Nick Carr on December 8, 2014 1 Comment Quick Characteristics Brewery: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Location: Chico, CA Style: American IPA ABV: 6.8% IBU: 65 Hops: Chinook, Centennial & Cascade Malts: Two-Row Pale, Caramel Appearance: Glinting Amber Hue with Fluffy White Head Aroma: Dank Heat with Pine & Citrus Edge; Hints of Sweet Malt Flavor: Citrusy Sweetness With a Hint of Caramel; Sweetness Turns to Bitterness & Funky Dank Availability: Winter Seasonal Pairs With: Fish & Chips, Roasted Turkey, Polenta with Grilled Vegetables, Parmesan cheese Celebration Ale is another beer I’ve enjoyed over several holiday seasons, sadly without paying the discerning attention it probably deserved. I had no idea that it was first brewed in 1981 or that the current recipe hasn’t changed since 1983. Interestingly Sierra Nevada touts it as one of the first American IPA’s a boast with enough age to likely be true. It’s also interesting that it became Sierra Nevada’s winter seasonal, because, as a big IPA, it is unlike most of today’s winter seasonals, and would have defiantly been bucking winter seasonal trends back in the 80’s. Add another unconventional idea; that of using exclusively fresh hops for the brew and you have a beer that works to be noticed. Though the recipe hasn’t changed in 31 years, the hops make this a distinctly different beer year to year. So much so that some believe that the recipe does vary between years. It doesn’t. Instead this beer reminds us how much even the same type of hops can vary from field to field and across years. Another misconstrued perception is the observation, by many, that this beer contains spices. There are none interred within. Here, the freshness and boldness of the hops likely trick the senses. Another reason to respect the lengths Sierra Nevada goes to to make this beer. “A holiday hop horde did dance and dash, celebrating, oh-so-briefly in fresh moments flash.” The lengths are expressed in the simple use of the term “Fresh Hop IPA.” Don’t mistake this for “wet” or undried hops. These hops are dried but just barely. Sierra Nevada selects what they believe are the best Centennial and Cascade fields each year. Then they grab the hops right out of the bailer, freshly dried, hurry them back to the brewery, and fire up a batch of Celebration Ale within 24 hours. This also means that aroma and taste will change slightly across a single winter season as hops that have dried longer are used to make later batches. Pour and Aroma Photo Credit: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Celebration Ale falls into the glass with a cheerful tumble of eager foaming and glinting color. It has the amber-like hue common to many IPA’s, but to my eye it leans into the red more than is common. A fluffy white head climbs high, peaks over the top of the glass, and, as if in seeing is afraid, holds to that two-finger perch for a brief span, before turning, and falling back to the safety within the glass. The aroma… well the aroma is something truly special…somehow. I can only describe it as dank heat. Of course there is the usual pine and citrus edge of any good American IPA, but there’s something else. It’s like the freshness of the hops are coming through as heat, sort of like the heat created by a pile of leaf litter and wood breaking down… but not exactly. Inviting whispers of sweet malt shyly hint at a “bigness” hidden under the pile of musty heat. Mouthfeel and Taste Front of the palate shines fruit; orange, passion fruit, and other tropicals dance to mid-palate were a hint of caramel rushes past, throwing a quick splash of sweetness, before running up to the cliff of bitterness at the back- while tossing remembrances of fruit sweetness – and with a whoop, jumping into the void of astringent pine and funky dank. The interesting flights of taste come after the swallow (at least for me), where, against a wall of bitterness, wild rises. After you swallow a few sips, play with your breathing; in through nose out through mouth, in through mouth out through nose. Notice the remaining sensations of bitter. See what memories catch on these middle sensations of taste/smell… smell/taste. Body is medium and slick. Mouthfeel is sticky and warming, mouthcoating and astringent. It sticks long after the swallow. Finishing The Impression We all taste slightly differently. Aromas, especially, can stir uniquely individual memories. That happened to me with this beer, and the fact that the feeling could possibly be lost to me, in this same beer, next holiday season makes it all the more special. What was it? I can’t find a better word, but a sensation of earth and wildness. I love wild places and have spent a good bit of time in them. The aroma brought me back to those same places. Needless to say I enjoyed the experience very much. This is a beer with something to offer outside the common winter seasonal style; especially to you hop heads out there who might be searching for something, both to your liking and in season. Give this a Christmas whirl, you won’t be sorry. Waes hael! More Beer Reviews: Ruthless Rye IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing Boomerang IPA from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Rebel IPA from Samuel Adams Brewing Company G’Knight Double Red IPA from Oskar Blues Brewing Co.