Brew Review – Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice and How the World Turns

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.

Anderson Valley’s Summer Solstice (Disclaimer: No classic 60’s British Invasion albums were harmed during the making of this blog post.)

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…..

Saying Goodbye to Last Year’s Summer

There are many ways people gauge the end of summer.  For some it’s as simple as looking at a date on the calendar.  For others, yearly rituals like closing up beach houses, pulling the leaf rake out of the shed or closing pools serve as a sad indication that autumn, with it’s shorter days and colorful leaves is just around the corner.

Nature of course has her own methods.  Heat and humidity (at least here in Delaware) give way to cooler days, and even cooler nights.  Summer flowers fade into memory as fall colors from mums and sedums start to prevail.  The night sky intrudes more into our daytime as the summer triangle (Vega, Deneb, and Altair) slides from sight and Orion begins to rise in the southern sky.

But some of us have other methods to gauge when summer is over, and indeed it doesn’t even have to be the summer in the current calendar year.  For me, summer 2011 ended on Sunday when the last of the vacuum sealed pulled pork was taken from the freezer.  Having taken a trip to BJs to stock up on some pantry items, Tracey suggested picking up rolls for dinner and hinted that perhaps, just perhaps, it was time to let last year’s summer finally go.

The prep was easy enough, some sliced onions in a pan until they were translucent and then in with the thawed pork.  Soon the tantalizing aroma of smoke, onions and meat was wafting through the kitchen.  When ever I walk into a Yankee Candle store get dragged into a Yankee Candle store by Tracey, I always give a silent prayer that someone there has realized the gold mine they would be sitting on if they would infuse this bouquet into one of their candles.  I hold my breath as I scan down the shelves hoping to find Smoked Pork® between  Sage and Citrus; and Soft Blanket™.  Always to be denied.  Don’t any men work in that place?

Looks good. Smells awesome.

Once the pork was heated through I hit it with kosher salt, two caps of apple cider vinegar and red pepper flakes – and stepped away.  I happened upon this simplistic preparation at a winery one summer where a local BBQ team was set up to serve sandwiches to people out on the wine trail.  Only three ingredients, but each having a very important and distinct role.  It starts with the tang of the vinegar balancing the sweetness of the meat and then the red pepper flakes adding a welcomed, but understated heat to the party.  Salt?  Well salt does what salt always does – make things taste better.  I quickly adopted this method  which I have playfully dubbed “naked” for serving my pork, but I am not a man of strong will power and found it impossible to give up on BBQ sauce entirely.   But I turned this into a positive when I realized that by not putting BBQ sauce on the pork, it was leaving me and my fellow diners the opportunity to take our sandwiches in any direction we individually wished.  After all, what could be better than BBQ sauce – well obviously having your choice of BBQ sauces!

So once the food hits the table, I break out the six pack of BBQ sauces.  I have to thank my friend Lisa for the inspiration here.  One year for Christmas she got me a set of white squirt bottles because I had mentioned how I loved Guy Fieri’s set up with his oils on “Guy’s Big Bite”.  When she bought them, our mutual friend John asked her, “Why are you buying him those?  You know he’s never going to use them.”  Of course John should know better then question the connection between two Aquarians born only a day apart.

The “six pack” stands ready.

Oh he was right, I couldn’t really use them for my oils like Guy does.  I already had a set up for that.  However, I could use them to bottle different BBQ sauces to put on the table.  So I grabbed a couple of my favorite sauces (that’s another post) and a couple I wanted to try and bottled them up.  To make them all transportable, I put them in a Stoudt’s Scarlet Lady ESB six pack holder which is an excellent use for it, second only to transporting six bottles of Scarlet Lady into my house.

Needless to say, the pork was very good and still tasted as smokey as the day I … well, smoked it.  And while I admit it was sort of sad to sit there and stare at my empty plate and realize that my summer of yesterday had finally come to end. I could take comfort that another summer was indeed around the corner and that Tracey was already thinking ahead.

“This was the last of the pork right?”

“Yeah”

“So when are you making more?”

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