Holiday beers are not my thing. They tend to be heavy, malty things, chock-full of spices and fruity flavors that put me in mind of other holiday atrocities like the obligatory figgy pudding and fruit cakes that grandma makes for Christmas dinner and linger on the table long after everyone’s retired to open gifts. Still, as I headed to a friend’s birthday party this Saturday after spending the day listening to Bing Crosby Christmas albums and watching my crafty roommate make paper chains to string up in our apartment, I wanted to grab a six-pack that would continue to indulge my holiday mood. Stopping in at Knickerbocker Food Corp, I was excited to find a six-pack of my favorite winter brew: Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale.
The Celebration Ale pours a dark copper-orange, with a thick, off-white head. It has a piney-citrusy hop aroma that carries through to the first sip. The malt is nice, giving the beer a bready, caramel body, but the true star here are the hops that the beer highlights in keeping the brewery’s roots (more on that in a minute). At first sip the hops are herbal with some earthy spice, but still clean and fresh and nothing like grandma’s fruit cake. By the finish you realize there’s some nice citrus flavors going on as well. This well-balanced brew is refreshing and delicious, perfect to wash down a heavy holiday dinner or for enjoying solo at a holiday party.
The Celebration Fresh Hop Ale is actually an India Pale Ale, a style of beer I tend to reserve for the summer due to its focus on hops, which give a beer its grassy, bitter, and often citrusy or herbal flavors. Celebration is a limited edition, seasonal ale that brewed with fresh hops. 90% of hops are harvested annually in September and October, supplying most of the hops for the entire rest of the year. Sierra Nevada likes to compare dry hops to dry herbs – they lose potency over time. The Celebration Ale is brewed shortly after harvest, using hops shipped within a week of being picked, which results in a bold hop profile.
Sierra Nevada was one of the purveyors of intense hop flavors when they helped launch the American craft brew movement in the early 1980s. In fact, in ’79 when Ken Grossman was looking to start the brewery, craft brewing systems did not yet exist. To equip his brewery, Ken was forced to scour the countryside looking for old dairy equipment, and teaching himself welding and refrigeration so that he could repurpose the supplies himself. The beers he brewed put a strong emphasis on local hops, especially the Cascade hop which has unique citrusy-piney flavor. One of their flagship brews was Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale, a beer credited with helping to turn masses of Americans on to craft brewing. To this day their Pale Ale stands as one of the best and earliest American Pale Ales, helping to define the style which puts a hoppy, bold twist on similar European ales. You can find the Pale Ale on tap and in the bottle all over New York – including at most of the Bowery venues – and it’s one of my go-to, easy-drinking brews anytime.
If you’re looking to grab some Celebration for your next party, I recommend hitting Associated (located at the corner of Knickerbocker and Starr) as they have the six-pack for $9.99, the cheapest I’ve seen in the area. However, if you’re like me and miss their 11pm closing time, many of the 24-hour bodegas in the neighborhood sell the Celebration as well, taking a slightly higher cut. I grabbed mine at Knickerbocker Food Corp (at Troutman and Knickerbocker), where it set me back $12 exactly. Happy holiday drinking!
Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale gets 3.5/5 stars – 1.5 for changing the game for holiday brews, 1 for dedication to using fresh hops, in season, and 1 for the integrity of the brewery who helped start it all.
Bushwick Brews is a weekly column dedicated to the exploration of Bushwick’s finest beers written and curated by brewista Erin Wicks.