You keen eyed lunar types will notice that this post is a day early. There’s a good reason. You’ll just have to be patient.
April, tucked nicely between Ostara (the Spring Equinox) and Beltane (May 1st) is the transitional month into Spring. Oh sure, Spring officially happened astronomically last month on March 20th, but April is the first full month of the coming change of season, and usually much more so than March, the one where that change is becoming more apparent in nature. As I write this, my daffodils are in bloom, my neighbor’s forsythia is a striking contrast of yellow against an otherwise drab landscape, my star magnolia is setting its buds, my weeping willow is starting to awaken, and my dog is chasing rabbits.
Yes, signs of the coming summer are everywhere but all this change isn’t without a little fussing from nature. “April showers bring May flowers”, may be the popular rhyme, but those showers aren’t usually popular when they are forcing you to stay inside on the first days where the temperature is reaching near 70. No, on days like this one can only stare out the window and try to remember that water is essential to everything around us, and indeed these storms are important for the rebirth of nature after a long winter’s nap. And of course one can not ignore the strong winds that can kick up this time of year, giving easy understanding of April’s Moon often being referred to as the “Wind Moon”.
This year April plays host to Passover and Easter. Passover is a multi-day celebration that marks the release of the Hebrews from slavery shortly after God’s last plague on Egypt – the death of every first born Egyptian child. Isrealites marked the doorposts of their homes with lambs blood, having God’s promise that by doing so, he would “pass over”, leaving those firstborns unharmed.
I covered Easter and some of its symbols in last month’s Full Moon post but did want to talk a bit about it here. Most people know that Easter (and it’s related observances) move around the calendar from year to year. In fact, Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.
This was established at the first Council of Nicaea when it was decided that Easter would fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox. Most people know this, but many don’t know that it’s actually a little simpler than that.
Easter is a movable feast set to a lunisolar calendar, which more resembles the Hebrew calendar than the one we use today. To that end, although the Spring equinox can astronomically fall on either, March 20th or 21st, for the purposes of Easter, the Spring equinox is always designated as March 21st. Similarly, the first full moon’s astronomical date is not taken into consideration either, instead the 14th day of the lunar month is used as the date of the true full moon can be different depending where in the world someone is at the precise moment of astronomical fullness. This moon is referred to as the Paschal full moon; Paschal tracing its origins back to the Hebrew Pesach, meaning passover.
So from a strict perspective Easter is always the first Sunday, after the next 14th day of the lunar month, after March 21st. But I guess the other way of saying it flows better.
So what can April hold for beer peeps? Well, as I said above, every year April brings the water that is an essential ingredient to the wakening nature around us. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.
Although not as romanticized, water is a key ingredient in beer as it makes up a large portion of the over all mix. But in reality, it’s not really water per say that has a large influence over the beer you’re drinking or brewing, it’s what’s IN the water that makes the difference.
Minerals and salts found in water vary according to location, and it’s these basic elements within the water that can have a great influence on beer, even to the effect that these traits can become regionally known, like some characteristics in wine. The water around the Burton region of England has a naturally occurring high level of gypsum, a mineral which helps bring out the hops in a beer. So it’s not surprising that this area is historically known for producing excellent pale ales, and that adding gypsum to water in regions that do not contain a naturally high level of it, is not an uncommon practice in brewing pale ales.
If you have not already done so, April would be an appropriate month to take some time to do some research to better understand the part water chemistry plays in beer and brewing. Home brewers especially would benefit from understanding more about the water they use to brew, and now would be a good time to think about requesting a report from your water service which will contain an analysis of the water stating the level of each mineral tested for. These numbers will fluctuate slight throughout the year, but they are a good place to start.
Once you know the numbers, understanding what they bring to your brew is the next step. A little research on the web brought up some nice quick reads on the subject (here, here). While those who want a little more in depth study can seek out books like How to Brew, by John Palmer and Water: A Comprehensive Guide For Brewers by John Palmer and Colin Kaminski.
Beyond that? Well it is spring, which means planting season is coming up. How about those hops you always wanted to grow? Or that garden you wanted to plant so you’d have some home grown ingredients for those herbal beers you’ve been thinking about? Now would be a great time to start thinking along those lines.
And that’s about it for this month. But why is the post a day early? Well this month’s full moon also happens to showcase a total lunar eclipse that is visible across all of the United States. But because the astronomical full moon is 3:42 am (EDT), Tuesday April 15th, if I’d post this up tomorrow, you’d have already slept through it.
Lunar eclipses happen when the moon passes through the shadow of the earth. Because of the geometries involved this means that lunar eclipses only happen at the full moon (it’s pretty obvious if you think about it, but I run into a lot of people who just haven’t put the two together) and don’t happen every full moon because sometimes the moon passes above or below the earth’s shadow. And for those eclipses that do happen, not everyone sees them, depending on which part of earth is facing the moon at it’s astronomical full. But when all the geometries align like they will tomorrow morning you get a total lunar eclipse that you can see from start to finish.
The show starts at 12:53 am (all times EDT) and finishes at 6:37 am (even though the moon orbits the earth at 1.023 km/s, lunar eclipses are pretty lengthy). But the real show starts at 1:58 am when the moon plunges into the darkest part of earth’s shadow. Up until then, it was wandering through the penumbra, a lighter part of the earth’s shadow caused by the sun’s large angular size that surrounds the darker shadow at the center.
It will take until 3:06 am for the Moon to totally slide into the Earth’s darkest shadow and it will stay there for the next one hour and 18 minutes, until it begins to slide out from behind it on the other side. Due to an ever so slight amount of light that gets bent towards the moon as it passes through Earth’s atmosphere around the edges, the moon may appear red during totality as the rest of the spectrum is scattered allowing only the red light to continue on its path to the moon.