Traditional Beverages for the Winter Solstice, Yule, Christmas and the New Year


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©2009  Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)


This is the time of year when many traditional cultures celebrated the winter solstice and closing of the old year before going into the new year.  Traditional beverages were made from the fruits and grains of the harvest into wine, beer, ale, rum, and others.  They are featured in songs, carols, pictures and recipes old and new.   If you’ve heard the words “wassail”, “glogg”, “gluhwein”, “navegado” or “hippocras” you’ve probably wondered what they were.  Let’s explore what our ancestors were up to:

These traditional drinks were wine heated with spices and drank during the long winter months.  They were considered healthy, and considering the sanitary conditions they lived in, these people were probably healthier drinking the wine than the water!

Gluhwein: This drink originated in German-speaking countries.  It is a red wine heated with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, citrus and sugar.  Romainians call it vin fiert, in Moldova it is izvar, Italy it is vin brule, and in Latvia it is karstvins.

Glogg:  This drink originated in the Nordic countries and was also called glug.  It is red wine mixed with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, bitter orange and sugar and sometimes with vodka, akvavit or brandy.  It is usually served with raisins, blanched almonds and gingerbread.

Navegado:   This is a mulled wine from Chile.  It is heated with cinnamon sticks, orange slices, cloves, sugar with raisins and almonds added.

Wassail:  This drink is a mulled cider from Germanic countries.  The word wassail comes from waes haeil, which means “be healthy”.  The historical wassail drinks were more of a mulled beer or mead.  They made it by mixing sugar, ale, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl which was then heated.  They topped it with slices of toast which they called sops.  The wassail bowl looked like a goblet and was made out of wood.  Later the drink became associated with apples and the song was sung around the apple tree for the next year’s harvest.  A-wassailing was going door to door, singing and asking (demanding?) the drink from the household, usually the rich in the town.

Hypocras:   Another mulled wine heated with spices such as cinnamon, ginger, grains of paradise and long pepper.  This drink was named after Hippocrates.  Hypocras became more popular after the crusades until its popularity waned during the 18th century.

Eggnog:  This drink was developed backed in the 1700’s in Europe.  It was mixed with eggs and warm milk and served in a wooden mug called a noggin.  Traditionally it was mixed with Sherry or Brandy.  George Washington loved eggnog and he crafted his own recipes!

Wassail Recipe

2 pints and ¼ cup brown ale (can also use winter ale and Scottish ale)

3-4 cinnamon sticks

4 cloves

Zest from ½ lemon

4 apples

1 ½ cups brown sugar

1 cup port

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon ground all spice

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon ground ginger

Preheat oven to 350°

Pour 2 pints of ale into a large sauce pan.  Add the cinnamon sticks, lemon zest and cloves.  Bring to a simmer.

Next, score the circumference of the apples with a knife.  Place them in a baking dish and cover with 1 cup of brown sugar, ¼ cup ale and all the port.  Cover and bake in oven for 30 minutes.

When the apples are done,  place them and the entire contents of the baking dish into the saucepan.  Let it cook for another 30-40 minutes over low heat.

Serve in your favorite mugs.

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