John Barleycorn is a name for barley, a grain grown in Northern Europe. Barley is commonly made into beer and whisky.
For beer to be made, barley must be harvested, and go through the brewing process. This is meaning of the folk songs and lore about how John Barleycorn must die. Barley is one of the oldest domesticated grains, and we don’t know where it was domesticated.
The process of making beer includes malting, in which the barley is sprouted, then toasting the barley to stop the sprouting, and then adding yeast to ferment the malt. How long the malt is toasted accounts for the color of the beer; a shorter toasting results in a paler beer, and a longer toasting results in darker beer. The yeast converts natural sugars in the malt to alcohol.
There are several versions of “John Barleycorn Must Die” which date back centuries in Britain. The versions refer to the processes involved in making beer. They are also somewhat sacrilegious that in death, John Barleycorn is resurrected as beer
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