiced and traditionally served piping hot. And, last but not least, it was associated with New Year’s rather than Christmas.

This last fact isn’t startling once you realize two things: First, Wassail was extremely popular in Britain long before Christianity was. And second, Christmas trumping New Year’s as the major winter holiday is a pretty new thing; well into the 14th Century gifts were given on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas.

From Wassail itself we get the idea of Wassailing.[1] Wassailing was the practice of going from door-to-door singing, caroling, or generally making a ruckus until the owners gave you something to drink and eat. Early wassailing songs all reference having a “Happy New Year.”

While our Wassail is served at cellar temperatures rather than piping hot – a fact you could remedy with the help of this article –  it is based on a very old recipe which was modified to exclude the curdled milk and whole chunks of apples.

So, when you drink our Winter Warmer, know that you are drinking a piece of history.

Or, to put it another way, you should pick up a growler of the stuff for your New Year’s Eve Festivities and spout facts from this article until your friends send you a-wassailing elsewhere.

[1] All alcoholic beverages should have an associated verb, and Groennfell has recently compiled a list which will be made available soon. Be Excited.


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