Ye olde holiday drinks

This season, after reading Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," where characters warm themselves with mulled wine and custardy nogs, I thought it would be fun to make some holiday drinks with a little literary kick, and wow my friends with glogs, wassails and other oddly named drinks most folks only read about. Here are a few relatively boozy beverages of bygone days to try at home.

Near the end of "A Christmas Carol," the newly changed Scrooge says to Bob Cratchit, "We will discuss your affairs this very afternoon over a bowl of Smoking Bishop, Bob!" The strong-tasting mulled wine Scrooge is talking about is ideal for an evening with friends. Honestly, when I first read the story years ago, I assumed Scrooge and Cratchit were going to actually smoke something. Smoking Bishop is made with oranges and lemons and simmered with wine, port, spices and sugar. According to, it received the name Bishop from its purple color, similar to a bishop's formal clothing, and the Smoking comes from the rising steam when it is heated. Visit the Historical Foods website for an 1836 recipe. If you make it, rejoice that you have an oven and don't have to lean into your fireplace to roast oranges.

Wassail is mentioned in a number of classic works of literature, including Dickens' "The Seven Poor Travellers," and though Beowulf mostly sucked down mead, he also had a bit of wassail during a celebration.

There are a number of stories about the origins of wassail. According to, it dates back to the Middle Ages, when villagers would dance through orchards in mid-winter to sing and pour cider on their plants to ensure a good crop in the coming season. The custom evolved into a yuletide tradition in which neighbors would knock on doors and offer songs or wishes of "waes hail" or "good health," in exchange for a tasty treat or warm beverage.

The drink is a mulled cider made with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. Modern recipes begin with a base of wine, fruit juice or mulled ale, sometimes with brandy or sherry added. Apples or oranges are often added to the mix. While the beverage typically served as wassail at modern holiday feasts most closely resembles mulled cider, original wassail drinks were more likely to be mulled beer or mead. Sugar, ale, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon would be placed in a bowl, heated, and topped with slices of toast. For recipes, visit

Posset is a somewhat complicated drink, and I have no plans to make it when eggnog is so much easier. Posset is spiced, hot milk curdled with ale or wine. It dates back as far as 100 A.D., but was especially popular in medieval times and was often served during festive occasions.

Posset appears in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Kidnapped" and Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Lady Macbeth uses it to knock out the guards outside of Duncan's bedroom in Act II: " Do mock their charge with snores. I have drugg'd their possets, / That death and nature do contend about them." The drink more resembled a frothy custard than a beverage, with layers of foamy egg and curdled milk on top of some syrupy booze. For a recipe, visit Just as an aside, this website is full of great pictures of British and early American foods, serving dishes and crockery.

After molasses began being imported to Colonial America from Jamaica, and distilleries opened in New England in the 1650s, colonists began adding distilled rum to hot beverages. Hot buttered rum is rum mixed with a blend of butter, brown sugar and spices. While rum makes frequent appearances in books, I couldn't find any mention of hot-buttered rum. People seem to have lost interest in it, though it was once a popular holiday beverage. Traditionally, hot buttered rum is made with dark rum for a strong molasses flavor. A good recipe is from Emeril Lagasse at

Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at

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