Total Score: 92.0
The first of my 12 Beers of Christmas series comes from the legendary Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. Like so many other breweries Sierra Nevada was founded avid and talented homebrewer, Ken Grossman, who remains actively involved in the brewery today. Ever since brewing its first batch of the iconic Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on November 15, 1980, the brewery has experienced tremendous success and has grown dramatically. They moved from their tiny original location to their current location in 1989, expanded their capacity in 1997, and have grown so large (the 6th largest brewery in the US) that they are currently in the process of choosing a location for a second brewery on the East Coast. Not only do they brew lots of good beer, but they also make an effort to do so in an environmentally friendly way, recently being named 2010’s Green Business of the Year by the EPA. In addition to the taproom and restaurant, both of which get rave reviews all around, the brewery also features what is reputed to be one of the best music venues on the West Coast, the 350-seat Big Room. Nothing I can think of would do more to make a good concert better than could a great beer. What an amazing concept.
Celebration Ale was first brewed in 1981, making it one of the first beers brewed by Sierra Nevada. Contrary to popular belief, the recipe has remained unchanged since 1983 and does not include any spices. Bittered with Chinook hops, finished and dry-hopped with the first and freshest Cascade and Centennial hops of the season, and boasting 65 IBUs and 6.8% ABV, it is truly a classic IPA. Proof of this lies in a gold medal from the 1994 US Beer Tasting Championship, a first place at the 1996 Chicago Beer Society’s Fall Beer Tasting, and silver medals at the 1999 California State Fair and 2002 Great American Beer Festival. While this is not your typical spiced Christmas ale, it is always one of the most anticipated releases of the season.
From the stubby little bottle it pours a crystal clear dark copper color with mountainous sticky head that leaves elegant lacing. Some of the best lacing I’ve ever seen. I even took an extra pic just to prove it. Aroma is a huge blast of unmistakably fresh hops, primarily grapefruit and other citrus, with spicy pine in moderation. Nice bready malt balances the hops just enough. Taste is more of those relentless and delicious grapefruity hops that leave a spicy bitterness behind. Obviously a different recipe from last year’s version (just kidding). Definitely some caramel and bready malts in there but cozily in the background, where they belong. Alcohol is notable but not intrusive, and actually works well with the hop profile. Not what I would call complex, but it doesn’t have to be when the hops are done this well. Good creamy medium body and strong carbonation. Goes down so easily (and quickly). Finish is bone dry spicy bitterness.
A classic, and rightfully so. Something to look forward to every year. World class. If I could spend the rest of my life drinking this beer and living in that cabin on the label I would do it without hesitation.
Look: 10/10 Smell: 9/10 Taste: 9/10 All-Around: 9.5/10