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Wassailing Through the Holidays

To warm the cockles of our hearts with beery libations—hot or cool, spiced or not, with or without an extra shot of Christmas spirits—Randy Mosher is here with a red-hot poker and lines of verse.

Randy Mosher Dec 21, 2020 - 11 min read

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Photo: Matt Graves

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?

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