Concept & Folklore: Wetting the Cuckoo

There’s an old Sussex quirk, plenty of old Sussex quirks in fact, but there’s one that caught my attention as I flipped the pages of my Sussex Miscellany; Cuckoo Ale. It states that as soon as you hear the first call of the season from the tenacious cuckoo, you must go to the nearest inn and drink to its health. Any excuse to go for a pint…

sussex miscellany cuckoo ale

Further research suggests that this old quirk of the past is something that folk practiced elsewhere in the country, as this excerpt from The Dictionary of English Folklore (By Jacqueline Simpson & Stephen Roud) shows:

cuckoo ale excerpt 1

And this from the same source:

cuckoo ale excerpt 2

When I’m not uploading words and pictures about beer and brewing, I too am “out of doors”, a plant propagator by trade, with my ears tuned into the bird song that surrounds me. The first cuckoo call is an exciting moment and one that’s missed if it becomes clear, as the months go on and spring becomes summer, that the distinctive two-tone won’t be heralding the season.

The notion that this call was and probably still is (like I said, any excuse…) celebrated and honoured with a pint of ale (strong), is something I can easily get on board with. A quick internet search shows that a few Cuckoo Ale’s exist today, but it got me thinking about what I’d brew, if I could, in order to toast to the health of the harbinger of spring.

Something in the style of an Imperial or India Brown Ale perhaps? Something that on the face of it looks a bit ordinary, but deceptively packs a punch, a strong, bold and altogether bigger beer than a pint of standard brown ale. A bit like the deceptive, strong, bold bird that it’d toast.

Or is that all just a bit cuckoo?!


3 thoughts on “Concept & Folklore: Wetting the Cuckoo

  1. Hi Rach,
    I’ve been meaning to comment on this one for a while – it’s amazing food (drink) for thought. I have a very strong influence from folklore and tradition in my music and other creative pursuits (my old band in Norwich made extensive reference to this kind of tradition, and we performed the Christmas Wassail you mentioned elsewhere on at least one occasion). It’s interesting that this kind of custom seems to be viewed with derision by some people!

    1. Yo Chris! I love these old traditions, the more I read, the more I wish other folks would take notice, and I think it’s sad that they don’t, or worse, they know about them and think that these traditions don’t have a place or any sort of relevance in our modern society. Hopefully with the likes of you and I taking notice and talking about them they will stay alive and might resonate with people 🙂

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