Let me paint a scene for you. You’re gathered with your loved ones celebrating whichever holiday you prefer to celebrate, someone is doing most of the cooking, and everyone has a drink in their hand. It looks like apple juice, the kids are drinking with the adults, and having a great time. The house is filled with scents of cinnamon, anise, and citrus, over in the kitchen there’s a pot boiling and it ain’t soup. It is the easiest and most versatile beverage for your holiday entertaining this holiday season. It can be hot, cold, alcoholic or nonalcoholic!
Mulled cider, we have all tried, heard about it or been warned not to drink the one that our parents are drinking because it’s “for grownups.” Well, those times are over because we’re all grown now, turns out our parents were simply enjoying their Mulled Cider with a little liquor. To break it down for you it’s unfiltered apple juice that is boiled with mulling spices such as cinnamon, star anise, orange rind, ginger, and nutmeg.
The recipe we provided you with calls for whiskey because we found that to be the best blend when testing, but go with whatever you’re feeling. Overall the drink is crisp but a little tart on the palate if you did it right.
It is typically served in a footed latte glass or something that has a handle to keep your hand from burning. (We simply waited for it to cool a bit and used mason jars). If you don’t drink it while it’s hot do not worry, spiked Mulled Cider is definitely one of those drinks you can keep in the fridge and drink cold or reheat later. However, when serving a cold mulled cider, it’s typically served in a Tom Collins glass or a pint glass. It can still be garnished with a cinnamon stick although it’s not as potent of an effect.
Other recipes start off with a wine, fruit juice or mulled ale base. Others call for brandy instead of whiskey, and apples are often added to the mix. We also found some recipes call for beaten eggs, but the one we provided is, in our humble opinion, pretty damn good.
A brief history:
So when did the idea of Mulled Cider come about? There’s a fairytale version and a historian version. According to legend in 5th-century Britain, the daughter of a Saxon leader named Rowena, had a plan to seduce a very drunken King Vortigern. At a gathering during Yuletide she hands the king a goblet of spiced wine. Then she raised her glass to give a toast to his good health- also according to legend this was the first toast ever- and she cried out, “Waes hael!”
He drinks offers her a sip, and the king also yells “Drinc hael!” which means “drink, and good health!” The trick worked perfectly, soon after King Vortigern fell in love and married her. Supposedly, this old British folklore is the base for what then historians claim to be the tradition of wassailing.
The ancient pagan tradition called Wassailing began in medieval Christmastide English times (aka Yuletide) drinking Mulled Cider was a ritual intended to ensure a good cider apple harvest the following year. Turns out, Cider wasn’t the easiest thing to harvest.
Etymology research showed us the word ‘wassail’ comes from an Anglo-Saxon phrase ‘waes hael’, which means ‘good health’. The wassail drink was made of mulled ale, curdled cream, roasted apples, eggs, cloves, ginger, nutmeg, and sugar. They weren’t completely sober though, the spiked version called for ale as the additional spirit. During these gatherings, people would also chant the traditional carol known as Gloucestershire Wassail:
“Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it 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 unto thee.”
In today’s world, the tradition is still held sacred in England. Cities like Carhampton in Somerset, hold an event known as the Apple Orchard Wassailing on the Old Twelfth Night (January 17). The ritual is performed by the villagers. Everyone gathers to form a circle around the largest apple tree, they hang pieces of toast soaked in cider in the branches for the robins, who represent the 'good spirits' of the tree. A shotgun is fired in the air in order to scare away evil spirits. Then the singing recommences as the group sings the final verse:
“Old Apple tree, old apple tree;
We've come to wassail thee;
To bear and to bow apples enow;
Hats full, caps full, three-bushel bags full;
Barn floors full and a little heap under the stairs.”
In the 14th century, when wassailing did involve a spiked Mulled Cider in other regions of Britain it became a bit more of a menace. Drunk townfolk would overdo it and stand outside their lords’ households while reciting and singing way off key the verses we mentioned above. They’d stay there on purpose to annoy the lords and coerce them into receiving Christmas treat.
According to our research that’ why the song goes, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas, “Now give us a figgy pudding. We won’t go until we get some.”
It wasn’t until the 17th century that Mulled Cider became an indoor Christmas tradition vs. an outdoor one. The caroling stayed and became less annoying and more of a neighborhood effort to spread joy and cheer during the holiday season.
When the Puritans made their way to America they brought over the tradition with them, however, the recipe changed to a cider-based punch that was spiked with rum. Besides the liquor or some ingredients, not much has changed since Rowena first toasted to her king. It is safe to say that this is one of the few drinks that affected a thousand-year-old tradition still relevant today.
Back in medieval times, the spiked version of Mulled Cider was called, “lambswool” but Irish antiquarian Charles Vallancey claimed the name "lambswool" was stolen from a pagan Irish festival, "Lamas Ubhal", during which a similar drink was served.
You don’t want to confuse British traditions for Irish ones, trust us.
We do hope you’ve enjoyed the recipe and history on this holiday drink that should spread cheer with or without alcohol. (But we really recommend it with.) Let us know if you try it and how it turns out by tagging us on Instagram.
Thanks for reading and as always…