John Barleycorn

Let the search begin.

It’s a new year for us down south, and so a new mission has been placed in our laps. To rescue a poor young lad named John. There’s a bounty on his head. As legend goes, he shows his face every season, offends kings and queens, and so has been mistreated, mishandled, bloodied up and left for dead because of his grassy mouth. We will take on the challenge to bring his truths to light and let the public judge him fairly. For those who are slaves to the barley, this may sound familiar. For those who have no idea what barley is, well, it refers to our dear John. John Barelycorn.

Barely is the key ingredient used to make beer and whiskey. And as legend tells it, it has been personified, given two legs and a soul. His name is John.

Now, there are several versions of this legend, it began as a piece of oral history in Celtic cultures, it then transformed into folklore songs in England and Scotland, it has been revived into poetry, books, and now modern folk musicians live to tell the tale. Don’t dare take this lightly. These words are very relevant for a lush like you and a sponge like me. Overall its worth digging into.

Have a look at the legend below, and then we’ll begin our search to defend his name and his honor.

*Follow my notes between stanzas…


There was three kings into the east,

Three kings both great and high,

And they hae sworn a solemn oath

John Barleycorn should die.

Sounds like John did something unforgivable to these high and mighty kings to put them through the trouble of finding him and swearing to ruin him.


They took a plough and plough’d him down,

Put clods upon his head,

And they hae sworn a solemn oath

John Barleycorn was dead.

What a clean way to get the job done, fancy kings…


But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,

And show’rs began to fall;

John Barleycorn got up again,

And sore surpris’d them all.


That a boy! He’s got the cajones (balls) to fight back!



The sultry suns of Summer came,

And he grew thick and strong;

His head weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears,

That no one should him wrong.


We each have our season, and Summer was John’s.

The sober Autumn enter’d mild,

When he grew wan and pale;

His bending joints and drooping head

Show’d he began to fail.

Maybe he needs a drink to get him back in the sack. Wonder what his preferred poison is…


His colour sicken’d more and more,

He faded into age;

And then his enemies began

To show their deadly rage.

They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,

And cut him by the knee;

Then tied him fast upon a cart,

Like a rogue for forgerie.


Here we go again, he’s an outlaw, like us, and everyone wants him dead!

We’ve got to join the rebels and defend poor John!


They laid him down upon his back,

And cudgell’d him full sore;

They hung him up before the storm,

And turned him o’er and o’er.


They filled up a darksome pit

With water to the brim;

They heaved in John Barleycorn,

There let him sink or swim.


They laid him out upon the floor,

To work him farther woe;

And still, as signs of life appear’d,

They toss’d him to and fro.


They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,

The marrow of his bones;

But a miller us’d him worst of all,

For he crush’d him between two stones.



And they hae taen his very heart’s blood,

And drank it round and round;

And still the more and more they drank,

Their joy did more abound.


OK so this is some sort of annual sacrificial harvest sort of thing? I see…



John Barleycorn was a hero bold,

Of noble enterprise;

For if you do but taste his blood,

‘Twill make your courage rise.


YES! John isn’t in danger! He’s not a fugitive. No! On the contrary, he is a saint of the fields, cultivating himself! And come harvest, we indulge in his rich beers and whiskeys that he offers us sponges and lushes.




‘Twill make a man forget his woe;

‘Twill heighten all his joy;

‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,

Tho’ the tear were in her eye.


Then let us toast John Barleycorn,

Each man a glass in hand;

And may his great posterity

Ne’er fail in old Scotland!

Publ. 1782


Nor in Argentina, nor in America.

Here’s to John Barelycorn. We will always honor your legend.


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