PA Food Icons: Boilo

Nearly every culture in the world has its own version of a boozy, hot drink to help ease the struggle of dark winter nights. There’s Irish coffee, hot toddies, Swedish glogg, German Gluhwein and so many others. But did you know that Pennsylvania has its own traditional hot, spiked drink, specifically enjoyed around the holidays? It’s called Boilo, and is native to the Coal Region of northeastern and east-central Pennsylvania.


Boilo is a warm, punch-y concoction that is almost always made from scratch (there is a commercially packaged version, but just as you’d suspect, it’s not very good). Though the recipe is mutable, by definition it contains a mix of citrus fruits, usually lemon and orange, plus herbs and wintry spices (like clove, nutmeg and anise seed), honey and ginger ale. Some versions add orange juice or call for dried fruit, like raisins, for an extra hit of earthy sweetness. For the booze, you can use moonshine, though most versions you see today are made with whiskey, especially Four Queens brand.

The history of this strong, celebratory drink can be traced back to the coal mining community which took root in Schuylkill County in the mid-19th century and into the 20th. Immigrants from all over Europe came to the area for work, bringing their foodways with them. It is believed that Boilo draws heavy influence from a Lithuanian drink, krupnik, a honey-sweet warm beverage infused with herbs and spices. Boilo is not only served around Christmas-time (often simmering away on the stove at tree-trimming parties), but it is sometimes used to treat the flu or a bad cold. Notoriously dangerous to make, boilo recipes are a point of pride for many families, and there are even annual contests held in the Coal Region of Pennsylvania, like the Annual Pfeiffenberger Boilo Contest, part of the Schuylkill County Fair. Families and individuals submit their boilo in sealed bottles, and a panel of taste-testers determines the most authentic and drinkable as the winner.

Boilo simmers for a few hours, releasing a wonderful, warming fragrance as it cooks. A few Pennsylvania companies have harnessed its cozy aroma: Mud and Maker from Pottsville, PA, has a number of Boilo-inspired products, including candles and melts, and Coal Country Boilo makes a Boilo in a Bag spice packet that helps making this festive drink even easier!

While you might occasionally find a bar serving a batch of Boilo (we hear the Mansion House on Summit Hill in the Poconos has it sometimes), it is first and foremost a homemade drink, made with love to enhance Yuletide gatherings! Have you ever made Boilo? Does your family have a secret recipe, passed down through generations? Join in the conversation in the comments here, or on the PA Eats Facebook page!

  • Video: PatchTown Films
  • Feature image: Pexels