Hard cider has always been my drink of choice and Angry Orchard has always been one of my favorite brands. Only recently did I learn that the company releases an annual Wassail Wooden Sleeper that coincides with their annual Wassail Winter Fest. They are one of many cideries throughout the country that hold such a celebration. Although recipes differ, wassail is typically a warmed beverage made from wine, beer or mulled cider and spices. Angry Orchard makes their Wassail Wooden Sleeper by aging cider in rum barrels and adding mulling spices.
The festival known as Wassail is an ancient English tradition in which farmers sought to ensure a good harvest for their apple orchards. The word comes from the Old English “waes hael” which translates to “be in good health” or “be fortunate”. And, as you’d expect, wassail is the name of the beverage that is customarily enjoyed during the festival. Although it’s now more commonly thought of as a holiday drink, wassail is a perfect beverage to enjoy any time during the cold winter months.
At their annual Wassail Winter Fest, Angry Orchard releases its yearly Wassail Wooden Sleeper. The wassail is sold in 750 mL bottles which, unfortunately, can only be purchased at their Hudson Valley cidery, located in Walden, New York. This year, Angry Orchard has partnered with Burlap & Barrel so each wassail bottle is accompanied by a jar of the company’s mulling spice. The Wassail Wooden Sleeper is only available until they are sold out.
Angry Orchard released this year’s Wassail Wooden Sleeper at their annual Wassail Winter Fest
I was invited to their Wassail Winter Fest that was held last month at the orchard in Walden. The festivities are focused on sending good energy out to the orchards and scaring away the evil spirits to ensure a successful harvest later in the year.
For those, like me, who were unfamiliar with this celebration, it involves masks, chants and noisemakers and, of course, drinking of wassail. For those who are well-versed in the tradition (and really into it), costumes are welcome and encouraged. We paraded through the orchard, lit torches in hand. Chants of “waes hael!” were met with replies of “drink hael!” This is pronounced like “hail” the weather, meaning “drink well”. Midway through our journey through the orchards, we stopped and partook in another Wassail tradition of leaving a gift of cider-soaked toast (yes, toasted bread) to the spirits on the tree branches.
Once this chant was completed, guests were able to continue the celebration with food trucks, live music, axe throwing and more. A huge bonfire kept us all warm on a very chilly night. Wassail celebrations are becoming popular at cideries throughout the country and Angry Orchard’s annual Wassail Winter Fest celebration gets bigger every year.
I highly recommend checking to see if any cideries near you host such an event. Although the Wassail Winter Fest happens only once a year, Angry Orchard is open to the public all year long. They offer tours and tastings and sell ciders that can only be purchased for pick-up onsite.