My love for beer started before it probably should have, and while I’m not one to turn down what is cold and cheap (or free), I almost always reach for a beer that qualifies as craft.
There is nothing inherently wrong with an ice cold Budweiser, but to my palate there isn’t much about that is right either. So I expanded to grocery store craft pretty quickly after that all important milestone birthday.
Coming of drinking age in a distribution starved state meant cutting my teeth with big craft – Sierra Nevada and Stone in particular. At the time I didn’t know what I was missing out on, but even still – then and now – both breweries seem to hit more than they miss.
In those days, the liquor store in town with the best beer selection had only a few thin shelves in a corner of the store. It wasn’t exactly difficult to stop in and see if there was anything new.
On one visit, I had decided to grab the latest Stone bomber when I heard another thirsty patron inquiring about Sierra Nevada Celebration. The clerk replied that it was coming in tomorrow but he wasn’t getting much in and it wouldn’t last long.
I was intrigued. Here was one of the best craft brewers I knew with a beer that I’d never heard of. Even more interesting, it was clearly difficult to come by (which is funny to think about now). I put back the bomber (the budget was tight) and resolved myself to be one of the few that got a six pack of Celebration the next day.
I remember really liking the beer and thinking it was unusual for an IPA to be released for the winter (with snow on the label). I had just been exposed to the typical seasonal and I certainly didn’t have any knowledge about hop harvesting.
Looking back, this was really my first experience hunting a beer. It is now one of my favorite aspects of this hobby, and I have picked up some Celebration every year as my own personal celebration of my first beer hunt.
The taste features heavy pine that borderlines on spicy.”
While I may not like it quite the same, Celebration is still much more good than bad. It’s a beautiful reddish copper in the glass, similar to the color of the label. An aggressive pour left a think head on top of an active bubbly beer. It may be fresh hopped (more on that later), but this beer doesn’t have the slightest bit of haze to cloud its pristine clarity.
Sierra Nevada says Celebration is “famous for its intense citrus and pine aromas.” Both are present and distinguishable even if intense is a little strong of a word. Notes of bread and caramel are layered underneath, likely from a malt bill that features caramel malt.
The taste features heavy pine that borderlines on spicy. These resinous flavors are balanced with grapefruity citrus and malty sweetness. Celebration is hopped with three of the original “C hops” Cascade, Centennial and Chinook, so the resulting citrus/pine combination comes as no surprise.
If I had to guess there is a strong dose of Chinook to highlight the spiciness that hop can bring. That and the sweetness of the caramel malt are what make Celebration feel slightly more wintery than your standard IPA. It goes down easy even at 6.8%, as Sierra Nevada has layered the hop flavors over a medium body.
Over the last several years as I’ve enjoyed each vintage of Celebration, I’ve wondered why it tastes nothing like other wet hop beers. That brightness in flavor and aroma that can only come from undried hops is no where to be found.
Well, that would be because “fresh hop” and “wet hop” are not one and the same. Fresh hops have in fact been dried. The only thing separating fresh hops from regular hops is that fresh hops are used immediately after drying (within seven days according to Sierra Nevada).
I find this simultaneously pleasing (this isn’t a bad wet hop beer after all!) and slightly disappointing (is it really a distinction worth mentioning?). Which, after years of access to new craft brewers beyond Stone and Sierra Nevada, is also how I feel about Celebration.