The summer solstice occurs exactly when the axial tilt of a planet’s semi-axis in a given hemisphere is most inclined towards the star that it orbits. Bet you’d wished you stayed awake during science class now, huh? Earth is tilted, and by that I mean literally, not from a “human consciousness” perspective. The axis that passes through the North and South poles on which the Earth revolves does not go straight up and down relative to Earth’s orbital plane around the sun, but tilts at an angle of 23o26’. To add a little more variability, the direction of the tilt is constant, independent of its orbital location around the sun.
If you’ve never thought about this before, imagine a paperclip that’s been unfolded slightly:
Now find a record player and an album (no “old” jokes please), place the paperclip on the outside edge of the record so that the tilted part that’s sticking up is pointing directly to the hole in the center of the album. Now spin the album so that the paper clip is exactly on the opposite side (180o) from where it started. See how the part of the paperclip that’s sticking up is still pointing towards the center of the record? The Earth doesn’t do that. Instead, if it mimicked the Earth, the paperclip would be pointing away from the hole, in the same relative direction it started in.
Put these two orbital geometries together and you have seasons. Today, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are going to pass through the exact moment in time when our part of the paperclip is tilted directly towards the hole in the record, or the sun. And although many people think of the summer solstice as a day long (or in some cases several day long) event, it is in fact an exact instant in time happening today at 23:09 UT (7:09 EDT). Along with it comes the usual trappings associated with the summer solstice, it’s the day with the longest amount of daylight for the northern hemisphere, and it of course marks the beginning of summer.
However, the time around the solstice is known in many countries as midsummer, and in ancient times actually marked the middle of summer which for some cultures (especially the Irish and the Scots) start on May 1st. Neopagans, especially those following a Celtic tradition, call this time Litha and also mark it as the middle of summer which for them started on May 1st, or Beltane. But the significance of this time of year has not totally disappeared from current world culture. In Scandinavia, Estonia and Latvia it is still a highly celebrated holiday, second only to Christmas, where along with Lithuania and Quebec it is still a public holiday – all though the actually observance date may vary from country to country.
Whatever today means to you (and right now to me it means it’s getting HOT outside) I can think of no more appropriately named beer to celebrate with than Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice. Styled as a cream ale, the beer contains 5.0% ABV and clocks in at an almost nonexistent 4 IBUs. Anderson Valley doesn’t give much away on this beer. They talk of a spice that I’m not getting but I definitely get vanilla in the mix along with a touch of malt. A little sticky on the back end, with no hop bitterness to speak of. As would be expected from a cream ale, the carbonation is low, but still adequate.
I’m not going to over analyze this beer, because to be honest there isn’t much here to analyze. But to be fair, it’s also not supposed to be that kind of beer. This is a beer to enjoy on a hot summer day when the temperature of the beer and the temperature of the air differs by about 45 degrees (like today) and you were still stupid enough to go out and mow the lawn (or what ever it was you did). And if the beer has any other redeeming factor, it’s that its very nice copper color will set you apart from all the other guys with their fizzy yellow beers as you gather at the fence line and remark about how hot it is.
Happy summer everyone!
And to my Celtic friends, Happy Midsummer (Litha)!
Time for another beer……inside…..