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In 1981 Ken Grossman, owner of the Sierra Nevada Brewery, brewed his first batch of “Celebration Ale.” This beer quickly became the classic ale sought after year after year during the Christmas Season.
Celebration Ale is an India Pale Ale (IPA) made with a twist. It is brewed in late fall using hops just recently harvested from the fields. These newly picked hops, although dry by the time they are used, provide a fresh flavor and aroma that can’t be duplicated. The beer would have a very different character if these same hops were allowed to dry for six to nine months. The brewermaster uses a blend of Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops that together provide plenty of bitterness with a moderate amount of hop aroma. The combination produces a bitterness level of 65 IBUs, which is at the high end of the bitterness scale for an IPA, as well as for most beers, with the exception of barley wine. Celebration Ale, however, it is not a “hop bomb” that grabs your tongue and squeezes. Rather, it is a skillful blending of fresh hops, and two row pale malt and caramalt that yields a delicious and flavorful beer. Additionally, Celebration Ale is bottled conditioned meaning a small amount of sugar and yeast are added to the bottle before it is capped to induce a secondary fermentation that produces natural carbonation and provides additional life on the shelf.
Just as the holiday season is fun; this is a fun beer. A visual first impression is of a big old-fashioned ice cream soda with a huge creamy head. The head lingers and lingers and finishes as a fine lace on the inside of the glass. The beer is at its best when it is sipped through the head. The citrus and pine notes from the hops are balanced by sweet malt that makes you want to take another sip. It is refreshing, not overly done in any direction, and is a perfect beer to enjoy with friends and family.
I hope you have an opportunity to try a refreshing Sierra Nevada “Celebration Ale” during this festive season. Happy Holidays.
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