LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
We've been asking listeners to tell us about their favorite holiday foods. Wassail - or maybe you've heard it was wassail - is a traditional English drink, celebrated in this old Yuletide carol.
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WERTHEIMER: Intrigued independent producer Kathleen Osborn embarked on a quest around New England for wassail.
KATHLEEN OSBORN, BYLINE: My first stop in search of wassail was the wassail festival in Woodstock, Vermont. But I found more horses than raised glasses.
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OSBORN: In Woodstock, wassail is more a Christmas celebration with a horse parade and a bit of caroling rather than a drink. Beth Finlayson of the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce says it's an old Yuletide tradition.
BETH FINLAYSON: Wassail actually came from the Norse folks. And people would have a special drink during the winter solstice and say wassail to you, which is good health.
OSBORN: Few places in Woodstock were serving it, so Beth sent me to the source - the Prince and the Pauper Restaurant. Vincent Talento is the owner, and he gave me a taste of their recipe.
VINCENT TALENTO: To your health. Wassail. Isn't that good?
OSBORN: It is.
TALENTO: It's a citrus-y cider.
OSBORN: They make a special batch of the malt cider just for the festival, but more people were ordering martinis. So I called up my friend Ben Jacks, who grew up with wassail as a Christmas Eve tradition. He gave me his family recipe, which didn't contain a drop of cider.
BEN JACKS: It's like a very, very strong punch, you know, so it's like champagne and vodka, a lot of really kind of intense berry flavors in it. And basically the idea is you have to drink everything in the punch - that's, you know, with your whole family. So you put it right down and while everyone else is singing, you need to be actually drinking out of the wassail bowl.
OSBORN: Around Boston, where Ben grew up, their wassail ritual was a bit of an oddity.
JACKS: Yeah, I literally know not one other person in my life that does that.
OSBORN: So I have found the Holy Grail of wassailing.
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OSBORN: Seemed like wassail could be just about anything, but a lot of recipes mention the hot spiced beer. So I met up with Randy Baril, manager of the Modern Homebrew Emporium in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who makes his wassail with a homebrew brown ale.
RANDY BARIL: What I did is I put a measure of the beer into a crockpot, and to it I added a variety of spices that I had around the house - clove and allspice and cinnamon. And then as we taste it, if I decide it's not sweet enough, there's a little brown sugar I can throw into the mix.
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BARIL: Cheers. Wassail. I'd say very fortifying.
OSBORN: I'd say a bit medicinal for my taste. Randy says I'll have to find my own recipe.
BARIL: You need to make it your own, you need to make it personal. And I think that's where a lot of the fun comes in.
OSBORN: Looking for a libation, what I really found was that holiday spirit. For NPR News, I'm Kathleen Osborn in Boston.
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