Alcoholic Wassail Recipe: A Big-Batch Cocktail Punch for Love, Joy, and Holiday Cheer
Our alcoholic wassail recipe is a refreshing, chilled take on the traditional holiday drink with cider, orange juice, cinnamon sticks, and other seasonal flavors. It’s a delight to serve up in our pure copper Moscow Mule mugs, which lend a traditional aesthetic to your Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and other holiday celebrations. Read on for the recipe and more!
What is wassail?
Wassail is a custom whose history in Britain wends back through the years to pagan traditions of singing in orchards to wish for a bountiful harvest. The United Kingdom’s National Trust has a fascinating account of the drink’s history, including Twelfth Night celebrations, Christmas traditions, and celebrations through the years.
What makes wassail authentic?
There’s no “one true wassail recipe.” As with many traditions practiced widely and handed down through the generations, the recipe has many variations. But seasonal flavors have been a constant, with many variations including mulled cider or mulling spices. In America, classic variations often include orange juice and even pineapple juice.
But throughout the history of wassail, one thing has remained the same: it’s a drink designed for sharing cheer with friends, family, and neighbors. From those early orchard festivities to the British tradition of wassailing, or visiting homes to share wassail and gifts—a tradition that shares much in common with caroling.
Chilled Alcoholic Wassail Punch Recipe
- 1 Punch bowl or pitcher
- 1 Spoon for stirring
- 1 Ladle and ice bucket for serving, if using punch bowl
- 1 cup Fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 2 cups Apple cider, or mulled apple cider
- 3 cups Spiced rum
- 4 cups ginger beer (about two and a half 12 oz. cans)
- Fresh nutmeg to grate on top (optional)
- Cinnamon sticks, sliced oranges, and star anise for garnish (optional)
- Combine the orange juice, cider, rum, and ginger beer in your pitcher or bowl and stir to combine.
- Add ice, filling to the top of the pitcher or about two inches from the rim of the punch bowl.
- Grate or sprinkle nutmeg on top.
- Add a few cinnamon sticks, sliced oranges, or star anise pods for garnish. These should be mixed into the pitcher or left floating in a punch bowl.
- Serve chilled, with ice on the side if being served in a punch bowl.
Ways to elevate your wassail presentation
A beautiful bowl of punch is an instant centerpiece for any celebration! It also spares you from the task of mixing up cocktails throughout the celebration (which is extra handy for holidays when you’re managing a turkey, ham, or roast in the oven).
Looking for ways to make your wassail even more special? We have some ideas!
Select a beautiful punch bowl.
While we’re never going to turn down punch out of a giant mixing bowl, a gorgeous punch bowl elevates the entire experience. Local vintage and thrift stores are an amazing spot to check for punch bowl sets, which often include a ladle that won’t slip down into the bowl.
Get out the ice bucket.
Ice isn’t just for the punch itself. Be sure to set an ice bucket beside the punch bowl, full of crushed ice to fill the mugs with.
Choose an elegant ice option for the wassail.
While regular ice cubes will work just fine to keep the wassail chilly, they also melt faster, which waters down the beverage. An elegant ice wreath is just the thing to make your wassail stylish and stave off melting ice. To create one, freeze water in the bottom of a round bundt pan, about halfway up (depending on the size of your punch bowl).You can also freeze in aromatics such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, and orange slices; these likely won’t flavor the drink, but will cue drinkers into the flavor and act as a sort of garnish. Once the wreath is frozen, you can run hot water on the bottom of the pan briefly, and the ice should turn right out of the pan.
Thoughtfully choose your drinking vessels.
This isn’t the time for red solo cups. You want to choose a cup size that encourages revelers to sip more thoughtfully, as this drink is both alcoholic and sweet. Copper mugs are a beautiful choice to go with your punch. They’ll add to the experience with the frosty-cold conductivity of copper, which makes the lip of the mug chilly for a refreshing sensation with every sip. Our copper mugs also look gorgeous both on the table and waiting by the punch bowl.
What to know about the ingredients in your homemade wassail recipe
You can vary the ingredients in this basic recipe in order to come up with a ‘house drink’ that suits the tastes of your party-goers. To make smart substitutions, remember this classic rhyme for constructing a traditional punch: “one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.” Traditional punches also usually incorporate spice in the form of nutmeg, which is perfect for our wassail recipe.
In our recipe, the components go as follows:
- Sour: Fresh-squeezed orange juice. While orange juice is often considered a ‘sour,’ rather than a ‘sweet,’ here we’re squeezing it fresh and balancing the sweetness with spice from other components.
- Sweet: Apple cider, either regular, mulled, or spiced.
- Strong: Spiced rum. Rum is a traditional choice for a punch, and spiced rum incorporates many of the warming, seasonal spices that go into a good wassail, such as cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Weak: Ginger beer. While ginger beer also provides spice and sweetness, it is not as strong or as sweet as its cousin, ginger ale. In our wassail recipe, it adds the traditional flavor of ginger while balancing out the stronger flavors from the rum and cider.
Substitutions for our homemade wassail recipe
For the sour: An alternative (and classic retro option) to fresh-squeezed juice is a frozen container of orange juice concentrate. It’s definitely not as fancy as fresh-squeezed, but if you want a punch that’s a little sweeter with a side of nostalgia for the punches of your youth, this is a dependable swap.
For the sweet: Any kind of cider will be delicious here! While apple is very traditional for wassail, you can also opt for a pear cider, or even cranberry cider. Mulled cider, spiced cider, and unfiltered apple cider will all bring their own spice profiles to the party. You can also opt for unfiltered apple juice, or even a cup of brown sugar stirred to dissolve in a cup of water.
For the strong: Kill two birds with one stone and go for a hard cider, to be used in the same proportion as the cider and rum combined. You could combine a hard cider with rum, but it will likely be a bit too boozy for the mild, easy-drinking, sippable appeal of a wassail.
If the amount of rum here seems too much for your party, you can absolutely reduce the amount.
For the weak: Ginger ale is the easiest substitution here, especially if you’d like to lean into the sweet. For a less sweet alternative, you can use water, or brew a cinnamon or spice tea and let it chill.