‘Tis the season to get litty, fa la la la la, la la la laaaaaa. Seriously, friend, we have earned a good time this holiday season. If you’re reading this, you have survived wildfires, civil unrest, a crazy election here in the States, and a global pandemic. Cheers to you! Wassail means “good health.” This slow-cooker version gives you time to enjoy your family while still having a warm, mulled libation close at hand.
What is Wassail?
In medieval times, villagers would gather around the best looking tree in their apple orchard and plead for a good harvest. If you have studied the Middle Ages and what those folks went through, you totally get why singing and celebrating a tree made sense. Shoot, our current plague has me feeling like it wouldn’t hurt to do it myself.
Wassail, mine at least, is a mulled, cider-based drink that has a wine or mead base. Because I’m me, my wassail has an added kick, which I’ll tell you about later. Some folks added baked apples to their wassail. The apples created a puffy sediment that inspired some folks to name the drink “lambswool.” Back in the day, people also topped their wassail with stale bread or toast to sop up some of the drink. We’re not going the bread route, but the lambswool will make an appearance. Crab apples were often floated on top of the mixture, but I have a hard time finding them, so I just use a regular apple.
What do I need to make this slow cooker Wassail?
Again, the base of this slow cooker wassail is apple cider—additionally, a good quality white wine forms the other half of the base. I prefer to use either a riesling or other European wine to honor the continent where wassail originated. Because we simmer this recipe, thus concentrating the flavors, look for a wine that you would sip on its own from a glass. Like I always say: you can’t start with gutrot and expect to end up with a fabulous drink.
The “kick” in the wassail comes from the addition of dry vermouth and Irish whiskey, both, once again, coming from the European continent. Flavorings such as vanilla extract, orange peel, fresh ginger, cinnamon, star anise, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and cardamom combine with a baked apple to make this wassail one that’s unique and festive.
How do I get the most flavor in my Wassail?
My spin on this Yuletide drink is the addition of a baked apple. The roasted apple and its juices simmer into the wassail and create a caramel apple flavor that is to die for. Once the drink has simmered for an hour or two, the apple pulp floats about to produce something that looks like lambswool, which is how it got the name. That “lambswool” settles at the bottom of your wassail mug and forms a sweet, apple-y, boozy sludge that sounds crazy but tastes oh so amazing.
Grab a large apple (I love a honey crisp here) and core it. Once the core (the seeds and stems impart a bitter flavor) are removed, wrap the apple tightly in aluminum foil. Set the foil wrapped-apple onto a sheetpan or baking dish to catch any juices. Roast the apple for 35 minutes at 400°F.
Do I have to use a baked apple?
You don’t have to roast the apple for this recipe, no. In fact, if you have a thing about stuff floating in your wassail, leave it out altogether. The apple just adds a little more depth of flavor to the drink. Instead, slice and float a fresh apple onto the mixture once it’s simmered thoroughly. These will only act as a garnish.
You can also leave the fresh apple out altogether.
But, if you opt for the baked apple, once it’s done roasting, remove the foil covering. Allow the apple to cool, then slice it into rounds. Save this and the juices for adding to the pot later.
What spices are commonly used in Wassail?
The typical spices in wassail are cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. But, since when have we ever been typical? You know we’re super–extra over here. Yes, we’re going to use the spice trifecta, but we’re also adding cardamom, allspice, cloves, and star anise. You don’t have all those, you say? That’s okay. Just use the ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg combo. When it comes to the nutmeg, though, you’re going to grate it into the slow cooker. I mean, unless you’re balling so much, you can afford to chuck a whole nutmeg seed in your wassail.
Add all of the spices, except the cinnamon sticks, ginger nub, and nutmeg to a tea strainer. If you don’t have a tea strainer, you can wrap the spices in a piece of cheesecloth. Tie a string to the handle of your tea strainer or cheesecloth bundle, then tie that to the handle of the slow cooker. Set the tea strainer into your slow cooker.
Now, add the cinnamon sticks and ginger to the slow cooker.
What’s the best wine to use in Wassail?
Wassail is made with white wine, but I stay away from sweet varieties here. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good sweet white wine, but it makes my wassail too sweet when I add it to this recipe. In fact, I feel like I might as well drink apple cider for all the sweetness it has.
Instead, use a dry white like resiling, chardonnay, or pinot grigio. Again, and I know I’m getting on your nerves, choose a wine that you would drink from a glass.
If you want to take it back to the Dark Ages, you can use mead instead of wine. Mead will make it sweet just like a sweet wine would, but it’s a more mellow sweet.
Pour the entire bottle of wine into the slow cooker with the spices.
What kind of apple cider should I use in this recipe?
I prefer to use an all-natural cider that is nothing but pure juice. Hopefully, you can get Louisberg Cider Mill Apple Cider in your neck of the woods. They don’t make their cider from concentrate. Another thing I love about their bottles of cider is that they’re not stingy with them. The first time I used their cider, I tried to shake it, and it wasn’t moving. They fill their bottles to the very top, so you get your money’s worth. It may not seem like a big thing, but to me, it’s huge. Plus, their cider tastes like it should: like apples.
If you can get your hands on all-natural cider, do it. Don’t pay extra for “spiced” apple cider since we’re spicing it already. Do avoid apple juice if you can. It won’t taste as strong as the cider will. Unlike watered down, heavily sweetened apple juice, pure apple cider is sweet and tart. It almost has a lemony undertone, which makes the wassail more complex in flavor.
How do I give my Wassail a kick?
You know that when I label one of my recipes “with a kick,” it’s like an “Old, ornery mule,” kick, don’t you? This is no exception. We exceed the standard around these parts.
Most wassails include a hit of sherry. Sherry is a heavily fortified wine that some folks use in their cooking recipes. Some old bitties sip sherry like it’s communion wine. I have no use for cooking sherry, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy a bottle to only use it during the fall and winter.
What I do have a use for is dry vermouth. Bronx, Manhattan, and Martini cocktails all use vermouth, which is why I have it. Your girl loves herself a classic cocktail. In addition to it being a mixer, vermouth is also useful in some recipes like chicken fricassee. In fact, in most recipes, dry vermouth is interchangeable with dry white wine. Dry vermouth is a white wine mixed with alcohol, herbs, and barks, before being fortified. It actually benefits the wassail by cutting through the other alcohols and accentuating the wine and apple ciders’ flavor.
Add a small amount of dry vermouth to the apple cider-wine mixture. Because there’s so little used, it’s okay if you decide to omit it.
What kind of whiskey should I use?
Don’t omit the Irish whiskey, though. This is what makes you want to go wassailing. Hey! Did you know that villagers also used to imbibe on wassail before setting out to ask their Lord for a few holiday coins? Yep! I guess they needed to get tipsy to ask him to slide them a few bucks for the Christmas goose.
Anyway, I try to maintain the European theme while adding a little bit of funk to make my wassail stand out. No one does whiskey better than the Irish, and though they have a contentious past with the English, I think they’ll be okay with my adding their pride and joy to this recipe. I highly encourage you to use Irish whiskey here.
Not a fan? Fine. Use Fireball for the added cinnamon flavor, or use your favorite bourbon instead.
Add the whiskey to the slow cooker with the rest of the liquids.
What other flavors can I add?
Add a dose of vanilla extract to give the wassail a huggable quality. Seriously. Adding the vanilla makes the wassail taste like a literal hug. If you want to omit it, you can, but who doesn’t need a mouth hug?
Other extract options are maple, cinnamon, orange, or rum.
How long do I simmer the Wassail?
Remember that apple you roasted earlier? Now that the wassail is mixed add it to the pot. Slice it into rounds to allow its flavor to penetrate the wassail entirely, and don’t forget the juice in the foil. Add it to the pot, too.
Finally, add a 3″ section of orange peel to the mix. You can also slice a whole navel orange and toss the slices in with the apple. I, personally, am not a fan of a heavily orange-flavored wassail, so I just use the peel.
Turn the slow cooker to high and heat the wassail for 2 hours. You don’t have to stir it, but every so often, I wave the tea strainer with the spices through the wassail to make sure it’s flavoring the entire batch.
Can I make this Wassail on the stovetop instead?
Sure! Instead of combining everything in the slow cooker, put the ingredients into a large dutch oven. Bring the mixture up to a simmer over medium heat and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low and let the wassail heat for 45 minutes.
After the wassail has cooked for 2 hours (or for 45 minutes on the stovetop), turn the slow cooker to warm. It’s now ready for you to ladle into your favorite mugs and enjoy. If you want, remove the tea strainer of spices, the cinnamon sticks, and orange peel, discarding them.
Can I make this ahead?
The recipe is perfect for making ahead. Just leave the wassail heating on warm after the initial 2 hour cook time in the slow cooker. Set out your mugs and any garnishes you want to serve them with, and allow your guests to dip into the “wassail bowl” to help themselves.
How do I store leftovers?
Though we have never had leftovers, that doesn’t mean that’s the norm. Because this recipe makes enough for 8 servings, you might have leftover wassail.
If you do, just allow the drink to cool to room temperature. Once the wassail is cool, transfer it into bottles (or a large mason jar or pitcher) using a funnel to minimize spills. Store the wassail in the fridge until the next time you want to go a-wassailing.
When your ready to imbibe, heat the wassail over medium-low heat on the stovetop until warmed through.
How can I make this kid-friendly?
If you want to make a mocktail version of this wassail, just heat a whole gallon of the apple cider with the spices and fruit. Omit the white wine, dry vermouth, and the whiskey. My kiddos like it when I heat the cider with the spices, then allow it to cool. Once cool, I stir in ginger ale to make it more festive. The ginger ale is my added touch, but you can omit it if you want to.
If you’re more of a red wine drinker, you have to try this German Glühwein, instead.
Be sure to save this recipe to your holiday boards. You wouldn’t want to be caught without a good mug of Wassail in your hand come wassailing time, now would you? Be sure to share this with your friends and family, too!
Slow Cooker Wassail with a Kick
- slow cooker
- tea strainer or cheesecloth
- 1 large apple honey crisp or gala, cored
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3 inch orange peel (or 1 medium navel orange, sliced)
- 1 inch nub of ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 5 allspice berries
- 4 cardamom pods cracked with the heel of your knife
- 2 star anise
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 750 milliliter bottle riesling wine or dry white wine
- 4 cups apple cider
- 1/2 cup Irish whiskey
- 1 tablespoon dry vermouth optional
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- apple slices
- cinnamon sticks
- star anise
Roast the Apple
- Wrap the cored apple tightly in aluminum foil, then place the apple on a sheet pan. Roast the apple for 35 minutes in a 400°F.
- Once roasted, remove the apple from the oven and allow it to cool to the touch.Slice the apple or leave it whole once cooled.
Assemble the Wassail in the slow cooker
- Add the cinnamon sticks, orange peel, ginger nub, and ground nutmeg to the slow cooker.
- Fill a tea strainer or a square piece of cheesecloth with the allspice berries, cardamom pods, star anise, and cloves. Tie a string to the handle of your tea strainer or cheesecloth bundle, then tie that to the handle of the slow cooker. Set the tea strainer into your slow cooker.
- Pour the wine, apple cider, Irish whiskey, dry vermouth, and vanilla extract into the slow cooker with the spices. Add the apple and any of its juice to the pot the liquid in the slow cooker. Stir to combine the liquids.
Simmer the Wassail
- Turn the slow cooker to high and heat the wassail for 2 hours. You don't have to stir it, but every so often, wave the tea strainer with the spices through the wassail to make sure it's flavoring the entire batch.
- After the wassail has cooked for 2 hours, turn the slow cooker to warm. It's now ready for you to enjoy. Remove the tea strainer of spices, the cinnamon sticks, and orange peel, discarding them.
- Ladle the Wassail into heatsafe mugs and garnish with cinnamon sticks, apple slices, and/or star anise.Enjoy responsibly.
- Put all of the ingredients into a large dutch oven.
- Bring the mixture up to a simmer over medium heat and allow it to simmer for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to medium-low and let the wassail heat for 45 minutes.
- Serve warm.
Make Ahead Instructions:
- Leave the wassail heating on warm after the initial 2 hour cook time in the slow cooker.
- Set out your mugs and any garnishes you want to serve them with, and allow your guests to dip into the "wassail bowl" to help themselves.
- Allow the wassail to cool to room temperature.
- Once the wassail is cool, transfer it into bottles (or a large mason jar or pitcher) using a funnel to minimize spills.
- Store the wassail in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
- Reheat the wassail over medium-low heat on the stovetop until warmed through.
- Serve as instructed.
Mocktail (Alcohol-Free) Wassail:
- Combine and simmer 1 gallon of apple cider with the spices and fruit as instructed.
- Omit the white wine, dry vermouth, and the whiskey.
For Virgin Wassail Punch:
- Heat the cider with the spices, then allow it to cool.
- Once cool, stir in 1 liter of ginger ale or lemon-lime soda.
- Add ice to chill.