Winter is upon us! It’s the time of year to brew and drink strong ales that pack a punch, warm the belly, and delight the palate. There are all kinds of winter and holiday beers, but the sort I want to focus on here warms the belly in a direct way, and not just with alcohol. I’m talking about wassail.
Often associated with caroling and other merriment, wassail was chiefly a drink that was traditionally served spiced and warm. There are a lot of old wassail recipes, and often they play fast and loose with ingredients and spices. (For more about this and some old recipes, see Randy Mosher’s “Wassailing Through the Holidays,” beerandbrewing.com.) It wasn’t just a matter of brewing an ale and warming it up. The ale—or the cider, or wine, or spirit—was only a key ingredient. Others included sugars, spices, more booze … and, of course, fruit.
There are modern examples, too. Mulled wine and cider are obviously fruit-based, but even in Belgium around the holidays you can occasionally spot glühkriek, a warmed-up cherry beer that riffs on German glühwein.