The Full Moon Post – November 2014

That embarrassing moment when you think to yourself, “When do I have to write the Full Moon Post this month?” – only to find out that it was today (well, as you’re reading this, yesterday), The full moon occurred on November 6th, two hours before I sat down to write this.

I know, no big deal, but when you keep half an eye on this stuff (or more than half) you kind of expect to at least know when the full moon is.  To find out that it’s snuck up on you unsuspectingly is kind of sad, made worse by that fact that this isn’t just any full moon, it’s November’s full moon.

In my last Full Moon Post I wrote about how October’s moon herald’s the coming of the winter season, well November’s moon power slides into the room like Tom Cruise in whities declaring, “I AM HERE!”. Although it’s not all due to the moon itself, we humans have a bit part to play in this as well.

See, we screwed with time last week.  Well, not in a “Doctor Who locking the Daleks in a time loop” type way, but screwed with it we did and to some extent we always are. We all know about leap years, those special years when we add an extra day to keep our calendar in line with the actual time it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun, and plus try to make amends for how we slighted February when it comes the whole “30 days” thing. There’s also the  lesser known leap second that’s added to Universal Time (UTC) to keep it in sync with Mean Solar Time. Unlike leap years, leap seconds don’t happen in set cycles, we just add them whenever we think we need one, either on June 30th and/or December 31st. The last one was added on June 30th 2012.

But of course in this case I’m talking about ‘falling back’ to Standard Time. In just one day, we’ve seemed to have plunged the world that we know into eternal darkness, or at least that’s how it feels.  I remember last week waiting for darkness to fall on Halloween night, knowing that it wouldn’t happen to sometime around 7, and this week I’ve had the joy of driving home from work in the dark – at 5 o’clock.

Yeah, the clock shift back to the proper solar time is like a cold slap in the face, announcing the true (and final) marker of the coming winter season and plunging us all into a state of “oh God, it’s truly coming” type dread. But if we want to look for a silver lining (or at least a glowing moon) in all this, the time change (and the fact that the moon’s path across the sky is climbing higher as we approach December) makes the November full moon the first in a line of fall/winter moons that can truly be enjoyed almost all evening. Here in Delaware, the moon rose at 5:01pm and by 7pm it was high enough to be easily seen over the tree tops as it flooded my kitchen with light.

November’s moon is commonly referred to as the Beaver Moon, as it was a time to trap active beavers to have furs for the coming winter months.  Another name is the Frosty Moon, which really should need no explanation.  But modern paganism  labels it the Mourning Moon.

The November moon is the first moon of the Celtic New year which began on Samhain and thus is considered the time to look at what you’ve accomplished over the last year and what you can afford to do without next year.    It’s a time of contemplation and reflection; to rid oneself of all that may be hurtful (relationship, job, bad habits, etc), mourn all that has been lost, and begin looking forward as the new year approaches.

It is a  time to mourn the “loss” of our sun as it continues its every lowering path across the sky, our days getting shorter, and colder.  But it’s also a time to take comfort in the fact that Yule is just around the corner and with it a time of celebration as our sun starts its journey back to a place of predominance in our sky.

Craft beer fans – hopefully there’s little for you to truly mourn, unless its a summer seasonal from your favorite brewery. But you can still take some time to look back at what you did this past year, and decide what was worth it, and what doesn’t bear repeating next year.

mad elf
THE FINAL SIP – I always know what season is approaching when I see this guy starting to spring up on the shelves around me. Oh, SN’s Celebration as well….

 

 

The Full Moon Post 1.5 – October 2014, Eclipse Tricks and Fortnight-It’s a Thing.

So….two Full Moon posts in one month? Well it’s actually appropriate as in my previous Full Moon post I touched on the lunar eclipse and the “rare” selenelion that occurred on October 8th. But as far as the month of October goes, that wasn’t the full extent of the moon and sun’s celestial dance.

I know, you’re probably tired of hearing about orbital geometries in my posts by now, but in truth they explain the continuous rhythms of the two biggest acts in our sky’s showcase because like everything in nature, eclipses follow a rule of cycles.  Yes, while it may seem that the varied differences in the orbits of the earth around the sun and the moon around the Earth would generate an eclipse schedule of complete randomness, they actually occur in a set pattern, a pattern that is dictated by the length of their orbit and the angles in which they all occur. Let’s take a basic look.

First we have the saros, an almost two decade time span to us that is nothing more than the blink of an eye in the cosmic scale.  A saros is approximately 6585.3 days and marks the time it takes for the sun, Earth and moon to return to almost the exact same point relative to each other, that they started from at any given moment.  This means that if there is a lunar or solar eclipse on any given day, the exact eclipse will occur 18 years and 11 1/3 days later (although it will not be visible from the same location on Earth each time).  These identical eclipses are referred to as an ‘eclipse cycle‘ of which there are many, each having its own number, and are used to predicate and monitor eclipses by scientists all over the world.

On a smaller scale we have the synodic month, or 29.53 days (average, nothing is absolutely perfect as far as these things are concerned), the amount of time it takes for the moon to circle the Earth in one orbit.  This quick trip around our planet is significant in the scheme of eclipses because the apparent angle of the orbit of the moon differs from that of our sun by a mere 5 degrees at their widest, which isn’t a lot it grand scheme of the cosmos, but it’s enough to have them skirt above or below each other for most of their orbits.

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But at certain times the moon’s orbital plane crosses that of the sun’s at points called nodes, and these are the times when eclipses occur. If the moon is moving down across the orbital plane of the sun it is called the descending node, the opposite node, when the moon travels back up through the sun’s plane is called the ascending. This is a rather oversimplification of the whole eclipse process, as there are other variables involved, but its enough to give a basic understanding as to why we don’t see eclipses at every full moon (lunar) or new moon (solar) occurrence.

So while the fact that it takes the moon a mere 29.52 days to circle the Earth is an important constant in the equation of the eclipse cycle, it is a very important component in another phenomenon – eclipses are linked.

The time it takes the moon to go from one spot in its orbit to the complete opposite point is one half of a synodic month, called a fortnight (14.77 solar days). Yeah, that’s right, a fortnight isn’t just for you English Literature majors, it’s an actual thing.   This means that the time it takes for the moon to go from full to new is fast enough so that the moon and the sun do not have time to, planarly speaking – get out of each others way. This results in a solar eclipse one fortnight after almost all lunar eclipses, the solar eclipse always happening in the opposite node from the one the lunar eclipse occurred in.

Such is the case this month, when the moon travels half way around the Earth from our recent Oct  8th lunar eclipse in the descending node for another rendezvous in our sky with the sun on Oct 23rd in the ascending. On that day, the moon’s passage between the Earth and the sun will give a large portion of North America a nice glimpse at a partial eclipse. The eclipse is partial due to the fact that center of the moon’s shadow (where a total eclipse can be seen) glances over our planet’s northern most point, which means the eclipse is not visible in the Southern hemisphere or in Europe where it’s night time. Unfortunately not everyone in North America is equally as lucky when it comes to this eclipse.

Just like the lunar eclipse earlier this month, this solar eclipse will be diving quickly out of the sky for most of us on the east coast. In fact, for those of us around Wilmington maximum eclipse occurs directly at sunset at 6:10pm, a mere 18 minutes after the moon first touches the solar disk. Sadly, many on the extreme east coast (like Boston) will be out of luck as the Earth’s shadow won’t make it there before the sun slips below the horizon.

So is this the best trick the moon and the sun have to offer?  Of course not. On rare occasions, an eclipse alignment happens so that a whole synodic month can occur before the nodal alignment is broken.  When this happens, we get three eclipses in a synodic month, each a fortnight after the previous.  The next time this happens is 2018 with a partial solar eclipse(A) on July 13, and total lunar(D) on July 27, and the cycle ending with a partial solar(A) on August 11th.  After that you’ll have to wait until 2020, when two penumbral lunar eclipses (June 5th and July 5th, both descending) bracket an annular solar eclipse(A) on June 21.

A solar eclipse on the summer equinox?  I can’t wait to see all that doomsday hysteria!

Time for another beer…

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THE FINAL SIP: Wish I could get my hands on a few of the Eclipse Imperial Stouts from FiftyFifty Brewing Company to enjoy during the upcoming eclipse.  From their website – At first taste there is a large presence of dark chocolate, espresso and warmth from the alcohol of the beer. Oak barrel character then comes into play with hints of vanilla and coconut, followed by mild bitterness from the hops, and then a nice long lingering finish with hints of tobacco, dark dried fruit and more chocolate. Eclipse is a wonderful companion with dessert. A beer meant for contemplation best enjoyed in a snifter and with a friend. Brewed in small 300 gallons batches, our brewers lovingly craft this masterpiece once a year.

The Full Moon Post – October 2014, The Blood Moon, Total Lunar Eclipse and Selenelion.

Love, Love, Love, October.  It’s a collection of natural events and observances that just speak to me.  The days are getting a little cooler, as well as shorter, the night sky is getting clearer, and at the end of the month we observe a time when the veil between this world and the next lifts, allowing spirits from the other side to cross over. But equally important to me, October is the beginning of the return of the full moon in all her glory.

As dusk arrives earlier and earlier, it affords the opportunity for the night sky’s biggest player to once again take center stage. Summer moons are good but with sunset not until well after 8pm here in Delaware it doesn’t give a lot of time to truly enjoy them. But there’s something herald-like about a fall moon, as if it all by itself it is solely responsible for the proclamation of the oncoming of the winter seasons. The reason is simple orbital geometry.

Just as the sun makes ever varying paths across our sky between the two solstices, so does our moon.  In fact, the moon is locked in a never ending dance of “seasonal balance” with the sun, their two paths in constant opposition.  In the Summer time, when the sun is high in the sky the moon’s path is quite low, to the point that it’s so close to the horizon in June that it deepens in color, thus lending to the nick name “Honey Moon”.

But as fall approaches and the sun slowly slides down the celestial sphere the moon’s path rises, making it more and more predominant in the night sky, rising earlier – setting later.  While it’s the receding sun that largely declares the arrival of fall during the day, it’s the increasing moon at night that affirms that fact.

And this year, the October moon brings in the fall months with a big show.  The moon reaches the point in its orbit called the syzygy (when it’s exactly 180 degrees away from the sun’s disk) tomorrow morning (the 8th) at 6:51am.  Yep, the Full Moon Post is a day early this month but there’s a good reason.

Tomorrow also marks the 2nd total lunar eclipse of the year, and 2nd of 4 total eclipses throughout 2014-2015.  Normally this would be a big deal, except that the geometries at play are working against us a bit this time.  The area in which the eclipse is visible from start to finish, covers most of the Pacific ocean with partial visibility either at moon rise or moon set falling on either side.

What that means to us here on the east coast near Delaware is that the moon will enter the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow at 5:18am and slide fully into it at 6:27am.  Maximum totality (when the moon is closest to the center of Earth’s shadow) occurs at 6:55 with the moon setting 6 only minutes later.

Yes, sadly we don’t get to see the back half of the eclipse when the moon begins its journey out of darkness.  But because the moon sets at 7:01am and the sun rises at 7:05am we get a chance to witness an event that is rare to any specific location on the Earth – selenelion. A selenelion occurs when the sun and an eclipsed moon (a lot of articles about this eclipse are indicating that this name only applies when the lunar eclipse is a total one, but that’s not the case) appear in the sky at the same time, an occurrence that due to the fact that they are 180 degrees apart on the celestial sphere, actually can’t happen.

But as I explained in my recent review of Seirra Nevada’s Equinox, there’s a huge trick at play here.  Because of the way light from the sun and the moon are refracted through Earth’s atmosphere when they’re both close to the horizon, they’ll both appear simultaneously in the sky for a brief period of time before the moon finally slips out of view. This alignment happens somewhere on the Earth during any lunar eclipse, but not always at a location from which it is visible, and infrequently enough at any single given location on Earth to be considered uncommon.  Add to that fact that this one occurs during a total eclipse and it certainly would seem to warrant the description of “rare”.

The eclipse also changes another aspect of the moon this month – the name.  While normally referred to as the Hunter’s Moon; because of the reddish color it will take on during the total eclipse many people will refer to it as a Blood Moon, although to be honest this moniker is normally used for the October moon in certain aspects of paganism.

So besides this “rare” event what else does October hold?  Well as I write this the people of the Jewish faith have already celebrated Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. They now are getting ready to start the seven day (sometimes 8 day) festival of Sukkot on October 9th, which is the last Pilgrimage Festival of the year. Due to differences between the Islamic lunar calendar when compared to our current Gregorian solar calendar, the Islamic New Year moves around greatly. But this year it falls on October 24/25.

And of course there’s Samhain, a Gaelic festival and the penultimate festival in the modern pagan Wheel of the Year.  It marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. Of course, here in the US, it is more commonly referred to as Halloween, and is celebrated with ghoulishly costumed visitors descending on your house in search of treats.

So what’s a good activity for craft beer lovers to do during this particular time of the year? Well I use it to channel my inner “Halloween haunter” and drink any beers I can get my hands on that have a Halloween style theme.  Rogue’s Dead Guy is a frequent visitor to my refrigerator this time of year, as well as beers from Wytchwood Brewery and the Day of the Dead line (more on those in a later post); as well as several others.

Just make sure you have plenty left over for after all the kids have returned to their own haunted houses.  Light a bonfire away from your house (to encourage spirits to move towards the fire and thus pass by the house), allow the veil to lift around you, and enjoy the calming quiet of the night of the dead.  Perhaps you’ll even be contacted by some spirits from your own past.

Time for another beer.

Grittys Halloween Ale
The Final Sip: Halloween themed beers are easy to find if you search around. Like this great example from the fine folks at Gritty McDuffs.

 

 

 

The Full Moon Post – September 2014, Mabon and Pumpkin Beers

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Due to circumstances beyond my control I’m a day late with this month’s full moon post.  The September full moon was yesterday.  I  hope you got a change to enjoy it.]

Fall is here.  OK, not really.  The specific geometry that officially marks fall from a seasonal aspect doesn’t arrive until September 22nd, but in so many ways, it is becoming apparent to me that fall is here.

Probably the most unique sign of the changing seasons to me is the almost light switch-type change in traffic in the area.  During the summer months getting home from work on Fridays can be a time consuming proposition as “beach traffic” clogs I-95 as well as most other roads that filter off of it.  But with Labor Day weekend being the “unofficial end of Summer” (complete with a Jazz funeral at Bethany Beach where “Summer” is carried down the boardwalk in a casket) as far as Delaware beaches are concerned, Summer traffic disappears like the head on a poorly carbonated beer in a dirty glass, and last Friday I found myself getting through my 9-mile section of I-95 without barely touching the break pedal.

Looking more towards nature, it is also apparent that Autumn is on the way.  Around here, some leaves are already beginning to start their annual color change, storms have pushed out what (we hope) is the last of Summer humidity, and annoyingly, squirrels are staining my deck with their constant need to open and eat black walnuts on it.  Really?  What’s in those things?

But while Autumn trumpets the coming of hopefully nothing more than annoying activities for us in the modern world; leaf raking, snow blower tuning,  and that horrible reality that your local supermarket has started piping in Christmas music on November 2nd, to those living in earlier times this was when all the energies of everyone in the village turned to tasks they had been preparing for all Summer.  Because

winter is coming

Stop it…..

….and harvest time is here.  And very appropriately, this month’s full moon is known as the Harvest Moon.

And I do mean this month.  The Harvest Moon, the name given to the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox can actually occur anytime  between September 8th and October 7th, so sometimes September looses out (the last such time was 2009 and the next doesn’t occur until 2017).  Known for giving extra light to farmers which aided in the yearly harvests, many of the names that refer to the moon this time of year are almost universally agricultural; the harvest moon, the nut moon, the corn moon, and (let’s get a “Hey Now”!) the barley moon.

If we could transport this moon back in time, those farmers would have had the benefit of any extra light that comes from the fact that the moon this month reaches perigee (its closest point to Earth in its orbit) within 24 hours before it turns full at 9:38 Eastern Time on September 8th which means that it will be the third (and last) supermoon of the year.

But if this is the harvest moon, and the harvest moon is close to the autumn equinox than that means…yep.  Mabon, the second of three Pagan harvest festivals (Samhain [Halloween] is next) is right around the corner.  Mabon is the name for the festival on the Wheel of the Year that corresponds to Earth’s annual transition into the fall season.  Although the tradition of the festival goes back to ancient times when people used it to celebrate the harvests and share in their good fortune to gain favor with the God and Goddess during the coming winter; the name of the festival was actually coined in 1970 after a character in Welsh mythology.

The celestial geometry that officially moves the Earth into fall happens at 10:29pm on September 22nd which means that, as you’ve always been told, the day and night are of equal duration that day.  Sadly, you’ve been lied to. The sun “rises” when the first edge of it’s disk breaks the horizon and conversely, sunset is when the last edge of the disk falls below the horizon.  Because of this, the day is technically a little longer than the night on the 22nd, and in fact they won’t be actually close to the same length until the 25th and 26th.  However, from an astronomical stand point, it’s the center of the sun that’s the reference point of interest, it spending equal time above and below the horizon.

Those who follow the Jewish faith will be celebrating this month as well as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, arrives at sunset on September 24th and continues until nightfall on September 26th. Sometimes referred to as The Feast of Trumpets, the holiday begins the Ten Days of Repentance which continues afterward and concludes at the ending of Yom Kippur.  Rosh Hashanah is also know as “the day of judgement”, which signifies the casting of each person into a certain book, either the wicked, the righteous, or the intermediate.  Those in the intermediate book are said to have ten days to reflect and repent so that they may be moved into the book of the righteous.

Since fall is basically here in everything but name (and pumpkin-filled pastries called rodanchas are common at the table during Rosh Hashanah), I guess it’s OK to start looking at all those pumpkin beers that have been sitting on the shelf since the end of July.  I know many of you have probably already had several as it’s hard to resist them when you see an end cap of say, Pumpking, at your favorite beer stop. But I do resist,  knowing full well that I might actually miss out on a few, because I just can’t force myself to rush autumn here any faster that it already seems to arrive (I mean really?  Wasn’t it just July 4th?), but I’m OK with that.  I guess I’m just an unyielding opponent to this seasonal “creep” that craft beers seem to be exhibiting.

And of course, those of you lucky enough to be growing your own hops are probably beginning to think of your own up coming harvest.  Maybe you should consider doing it under the light of the September moon.  After all, traditionally, that’s what it was used for.

 

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THE FINAL SIP: Many breweries use canned pumpkin (like your mom does for her pies) to get a jump on the pumpkin beer season because pumpkins don’t harvest early enough to get product on the shelves at the end of July. Much of the contents of these cans however is squash other than those considered “pumpkins”.  So if you’re a cucurbita pepo, winter squash purest you’ll have to wait until Rogue releases its Pumpkin Patch Ale brewed with roasted pumpkins from their farm. (PHOTO: Rogue Farms)

The Full Moon Post – August 2014

You might have noticed that I didn’t do a full moon post in July.  That’s because July is a quiet month as far as spirituality is concerned, but August picks it back up again on the 1st which marks Lammas, the first of the Autumn or harvest festivals with Mabon (autumnal equinox) and Samhain (Halloween) following in suit.

While Lammas may not be one of the more well known festivals in the common culture (like Samhain or Yule) its significance should not be dismissed.  Marking the first harvest of the year, usually a grain such as corn or wheat, the tradition was to bring bread made from the wheat to the local churches to be blessed and bring good fortune to future harvests.  In a society that lived or died on that first harvest, the importance of this time of the year should be obvious.  In fact, Lammas was such an important time of the year that it is mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet) and the Scottish ballad The Battle of Otterburn.

In the Gaelic tradition the festival is known as Lughnasadh which like Lammas was originally held on August 1st, but later was moved to the Sunday closest to that date.  In modern Irish, the name for the festival is Lúnasa which is also the name for the month of August in that language, in Welsh it’s Calan Awst, and in modern theology the date coincides with the Feast of Saint Peter in Chains which commemorates his rescue from prison by an angel.

Because of its association with these harvest festivals several names for August’s moon are the Corn Moon or the Grain Moon.  Although the more commonly referred to name is The Sturgeon Moon because the fish was plentiful this time of year to the Indian tribes who relied on them for survival.

The moon reaches full today at 2:09pm (EDT) and brings with it omens of destruction and world apocalypse, because of a rare and terrifying event.  Well, not really.  What does happen is that 9 minutes earlier, the moon reaches perigee (the closest point in its orbit to Earth) which means that today’s full moon will appear larger in the sky than normal.  In fact, because of the geometry in play, tonight’s full moon will be the apparently largest in the sky in 2014.

While that’s good news for sky watchers, it’s also bad.  The Perseids, the hallmark of annual meteor showers peaks two nights later, and unfortunately the full moon will wash out most of the show. Known for it’s long slow build up, the shower is currently at 20 meteors per hour but luckily, it is also know for it’s bright fire balls so even with the waning full moon in the sky you may still get a good show in dark, non-light polluted areas.  If not, you can always listen to the shower on Space Weather Radio. The station sends up a 54MHz signal into the sky which reflects off of meteor trails allowing you to actually hear the Perseids as they happen.

So with all the harvest connections to this full moon it obviously makes sense for brewers and craft beer lovers to look to the grain part of the beer equation.  Maybe grab a wheat or rye beer that you haven’t had before, or maybe read up on malt in the brewing process (ok, I know it’s not wheat or God forbid, corn but roll with me here). Brewers…if you haven’t experienced the fun of an all grain batch, maybe now is the time.

For many cultures the full moon in August celebrated the early harvest of grain.  Embrace it beer lovers.

Time for another beer.

The Final Sip: Many Breweries xxxxx.
The Final Sip: Many Breweries produce a Harvest Ale to celebrate the fall season; including J.W. Lees, Sierra Nevada and Founders.  In Delaware, 16 Mile makes a Harvest Ale that they recently renamed Tiller Brown Ale.

 

 

 

The Full Moon Post – June 2014, Sun, Roses and Honey

When it comes to the swirl of scientific and traditional lore that surrounds June, it’s one of my favorite months.  Summer, both from the aspects of weather and solar geometry, begins in full as hot days, blooming flowers and outdoor chores become the everyday norm.  Named after the Roman Goddess Juno, June has become traditionally known as the month of weddings (a fact supported by several friends of mine who are wedding photographers) which is interesting because along with many other things, Juno was the Goddess of weddings.

Besides containing such important observances as D-Day and Father’s Day, the month of June marks the beginning of Ramadan, a month of fasting amongst Muslims, that’s the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.  Equally important for many other cultures and religions, June also contains the Summer Solstice, which from an astrological stand point occurs this year at 6:51am on June 21st.  Known in many cultures as Litha, the Summer Solstice marks the point where the sun makes its highest arc in our day time sky causing that day to contain the longest amount of daylight in the year.

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Midsummer is also associated with fairies as it was believed that on this night their magic and merriment were at its highest.  Fairies play a key roll in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream”

One of the older observances during this time is the Old Midsummer Eve celebration, which is especially important in Northern European countries. While this day (and the evening that follows) was usually celebrated sometime between June 21st to June 25th, depending on the culture, over the years June 24th has become highly equated to Midsummer, as this was the day on which ancient Romans celebrated the Summer Solstice.  Christianity later appropriated this date as the Feast of Saint John the Baptist as the Gospel of Luke states the John was born six months before Jesus.

As with many months, the associated full moon (12:11am) and lunar cycle goes by many names.  For some cultures, the moon was referred to as the Flower moon, while to others it was known as the Strawberry moon due to the harvesting of the fruit which happens heavily in the month of June.  It is also referred to by some, appropriately as the Strong Sun Moon, but it is the name it receives from a scientific reason, not a traditional one that I’ve always enjoyed.

Because of the alignment of solar and lunar geometries, while the sun slowly rises to its highest arc in our sky during June, the full moon will travel across our night sky on its lowest arc.  This proximity to the horizon will cause the moon, due to the way light filters and scatters through the Earth’s atmosphere, to stay a light amber color throughout the night.  It’s this color that has earned the June moon the title “Honey Moon”, a term that hasn’t come historical context like many other moon names, but has fallen into common use none the less.

This ties in exceptionally well with two other names for the June moon and an Old English tradition that surrounds it.  The June moon is sometimes referred to as the Rose moon, a name which many believe harkens to the many weddings that occur in the month of June, and the love that surrounds them.  The tradition for these old weddings was to serve mead (usually as part of a dowry from the bride’s father), or honey wine, at the celebration afterwards and then send the newlywed couple on their journey with a moon cycle’s supply of the fermented beverage.  The belief was that this steady diet of mead during following days would bless the union, and bring forth a child into the couple’s lives very soon.  This tradition not only gives the June moon the monicker of the Mead Moon, but gives us the modern term honeymoon.

For obvious reasons, I would recommend that craft beer lovers and brewers take some time to turn away from their usual drinks of barley and hops, and explore (or brew) the fabulous beverage that is honey wine.  Well stocked liquor stores should carry several labels, and the thing that makes mead interesting is that a large part of the wine’s flavor depends on the type of honey that it’s made from, dictated largely by the type of flowers the bees feed on to produce it.  Next to beer and champagne, mead is one of my favorite drinks.

 

Honey Moon Mead II
THE FINAL SIP: This year’s Honey Moon falls on Friday the 13th. Like many cosmic occurrences this alignment happens in clusters with occasional long periods between them. The next full moon that falls on Friday the 13th does not occur until August of 2049. This month’s featured photo is of the product line of Honey Moon Mead & Cider, from Bellingham, WA. (Photo: WWW.MOUNTBAKEREXPERIENCE.COM)

 

The Full Moon Post – May 2014, Beltane and Summer Ales

[Author’s Note: Due to a heavily scheduled week, this month’s Full Moon post is sadly a day late.]

As with all moon cycles the “Merry month of May” moon goes by several names.  Some cultures call it the Corn Moon, while others know it as the Milk Moon.  But the Flower Moon seems to be the name most commonly used, and it’s really no surprise. Looking around my area now, flowers and tree buds everywhere such as azaleas, dogwoods, and wisteria are all competing against each other for nature’s current center stage.

Nature has fully awakened, stretching out in ways that appear daily to us who have yards to maintain as grass, weeds and vines seem to grow at a back turning pace.

May has several observances in it; Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, and of course the all important Memorial Day.  But from a traditional perspective, May is pretty empty but what it does have is pretty important, and it happens very quickly.

To many, May 1st, or May Day, conjures visions of colorfully dressed maidens dancing merrily around a May poll, even if it’s just from stories they read in books or stories they heard in school.   But from a Gaelic and Wiccan perspective May 1st, or Beltane is a huge observance marking the beginning of of Summer.  That’s right, Summer.

While the orbital geometry that actually marks the astronomical arrival of Summer doesn’t happen until 6:51EDT on June 21st; for the culture of the ancient Gaelics and Celts, Summer officially arrived during the festival of Beltane, with Winter arriving during Samhaim (Oct 31st).  To the ancient men and women of Ireland, Scotland and The Isle of Man; these were the only seasons of importance and the only two seasons their calendars contained.  It wouldn’t be until later that two more seasonal festivals were added; Imbolc, February 1/2, and Lughnasadh which was originally observed on July 31st/August 1st.

Unlike our current seasonal system, these festivals weren’t set to any cosmic alignments, instead they marked the seasons in a way that was important to the people whose very survival depended on when to plant and when to harvest  – from a pastoral context.  Beltane marked the time of the year when farmers would drive livestock into the fields and early crop seeds would have already be planted, with more to follow. This was indeed a time for getting out of the shelters of Winter and begin working to make sure that there were provisions enough to survive the one that lay ahead.

Modern Wiccans also observe Beltane as part of their Wheel of the Year but their observance more closely relates to the English/Germanic May Day festivals that celebrated fertility and it is from here that the tradition of May Pole dancing comes from. The Welsh had a similar celebration, Calan Mai; while the Romans celebrated Floralia and the Germans, Walpurgisnacht.

So what should craft beer lovers be doing?  Well since Summer is here from a traditional sense now would be a good time start trying all those Summer ales that breweries are starting to kick out into the retail pastures.  I’ve already seen quite a few of them (including running into Samuel Adams Summer Ale on tap at the ballpark yesterday) and even reviewed one on Monday.  Breaking out a calendar and penciling-in all those summer and fall beer festivals that you want to attend (taking note of when tickets go on sale) also comes to mind.  I don’t know about you, but here in Delaware they’re popping up like Spring weeds and we already have the sad occurrence of two awesome festivals, The Delaware Wine and Beer Festival, and Kennett Brewfest, falling on the same date.

Homebrewers?  Oh, Homebrewers it’s time.  Beltane and other “May Day” celebrations were heavily marked by the lighting of bonfires to ward off evil spirits, bless flocks as they were moved to pasture, and protect the homes of the people within the village (all fires inside homes were put out and relit from the Beltane bonfire as a gesture of bringing the good blessings of the fire  into the home).  Considering this, nothing could be any more appropriate than to light up the propane burners and brew those first batches of beer if you have not done so already.

Maybe even a night time brew brew session! Let your brew fires do double duty – as they magically work to transfer your grain and hops into beer, let their light and good energy spread out and cast themselves on your house and/or yard like those ancient bonfires of the past. It seems the perfect way to celebrate the ancient observance of Beltane.

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The Final Sip: PA beer festival perennial Lavery Brewing Company produces, La Bealtaine White Fire Wheat Ale; a beer comprised of Pilsner, Wheat, and light Crystal malts and hopped with intense citrus and pine flavors. La Bealtaine is the Irish name for the May Day festival and the term “White Fire” refers to the fact that many believe the element ‘Beal’ can be traced back to old English and Slavic roots meaning “white”.

 

 

The Full Moon Post – April 2014, April Showers and Lunar Eclipses

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.

beer peeps
The Final Sip: The next total lunar eclipse visible in this region of the US occurs on September 28th, 2015.  The next one that is visible across the entire US doesn’t occur until January of 2019.  Cheers, beer peeps! (PHOTO: The Decorated Cookie)

 

The Full Moon Post – March 2014, The Spring Equinox, Bunnies and Eggs

March is a month of conflict which is appropriate as it gets its name from Mars, the Roman god of war.  But it’s not the conflicts of men or the gods (depending on your outlook) that plague March, no this fight is all nature’s.

“March comes in like a lion, goes out like a lamb” captures the essence of the month, as the pawns of Spring begin to defeat the last defenses of Winter.  This clash brings turbulent weather, as cold and warm fronts duel and spar; filling March with warm days, cold snaps, thunderstorms and snow, sometimes all within one week.  Signs of nature awakening begin to appear, birds start to check out nesting boxes, daffodils begin to sprout from the last remains of Winter’s snow, and mega-home stores begin to line their entranceways with shiny, new grills.

The science behind this is the spring or vernal equinox, the point in cosmic geometry where the plane of the Earth’s equator points directly at the sun, thus splitting our 24 hour clock equally between night and day.  As the earth (in our northern hemisphere) continues to tilt, the days become increasingly long, and the weather starts to become more pleasant and agreeable.

Loughcrew Cairn in County Meath, Ireland is a passage tomb that dates back to 3300BC. On the morning of the Spring and Autumn equinox, light from the rising sun shines down a passage and illuminates an ornamental stone at the end of a passage that has carved inscriptions of the sun.
Loughcrew Cairn in County Meath, Ireland is a passage tomb that dates back to 3300BC. On the morning of the Spring and Autumn equinox, light from the rising sun shines down a passage and illuminates an ornamental stone at the end of a passage that has carved inscriptions of the sun.

And “starts” is a important word, as not only does the spring equinox herald the beginning of the astrological Spring season here, but many cultures such as the Romans looked to it as the beginning of the year.  The vernal equinox also marks the beginning of the Western Astrological cycle.   While at it’s core, astrology is largely based on which constellation of the zodiac the sun is in, the Western branch (the branch you read when you look up your horoscope in the paper) is actually tied to the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sign of Aries always starting at the vernal equinox.  So as the cosmic landscape shifts over time, and the sun begins to drift slowly from one star cluster to another, on the vernal equinox the sun will always be “entering Aries”, like this year when it happens on March 20th 12:57pm.

For Wiccans and Neo-Pagans, the Spring equinox is one of the eight Sabbat days in the Wheel of the Year.  The day, which is commonly referred to as Ostara, from the Germanic fertility goddess of the same name, represents the rebirth of nature.  The festival and celebration is full of symbols of fertility such as rabbits and hares (the mating dances of hares in early spring lead to the term, “Mad as a March Hare”); and eggs.  The celebration is not unique to the Germans, both the English (Ēostre) and the Saxons (Ēastre) celebrated similar festivals.  Ēastre, rabbits and eggs – sound familiar?

But Ostara isn’t the only big spiritual celebration in March.  Due to Easter being late this year (because of it’s seasonal calculation that causes it to fall anywhere between March 22nd and April 25th), Lent, which covers the period six weeks before, along with it’s period of atonement and self denial started on March 5th with Ash Wednesday.  As well as the Jewish Holiday of Purim, which is celebrated on the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Adar (March 16th this year), which commemorates the saving of the Jewish people in the Pursian Empire.  The story is chronicled in the book of Esther that can be found both in the Tanakh and the Bible.

As far as the full moon (12:57pm, March 20th), the modern name tends to lean towards the Storm Moon, which considering the weather patterns in March is understandable.  But the old almanac and Indian name for it is the Worm Moon, which is a little more cryptic.  The name refers to the changing of the seasons, when worms would begin to come up through the newly softened soil.  And of  course, where there are worms, there are robins, another harbinger of Spring.

So what should we beer peeps be doing?  Let’s take a month off and relax.  We can sit back and enjoy the final rounds of Spring VS Winter; pretty soon with some Spring beers that will surely be hitting the shelves any day now.  Other than that?  Well if you are a grill/BBQ freak like me, you could go check out the new grills a home depot.

Time for another beer.

The Final Sip: xxxxx
The Final Sip: Saint Patrick, who is celebrated on March 17th is the patron Saint of Ireland.  It is said that the snakes he drove from Ireland are a metaphor for pushing out Paganism with Christianity.  The shamrock that is his symbol represents the Holy Trinity.  And according to every Irish comedian I’ve know, his favorite beer is indeed Guinness.

The Full Moon Post – February 2014, Imbolc and Marmots

After the chilly quiet that is January, the awakening of nature that begins to happen in February is a welcomed sign.  Although still seated deeply in the heart of Winter, February marks the beginning of the seasonal passage into spring, as the days begin to get noticeably longer, and life begins to stir from its wintery slumber.

People have noted and marked this transition for centuries, celebrating as early flowers, sprouting trees, and stirring animals heralded the passing of Winter.  The first old, traditional holiday of the new year, Imbolc, is a Gaelic festival that honors Saint Bridhid  and marks the beginning of Spring in Celtic tradition.  It is usually celebrated on Feb 1-2, a cross quarter day midway between the Winter Solstic and the Spring Equinox.

Bridig's Cross
Bridig’s Cross (Photo: Irishindeed.com)

For Wiccan’s, Imbolc is a Sabbat day, one of the eight celebrated holidays of the year, which focuses on the Goddess Brighid.  Celtic pagans honor Bridig from both Celtic religion and Irish mythology who was the daughter of the “all father” Daghdha.

For Catholics, Feb 2nd is more commonly known as Candlemas, a day of blessing, usually of candles that will be used through out the year.  Some also know it as the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, a holiday that symbolizes the practice of “Churching”, or blessing woman 40 days after child birth (Feb 2 is 40 days after Christmas).  This parallels the old Celtic belief that Imbolc marked the recovery of the Goddess from giving birth to the God (the sun), symbolized by the growing days; as well as the common tradition of lighting every candle in the house at sunset on Feb 2nd to honor the sun’s rebirth.

And of course, to the vast majority of people long sick of the wintery weather, it’s Groundhog’s Day.  A day that pulls roots from both Celtic and Germanic backgrounds.  In Great Britain, the weather on February 2nd was believed to foretell the weather of the coming year, especially where winter is concerned.  Old German traditions told of a badger or a bear that would foretell the fate of Winter, the tradition being carried to the US by the Pennsylvania Dutch.  Of course, as we all know, the badger and bear have been replaced by a nobler species of critter.  However, since studies show that Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasting accuracy is only 39%, perhaps it’s time to pick another animal.

Straub Brewing in Saint Marys, PA salutes the groundhog.
Straub Brewing in Saint Marys, PA salutes the groundhog.

If January is a month for looking forward, February is a month for looking at the now to make sure one is prepared for the rush of activity that will no doubt arise from the coming of warmer days.  It’s a great time take stock of what you have and prepare for the coming months.  Homebrewers can use this time to see what ingredients they have and compare with what they’ll need for planned future batches.  Barbequers can take stock of spices, replacing those that have been  used or have gone stale (don’t be afraid to chuck that container of cayenne that you and your fiancé bought.  Speaking of which, how was your 10th wedding anniversary?), and check on how much charcoal and wood is left over from the previous season.  Bloggers, when was the last time you went into your dreaded “drafts folder” or ran down your blog roll?

As with all months, the February moon goes by many names; Snow, Ice, Storm – all obviously appropriate for those of us who live in areas where Winter is really taking her toll this season.  But it’s also known as the Quickening Moon.  “Quickening” is a word that refers to when a pregnant woman first starts to feel fetal movements, which makes it the perfect name for the full moon that marks the beginning of longer days, in a month that celebrates the awakening, or rebirth, of nature.

For me, the beer season is waking.  After several quiet months, with no major events or festivals, Presidents Day weekend starts it off with a trip to Max’s Taphouse in Baltimore for their annual Belgian Beer Festival (in fact depending on when you read this, I might be sitting there now).  And then a week later, Kennett Brewfest will host their second annual Winterfest.  And before you know it (seriously before you know it) Spring beers will be appearing on the shelves replacing the darker, stronger beers of Winter, restarting the whole seasonal brewing cycle anew.

Throughout many Religions and beliefs in the world, through different festivals and observances, February marks and celebrates the rebirth of nature and the renewed cycle of life.  And one could make a case that it does the same for the craft beer world as well.  At least for me.

Time for another beer.

The FInal Sip:  Due to lack of true groundhogs in their State, Alaskans celebrate Marmot Day on February 2nd.
The Final Sip: Due to the small presence of true groundhogs in their State, Alaskans celebrate Marmot Day on February 2nd.