How to Make Boilo: A Pennsylvania Holiday Beverage
How to Make Home-Brewed Boilo
Boilo (BOY-low) is a homemade Yuletide cocktail that originated in the coal region of eastern Pennsylvania. Some folks refer to it as "coal region nectar," "coal cracker punch," or the "champagne of the coal region." It's a blend of alcohol, honey, fruits, juice, and spices, and brewing a batch of boilo is a time-honored traditional event rooted in the early mining communities and the Schuylkill County area.
Boilo is made of grain alcohol or cheap whiskey that is mulled with fruits, cider, and spices to add interesting flavors. It's a holiday punch best served warm. Make sure to sip the final product slowly, as boilo can easily knock you off your feet.
You can find dozens of boilo recipes that have been developed by generations of coal cracker brewers. Our recipe came from a cookbook given to us from my husband's coworker. I hope you enjoy!
- 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
- Combine all of the ingredients except the alcohol in a large kettle or pot. Boil the contents for a few minutes. Let the mixture cool slightly, and then strain it.
- Bring the strained mixture to a gentle boil again. Strain it one more time.
- After the drink cools down, pour the alcohol into the pot. Never add the alcohol to the boilo while it is cooking or near an open flame. It's also a good idea to have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, just in case.
- Warm the finished drink, but don't boil it or the alcohol will evaporate. 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."
- Serve the boilo warm.
The History of Boilo
Boilo is one of the oldest alcoholic concoctions to hail from Pennsylvania's northeast coal country region. Its 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 high-proof low-grade whiskey is becoming a favored substitute for this citrus-spiced beverage. Contrary to its name, you shouldn't boil the brew once the alcohol is in the mix, or you'll evaporate the booze. Make sure not to add the alcohol while the pot is on the stove because even the fumes can cause a fire hazard.
Variations of Boilo Recipes
Boilo - Have You Tasted Coal Cracker Champagne?
© 2010 Lee Hansen