The Hops: Celebration Ale

  • Brewer: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company of Chico, California.
  • Style: American IPA.
  • Alcohol content: 6.8 percent ABV.
  • Food pairings: Peppery cheeses (Monterey/Pepper Jack), sharp cheeses (Blue, Cheddar), pungent cheeses (Gorgonzola, Limburger), poultry and seafood (especially shellfish and salmon).
  • Where to buy: John’s Grocery, all area Hy-Vee’s and the west side Fareway.
  • Price: $3 per 24-ounce bottles, $7-8 for six-packs, $13 for 12-packs.
  • Honorable Mentions: In December, also try Christmas Ale (Breckenridge Brewery), Powder Hound (Big Sky Brewing Company) and Snowstorm 2010 (August Schell).

In commemoration of the winter holiday season, many breweries release festive “winter warmers,” which feature an extra kick of hops, spice and alcohol. While some are the same year after year, others are carefully crafted, one-time releases with secret recipes. The most famous is Anchor Brewing Company’s Christmas Ale, which has featured a unique recipe and label design every year since 1975.

Some winter warmers can be aggressive hop bombs, while others are mild and malty. Though not technically a winter warmer, Sierra Nevada’s Celebration Ale falls between the two extremes and, though served cold, is an ideal adult alternative to hot cocoa.

Celebration Ale offers the perfect balance between malts, spice and hops, and provides enough alcohol to thaw beer lovers during December’s long and cold nights. It is a clean, clear, light copper color. When poured into a pint glass, an off-white head will dissipate slowly to leave a billowy lacing; trails of foam will also stick to the inside of the glass.

The smell is reminiscent of pale ale. It features invigorating grapefruit citrus, which is often a telltale sign of excessive hoppiness. However, scents of sweet caramel malts, molasses, orange peel and cherry give the aroma a nice balance. Pine spice gives Celebration Ale’s nose a nice festive touch. The taste is much toastier and malty than the smell suggests. Grapefruit citrus and a touch of pine spice are supported by a backbone of caramel, molasses and chocolate. A pleasant hoppy bitterness lingers in the aftertaste.

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