Tŷ’r brag iach, tŷ’r bara gwyn,
Ale or beer was brewed regularly at the homes of the nobility and references to brewing beer in the abbeys and monasteries especially are plentiful in the poetry.
Today, barley is often the only malt used in beer-making. However, medieval beer was often made from a mixture of different types of malt, such as wheat and malted barley. Guto’r Glyn suggests that the healthy beer of Thomas ap Watkin of Llanddewi Rhydderch was made from local oats: Cwrw iach o frig ceirch y fro ‘Good ale made from the ears of oats from our region’ (poem 4.37), and references to brewing beer at home are also quite numerous in the poetry. The closing section of the poem in praise of Abbot Dafydd ap Ieuan commends the beer of Valle Crucis abbey:
Tŷ’r brag iach, tŷ’r bara gwyn,
Tŷ’r bragod a’r tŵr brigwyn,
Tŷ’r gweiniaid tew ar ginio,
Tŷ’r beirdd, a phoed hir y bo!
house of the healthy malt liquor, house of the white bread,
house of the bragget with the white-topped tower,
house of the fat weaklings over dinner,
house of the poets, and long may it remain that way!
It seems that the word bragod (‘bragget’) came to mean a particular type of beer: a malted drink formerly made by fermenting beer and honey together. There are references to this drink in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi and in the Laws of Hywel Dda. Guto’r Glyn refers to bragod brigwyn in his praise of Dafydd ap Tomas (poem 12.57) and it seems that bragod brig or frig is a combination often seen in the poetry of this period, meaning ‘foaming bragget’. Furthermore, Guto also refers to bragod brau ‘fine bragget’ (poem 100.4) and gwinau fragod ‘auburn bragget’ (poem 113.21). He said of Valle Crucis abbey:
Cawn feddyglyn gwyn a gwinau – fragod,
Cawn freugwrf o’r pibau;
I found white mead and dark-red bragget,
I found generous beer from large barrels;
His description of the Irish mantle as Criafonllwyth cwrf unlliw ‘a load of rowan-berries, the colour of beer’ (poem 53.58) also suggests that the beer produced in the period was a deep red-orange colour.
Aside from home-brewed beer, it seems some Welsh regions and towns were renowned for producing fine beer, especially the Welsh Marches and the town of Shrewsbury. This is also noted by Guto’r Glyn in his praise of Dafydd ap Tomas:
Blinais es pedair blynedd
Ar gwrw’r Mars; gorau yw’r medd.
For four years I have been tired
of the beer of the March; mead is best.
Sixteenth-century poets often composed short poems or englynion to beer and specific places such as Chester, Caerleon and Denbigh are associated with beer production. A whole poem was composed to the beer of Aberconwy (the poem is sometimes attributed to Ieuan ap Gruffudd Leiaf).
Bibliography: M. Haycock, ‘Where cider ends, there ale begins to reign’: drink in medieval Welsh poetry (Cambridge, 1999).
: A.M. Edwards, ‘Food and Wine for all the World: Food and Drink in fifteenth-century Poetry’, in D.F. Evans, B.J. Lewis and A. Parry Owen (eds), ‘Gwalch Cywyddau Gwŷr’: Essays on Guto’r Glyn and Fifteenth-Century Wales (Aberystwyth, 2013).
: Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, s.v. bragod; D.F. Evans (gol.), Gwaith Rhys Goch Eryri, 12.11.
: E.P. Roberts (gol.) Gwaith Siôn Tudur, poems 243, 244 and 245.
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