Monday, December 12, 2011

Holiday Spiced Wine / Wassail

When it gets cold out, there is just nothing like a hot drink, and I don’t mean coffee! I was looking to make something Dickensian (preparing for the annual celebration of Christmas past that is San Francisco’s Dickens Fair) and thought of Wassail (traditionally more of a spiced cider, but modern recipes include wine or ale). I had a modern recipe for Cranberry Wassail, and doesn’t that sound festive? The problem was, the organic unsweetened cranberry juice I used made it so tart as to be nearly unbearable! Finally, with the addition or fresh squeezed orange juice, sparkling lemonade, agave syrup AND about 2 cups of brandy, it was quite tasty.

For a tried-and-true regular spiced wine, though, you can’t go wrong with this delight from a 1967 guide to “California Wine Cookery and Drinks” so kindly furnished by the Wine Advisory Board with an office on Market Street in San Francisco. (This board was extremely prolific with cook books and pamphlets throughout the 50s and 60s, but seems to have been supplanted by the more scientific California Winegrape Inspection Advisory Board – BoooooRing.)

I include both recipes here because there are enough cold winter nights for both – and I’m also sharing a more traditional Wassail recipe (courtesy of Betty Crocker’s 1960 “Party Book”) that does not contain alcohol, if you just want a hot drink without all the merriment. Though I could see adding rum to it… Cheers!

Cranberry Wassail

6 whole cloves

6 whole allspice

1 (48-oz) bottle cranberry juice cocktail

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ tsp nutmeg

1 (750 ml) bottle dry red wine

Tie whole spices in 2 layers of cheesecloth or place in tea ball. In large saucepan, combine cranberry juice cocktail, brown sugar and nutmeg; mix well. Add spices. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves, stirring occationally. Reduce heat; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add wine; cook until thoroughly heated. Remove spices.

12 (3/4 cup) servings (note: this was increased because of all the things I added to the concoction, but still made only about 8 slightly larger servings)

Holiday Spiced Wine

1 quart water

3 cups sugar

12 whole cloves

4 inches stick cinnamon

6 whole allspice

½ teaspoon powdered ginger

Rind of 1 orange

Rind of 1 lemon

2 cups orange juice

1 cup lemon juice

1 (4/5-qt) bottle California Burgundy or Claret

Combine water, sugar, spices, orange rind and lemon rind in saucepan. Bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved; simmer 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 1 hour. Strain. Add orange juice, lemon juice and wine, heat gently. DO NOT BOIL. Serve hot in mugs.

20 servings, 3 oz size (note: that makes about 8 servings of “my size”)

Wassail Bowl

Spiced Oranges: Stud 3 oranges with whole cloves (1/2” apart); place in baking pan with a little water, and bake in slow mod. Oven (325 degrees) for 30 min.


3 qt. apple cider

2 sticks cinnamon, 3’ long

½ tsp. nutmeg

½ cup honey

1/3 cup lemon juice

2 tsp. lemon rind

2 no. 2 cans pineapple juice (5 cups)

Heat cider and cinnamon sticks in large saucepan. Bring to boil; simmer covered 5 min. Add remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered 5 min longer. Pour into punch bowl and float Spiced Oranges on top, using cinnamon sticks for stirring.

40 punch cup servings (Note: punch cups are TINY!)


  1. I've decided to make a holiday punch for Xmas Eve this year--I've gathered a few recipes and will probably concoct my own version. Thanks for your tips--I will reference this post when I'm making my brew!

  2. Yay - hope your punch is fab! ENJOY :)