“Wassail, wassail, all
over the town,
Our toast is white and
our ale it is brown,
Our bowl it is made of
the white maple tree,
With the wassailing
bowl we’ll drink to thee”.
The Wassailing song may be one that is unfamiliar to many, but it is actually a traditional Christmas carol that was very popular back in the 1850s and also once covered by 90s band, Blur. The lyrics may have been amended throughout the years, but the topic is clear – the song play homage to the popular tradition of the Wassail cocktail.
The History of the Wassail
A drink that was
created long before the renaissance, the Wassail is possibly one of the oldest
classic cocktails we have ever featured. The drink was consumed at Christmas by
carolers as they travelled from door-to-door, keeping them warm as they spread their
good festive cheer. In its early days, the Wassail was simply a bowl of sweet,
spiced ale. Who started the tradition of drinking it as the carolers walked, is
unclear, but it was a popular activity, nonetheless.
During the 17th
century, the drink became more ingrained in the Christmas festivities, making
up part of the typical seasonal table. It had evolved somewhat, with warm ale
or mulled wine making up the base of the drink, mixed with sugar, nutmeg, eggs
and roasted crab apples. The apples had to be added when they were hot, so that
they made a dramatic entrance into the drink, bursting and hissing as they hit
the warm liquid. This drink was known as Lambswool.
The Wassail evolved in many different ways, so that no one modern day drink can now be confirmed as the original drink. The most popular variation contains hot cider and wine, garnished with bobbed apples and orange slices. However, other versions contain sherry and brandy mixed with cider and some claim that eggnog is a form of Wassail.
The Wassail has also
now been adopted by pagans, who drink a warm combination of ale and sherry as
they dance around fruit trees in the dark, hoping to encourage the swift
arrival of a warm and sunny Spring and an abundant harvest. This newer
tradition actually takes place on a cold January evening, once the Christmas
festivities are over.
So, as you reach for another cup of mulled wine or cider this December, take a moment to think about the roots of this tradition, most likely based in the Wassail. Both a verb and a noun, you should make sure to drink responsibly this year, so as not to end up ‘wassailed’!