Here We Go a-WASSAIL-ing

Today is the 18th anniversary of the first release of Full Sail Brewing’s holiday beer, Wassail.

Full Sail’s holiday favorite was inspired by the traditional English wassail, which is a “spiced ale or mulled wine drunk during celebrations for Twelfth Night and Christmas Eve.” The word itself’s origin is Old Norse and is a contraction of the Old English toast “wæs þu hæl,” or “be thou hale!” (“be in good health“).

The Wassail Page has some great history and information about wassailing. Their aim is to “seek the true revelry and rant so absent from modern celebration. [They] seek an older time when the human spirit shouted for joy in the winter creating a festive gift which could not be purchased and could hardly be wrapped.”

Traditional Wassail celebrations were most commonly associated with Twelfth Night Eve and Twelfth Night celebrations, though in modern times is has been expanded to include the entire holiday season. In addition to the wassail drink, there are numerous customs surrounding Wassail, including “singing, mumming, guessing games and begging to enter a house.” Three distinct celebrations involving the Wassail are known. In the first, the wassail is used like a loving cup and passed around inside a house while singing carols. Secondly, you can take the wassail from house to house in a group. And the third, though less common, method involves the blessing of nature.

Here’s an old wassail song from around 1833:

The nut-brown ale, the nut-brown ale,
Puts downe all drinke when it is stale,
The toast, the nut-meg, and the ginger,
Will make a sighing man a singer,
Ale gives a buffet in the head,
“But ginger under proppes the brayne;
When ale would strike a strong man dead,
Then nut-megge temperes it againe,
The nut-brown ale, the nut-brown ale,
Puts downe all drinke when it is stale-

From the press release:

“We have brewed Wassail every holiday season since 1988 and it’s now as much a part of the festivities as sharing a roaring fire with our closest family and friends,” reminisced Jamie Emmerson, Full Sail’s brewmaster. “Deep mahogany in color, Wassail is brewed with four different malts and a blend of imported hops, giving it a malty full body and a pleasantly hoppy finish that appeals to both hop and malt lovers alike. In other words, a Christmas miracle!”

Wassail was recently awarded another medal and was rated “Exceptional” at the 2006 World Beer Championships (WBC). It was described as, “Tremendously rich and dry – yet fruity and balanced – with rich roasted malt dry caramel, nuts and light spice… Perfectly balanced. Not too sweet; not too dry. Excellent!” Wassail previously won a platinum medal and a “superlative” rating at the 2005 WBC, a gold medal at the 2004 WBC, and three silver medals in 1999, 2000 and 2001.

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