Given the bucolic holiday setting depicted on the label, I have to wonder if any hasty, unsuspecting beer drinkers ever bought a six-pack of Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale, thinking they’d be getting some Winter Ale-style approximation of gingerbread and fruitcake.
If so, I can’t imagine too much more of a consumer error, because of course, this is no Christmas cookie beer. The label screams eggnog and plum pudding, but the beer itself is all straight-up American IPA. Every brewery these days features an IPA or two, and hell, Sierra Nevada itself brews about 10 of them (that’s what it seems like, anyway) – but even in the current era of IPA saturation, the venerable Celebration is still one of my favorites. Widely distributed and widely sought, it comes out once a year, before Christmas, and I usually end up buying a six-pack of it to enjoy as a change of pace from all the season’s more dense beers.
It pours your standard IPA amber-gold, with a dense crown of foam that leaves some nice lacing. Aroma is that of pine, menthol, and a little grapefruit. Tasting it, I can perhaps see the Christmas aspect in the sense that this is more of a “piney” IPA than one that has citrus as the main hop flavor driver. The malt, for the most part, has the good sense to step aside and get out of the piney hops’ way. Perceived bitterness is at a high level, and lingers long into the aftertaste – this may be one of the older American IPAs, but it’s still pretty bitter. I’d pair it not with traditional holiday meals, but rather with Tex-Mex, Cajun, or Vietnamese.
There is a small cadre of beer geeks who age Celebration just for the hell of it, and claim that it “cellars” well. As with most IPAs, I am extremely skeptical of this, and would not waste valuable beer storage space doing so. Now, as it comes out just once a year, it is vintage-dated, so if you did age a bunch of these, you could end up with a fun little vertical collection in a few years, but I just think you’d be tasting nothing but stale oxidized hops. It’s not a good look for an IPA. Grab some Celebration now, and drink it within a month or two for best results.
Available at Total Wine, most liquor stores, and many supermarkets.