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How to Make a Batch of Boilo - A Pennsylvania Holiday Beverage

Updated on November 27, 2016
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Boilo Recipe - Northeastern Pennsylvania Coal Region Holiday Wassail
Boilo Recipe - Northeastern Pennsylvania Coal Region Holiday Wassail

Pennsylvania Christmas Punch - Home Brewed Boilo

Boilo (BOY-low) is a home made Yuletide cocktail that's a favorite drink in the eastern Pennsylvania Coal Region. Brewing up a batch of wassail-like boilo is a time-honored traditional event, rooted in the early mining communities and cultures of northeast Pennsylvania, especially the Schuylkill county area.

Boilo is based on grain alcohol or cheap whiskey mulled with fruits, cider and spices added to jazz it up and add interesting flavors. It's a best-served-warm holiday punch to which you add the alcohol AFTER you've heated all the spices and cider and removed the pan from the stove.

Some folks refer to boilo as "coal region nectar," "coal cracker punch" or the "champagne of the coal region." Everyone agrees on how you should drink boilo ... sip very slowly, because it's universally agreed that boilo can knock you off your feet. As with all cultural cocktails, variations on the recipe are abundant - feel free to improvise! Just remember to gently warm the finished boilo to serve it.

Despite its name, if you boil it you'll evaporate the alcohol and, as my tattered copy of this recipe version states, "if you boil it, you're an idiot."

Photo credit - bekathwia, Flickr

Make Your Own Moonshine - White Lightnin' User's Guide

Modern Moonshine Techniques
Modern Moonshine Techniques

Boilo purists insist that moonshine or grain alcohol makes the best boilo base. If you can't find either one, recipes suggest using cheap rye whiskey as a substitute ingredient.

Learn how make your own personal supply of moonshine.

 

Have You Ever Tasted Boilo? - Also known as "coal cracker" (coal miner) champagne

If you've ever had the good fortune to take a sip or several sips of boilo, you know it's a unique and warming experience.

Boilo - Have You Tasted Coal Cracker Champagne?

See results

Home Distillery - Make Your Own Moonshine

Learn to concoct and brew home-distilled beverages.

Steel Brewing Pot with Glass Lid - Use to warm up your boilo with spices and spirits

A large stainless steel pot is ideal for mixing and heating boilo.

Prime Pacific 18/10 Stainless Steel 20 Quart Stock Pot With Glass Lid
Prime Pacific 18/10 Stainless Steel 20 Quart Stock Pot With Glass Lid

Glass cover lets you keep boilo warm after it's ixed.d and mixed. Don't put alcohol into your boilo until you remove it from the stove!

 

There are dozens of different recipes for boilo, each one customized by generations of coal-cracker-brewmeisters. Thie recipe for boilo that's in our cookbook came to me via my husband's co-workers. The company president serves this to employees on the final work day before Christmas ...

  • Prep time: 30 min
  • Cook time: 30 min
  • Ready in: 1 hour
  • Yields: Many or few, depending on tolerance

Ingredients

  • 1/2 gallon orange juice
  • 1 quart water
  • 1/2 gallon grain alcohol (or cheap whiskey like 4 Roses)
  • 3/4 quart honey
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 oranges cut into wedges/slices

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients except the alcohol in a large kettle or stew pot. Boil for a few minutes, cool slightly and strain.
  2. Bring strained mixture to a gentle boil again; strain once more.
  3. After strained mixture cools down, add the alcohol. Before drinking, warm your boilo, but don't boil or you will evaporate the alcohol.
  4. Our faded copy of the local recipe actually says this: Yes, it's called boilo but if you boil it with the alcohol it will evaporate and you're an idiot.
  5. NEVER ADD THE ALCOHOL TO THE BOILO WHILE IT IS COOKING or NEAR FLAMES. SEVERE FIRE DANGER!
Cast your vote for Home Made Boilo Recipe
Wassail - similar to boilo, but made with ale
Wassail - similar to boilo, but made with ale

Boilo Recipe History

Moonshine Base with Citrus and Spice

Wassail photo by jeremytarling, Flickr

Boilo is one of the oldest alcoholic concoctions to hail from Pennsylvania's Northeast region coal country. Boilo is a "home-brewed" blend of alcohol, honey, fruits, juice and spices whose popularity is second only to the lager crafted and bottled in Pottsville by America's oldest brewery, Yuengling (YING-ling). Recipes vary slightly from one home to another, but each one uses the same basic ingredients. Many boilo recipes have been handed down for generations and their exact ingredients are a family secret.

Boilo recipes were originally developed using moonshine as the alcohol base but more recently the favored spirits for this citrus-spiced beverage (served hot, like wassail) is high-proof low-grade whiskey. Boilo is meant to be served warm ... and can get you really fired up if you're not careful!

Wassail Photo Credit:topdrawersausage, Flickr

Warning - Fire Hazard

NEVER ADD THE ALCOHOL TO THE BOILO WHILE COOKING.

Turn off heat and remove pan from hot stove.

Kitchen Safety - Fire Extinguisher

Boilo is made with alcohol but you should never add the liquor to the pot while it's on the stove or near an open flame. It's also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, even if you don't concoct a batch of boilo.

How to Make Boilo

The recipe, the brewmistress and the imbibers all share with you a look at how to make boilo, the traditional coal cracker's holiday punch ...

Beaucoup Boilo - Recipes & Folklore - Blend, Simmer, Cool Slightly, Drink Up

For such a humble beverage there are many variations on the basic boilo recipe. All boilo recipes use grain alcohol or whiskey, honey, spices and fruits. Contrary to the name, you shouldn't boil the brew once the alcohol is in the mix, or you'll distill out all the booze.

Some recipes recommend adding the whiskey after simmering the rest of the ingredients, then letting the whole batch cool down before bottling. All recipes caution about the danger of adding so much alcohol while the pot is on the stove - even the fumes can actually cause a fire hazard, so be very careful.

© 2010 Lee Hansen

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