Commercial Description: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale represents a time honored tradition of brewing a special beer for the holiday season. There are generous portions of barley malts and fine whole hops of several varieties, creating a brew with a full, rich and hearty character.
Celebration Ale is, and always has been, an American IPA brewed with the first, fresh hops of the growing season (i.e. fresh hop ale.) The beer has been in production since 1981, and in its current form (recipe) since 1983. It was one of the first legitimate IPAs brewed in the “American” style and has never contained any spices; only hops, water, malt and yeast. Despite nearly 30 years of (roughly) the same recipe, they get lots of complaints each year from people who are expecting a spiced holiday “Winter Warmer” style of beer. And oddly, they also get lots of emails from people telling them how delicious the spices we used tasted…specifically nutmeg and cinnamon. This has never been the case. No spices are or were used in the beer. Sierra Nevada chose to highlight Fresh Hop Ale to clue people in on the real nature of the beer so folks know what they’re getting into.
They use a blend of Cascade, Centennial and Chinook hops to create an interesting citrus, pine and (kind of) spiced flavor, but all of the higher tones in the beer come from hops and yeast esters. The beer does change from year to year, but that is only because it relies so heavily on hop flavors, and hops can vary wildly from year to year and even from field to field.
Sierra Nevada’s Harvest Ale was really the beer that launched the wet hopped ale trend. Although some breweries use terms interchangeably, they take pride in noting the differences between wet-hops, fresh-hops and standard hops. Wet-hops being the green, un-dried hops fresh from the fields within 24 hours of picking, (used in Northern hemisphere Harvest and Estate Homegrown Ale) and Fresh Hops being fast tracked…picked, dried and shipped within 7 days of the fields. (Celebration Ale and Southern Hemisphere Harvest with hops from New Zealand.) The hops in Celebration, specifically with the first batches, can be very different than the hops used in later brews. They do their best to blend batches into a consistent flavor but as with any craft product there are definitely variations from batch to batch and from year to year. That said the recipe remains constant.