The Lore of Beers and Ales for the Germanic Cultures

Updated on February 8, 2018
James Slaven profile image

James has written for various magazines, including Celtic Guide, Mythology Magazine, and Pagan Forest.

John Barleycorn -- English folk legend of the malts
John Barleycorn -- English folk legend of the malts | Source

Every year at this time, I look forward to one of my favorite beers: the Oktoberfest! I’m more of an ale man (using the modern term of top fermenting ales versus the bottom fermenting lagers, rather than the old-fashioned terms that differentiate between those with hops and spices versus those without – see my article on the Celtic lore of ales for more information on this.


As far back in time as the Roman Empire, the German tribes were considered to be great brewers. Pliny describes the beer making abilities of the Germans during the time of Tacitus, of which they were impressed by the Germans’ ability “to make even water intoxicating.”

The Norse had a very close relationship to brewing, with the yeast aspect being quite interesting. Yeast was called many things across different regions, that translate to its action, with terms such as “working,” “foaming,” and “seed.” The yeast would be allowed to settle on Juniper branches and then used later. The use of juniper was due to it being evergreen and thus magical in its implementation. The Nordic countries also used juniper berries as an ingredient, being considered sacred and magical, and was good for curing gout and arthritis, among other ailments. Norse brewers also believed that a stronger ale could be made by acting angry around the fermenting product.

In the 900s, King Hakon of Norway made a law that Yule and Christmas (this was a time when both the Pagan and the Christian holidays were celebrated) should be kept holy with every man brewing an ale.

Jule-Ol -- A Norse beer brewed at Christmas time.
Jule-Ol -- A Norse beer brewed at Christmas time.

Styles and Uses

Anglo-Saxon writings describe 11 types of ale: Welsh, mild, clear, light, twice brewed, new, old, sour, pure, strong, and weak. Unfortunately, the strengths of these are never given, nor are the qualities, except that it’s already been determined from other writings that Welsh ales were of very high quality. I can’t imagine that these eleven types were all distinct. The differences between mild and weak could not be great, just like clear and light. Also of note is that these were quite possibly brewed with honey and could be meads or mead-ale combinations. Also of note is that Welsh could mean one of three things: it was brewed in Wales; it was of Welsh style, but brewed in what would become English lands; and could also mean “foreign,” which is the translation of the name the invading Anglo-Saxons gave the indigenous Celts. Quite cheeky indeed! The third one is unlikely, unless it also means the first, as there are records of wine being imported from other countries, across the channel, but the island’s beer needs were being met domestically.

My preferred argument is one of style, but based off an old Celtic recipe. It would have been strong and sweet and similar to what we now call a barleywine, and possibly also a mead braggot with similar grains. Whatever the case, it was certainly well liked, as much less of it was needed to pay rents than other styles.

As your narrator has brewed a braggot with Scotch ale grains, this wylisc may have to be next. Barleywines are my favorite style, and knowing that the awesome King Offa of Mercia specified it as part of his tenants’’ rents certainly helps, out of which every third hogshead was to be sweetened with honey.

The author making a full breakfast with his homemade braggot "Reavers Mead."
The author making a full breakfast with his homemade braggot "Reavers Mead." | Source

Mugwort is a relative of wormwood, though not as strong, and was written about as one of the nine sacred herbs in tenth century Wessex. Being primarily used for female reproductive issues, from menstruation to increased fertility to cramps, it was also used to ease depression and aid in digestion, and was used as an additive in both beer and mead.

Coming into more modern times, German immigrants in the United States brewed a beer that contained fir (tree) tips, considering it good for fever, weight loss, anemia, and lack of energy. In the 1700s of England, various regions are associated with specific beers. Wheat beers from Middlesex are top notch, while standard ales are excellent from Yorkshire and Cheshire. (On an aside, if you ever have the chance to try Samuel Smith’s Yorkshire Stingo, you should not pass that opportunity up!). Norfolk was well known for a strong ale, called Norfolk Nog, with one variety having the moniker Clamber Skull.

Yorkshire Stingo (company ad)
Yorkshire Stingo (company ad)


Considered a Halloween drink in Ireland and a Christmas-with-Halloween-culture drink in Scotland, Lambs Wool is decidedly a Yule drink in England. Both it and the Wassail bowl are mentioned in Harrick’s Twelfth Night. Although, as mentioned in my article on Germanic culture and mead (LINK HERE), the Wassail bowl was predominantly used for mead, in the modern times of 300 years ago, it was already being used for a drink made of strong ale, sugar, spices, and roasted apples: the drink lambs wool.

Frothy lambswool
Frothy lambswool

Concluding with a Song of Ale

And to finish, please enjoy this wonderful lyrical poem about ale. You could always try drinking each type as you read aloud, but I feel I should mention that you’ll probably get alcohol poisoning. As long as you recognize this and don’t hold me responsible, feel free to let me know how it goes if you give it a try!

Song of Eight Ales – John Taylor, Gloucester, England, circa 1620

We went into the house of one John Pinners,

(A man that lives among a crew of sinners)

And there eight several sorts of Ale we had,

All able to make one starke drunke or mad

But I with courage bravely flinched not,

And gave the Towne leave to discharge shot,

We had at one time set upon the table,

Good Ale of Hisope, ‘twas not Esope fable:

Then we had Ale of Sage, and Ale of Malt,

And Ale of Woorme-wood, that could make one halt,

With Ale of Rosemary, and Bettony,

And two Ales more, or else I needs must lye.

But to conclude this drinking Alye tale,

We had a sort of Ale called scurvy Ale.

I started with a song of four ales... and ended up with twelve.
I started with a song of four ales... and ended up with twelve. | Source

NOTE: You may notice some of the words are spelled differently throughout. These are not errors, but rather I have used all of the different spellings that occur in my research reading. Such wonderful fun!

Further Reading:

The Curiousities of Ale & Beer (YEAR) John Bickerdyke, Charles Henry Cook, John Greville Fennell, and JM Dixon.

St. Brigid’s Alefeast (11th century Old Irish poem)

Brewing Mead, Wassail! In Mazers of Mead (1948) Lt. Colonel Robert Gayre

Questions & Answers

    © 2016 James Slaven


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      No comments yet.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)