FROM THE WINTRY WOOD cabin and plumage of poinsettias on its label to the beer’s very name, one might naturally expect Sierra Nevada’s Celebration to be a winter warmer. A cursory look at its profile encourages the assumption: 6.8% ABV and a winter seasonal—what else could it be?
Only one of America’s earliest IPAs is all, brewed since 1981. Full-throated at 65 IBUs and fresh-hopped with a C trifecta—Cascade, Chinook, Centennial—Celebration is arguably a better poster child for America’s hop love affair than the ubiquitously referenced Pale Ale.
Celebration’s dense copper color reflects its fuller body (4 Plato vs. Pale Ale’s 2.8), though both are still simply comprised of 2-row pale and caramel malt. Celebration’s head is nicely creamy, a touch prickly with minerals yet mostly defined by robust Chinook (pungent pine, and tart grapefruit) atop comparatively mild notes of Centennial and Cascade (more nectar, honey-like resins, slightly smoother tropical fruits). To be sure, there’s plenty of fresh citrus all around, but the nose overall is quite directly bitter, even by Sierra Nevada’s standpoint.
To some degree we must attribute this to the freshness of the hops, which is where Celebration gets its name: not only was it among America’s first IPAs, it was also one of the first beers to make ingredient freshness a critical selling point. Celebration is a winter seasonal because it marks the end of the harvest season in mid-autumn, and all its hops come fresh from the fields—dried (i.e. not wet-hopping), but typically no more than a week old at time of addition to the brew kettle. Even with relatively low-acid cultivars like Cascade, such fresh additions will impart an immediacy of flavor and leafiness that is striking. If you’ve never before paid attention to bottling dates, you will after Celebration.
Beyond this bracing hop salvo, the beer has a medium caramel malt body well-articulated by effervescence just above medium. It hints at caramel sweetness late on the midpalate, perhaps nudged a touch by a bit of yeast from its bottle conditioning, but this is soon swept aside by a sticky, resinous bitterness that defines the lingering finish. It is a commanding profile, indeed worth celebrating for its pursuit of freshness and the lively American flavors that define it. Yet overall its revelry is perhaps a touch garrulous, lacking the defter application of these powerful hops that makes Pale Ale so beguiling—and balanced, for all its flair.
Served: 12 oz bottle