Ah, the feel of the crisp cool fall air. The colors changing all around and the holidays just around the corner. I’m not ashamed to say it is also the time of year when pumpkin beers start to get phased out, and I for one, am happy to see it. But the seasonal nature of craft beer continues of course, and flows right into Christmas / Holiday beers.
I don’t love many Christmas beers either, but maybe that is why I love Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. It’s not even a traditional holiday beer. When you get right down to it, it’s just an IPA, a celebration of the first hops of the harvest. But since it gets released around holiday time, many expect it to have spices or something more consistent with a Winter Warmer style. I found a great quote from The Full Pint in an interview they did with Sierra Nevada’s own Bill Manley a couple years ago that addresses that point.
Celebration Ale is, and always has been, an American IPA brewed with the first, fresh hops of the growing season (i.e. fresh hop ale.) The beer has been in production since 1981, and in its current form (recipe) since 1983. It was one of the first legitimate IPAs brewed in the “American” style and has never contained any spices; only hops, water, malt and yeast. Despite nearly 30 years of (roughly) the same recipe, we get lots of complaints each year from people who are expecting a spiced holiday “Winter warmer” style of beer. And oddly, we also get lots of emails from people telling us how delicious the spices we used tasted…specifically nutmeg and cinnamon. As I’ve said, this has never been the case. No spices are or were used in the beer. We chose to highlight Fresh Hop Ale to clue people in on the real nature of the beer so folks know what they’re getting into.
We use a blend of Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops to create an interesting citrus, pine and (kind of) spiced flavor, but all of the higher tones in the beer come from hops and yeast esters. The beer does change from year to year, but that is only because it relies so heavily on hop flavors, and hops can vary wildly from year to year and even from field to field.
Should I Cellar Celebration?
For some reason, this is an IPA many choose to cellar as well. That piqued my interest so I decided to take four bottles from the case I bought last November and see what they would taste like with some time on them. At the six month mark, the beer looked the same but the signature citrusy hop profile had faded. It was still a tasty beer though and brough plenty of malt and piney hop to the table.
Fast forward six more months, with a little over a year on it, and it is still really good. A little more malt but still plenty of piney flavor to go along with the always consistent golden red appearance. No oxidation right now, so I’ll let the other two bottles mature for awhile longer and maybe do a side by side with a fresh batch this winter. The oldest I’ve had this beer was on tap earlier this year when I sampled a 2006 vintage. For me, this was past its prime and the oxidation was very evident. So for those expecting it to turn into some sort of hybrid barleywine with that much time might be disappointed.
But even if you don’t care about cellaring this beer, it’s worth grabbing and keeping around during the holidays. A Sierra Nevada sixer won’t hurt you in the wallet much, and it’s a great beer. So get out and buy some of the fresh batch, which should be hitting store shelves soon, if it isn’t on them already.