Next crowne the bowle full
With gentle Lambs wooll,
Adde sugare nutmeg and ginger
With store of ale too
And thus ye must doe,
to make the Wassaile a swinger.
—Robert Herrick, Twelfth Night (1648)
Wassailing conjures up images of scarf-draped, rosy-cheeked carolers singing to orphans and shut-ins in their snow-globe village, Hallmark-card style. You can think whatever nostalgic thing you like, but the fact is, “wassail” is a noun as much as it is a verb, and the custom is really about drinking, not singing.
Today, every beer is a self-evident masterpiece, but in earlier times, it was just another ingredient to be mixed into whatever libation suited the occasion. We think nothing of mixing fine bourbon into a Manhattan or other cocktail. So why be precious about beer?