Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale Vertical – 2006-2013



As far as holiday beers go, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (an American IPA) is always a staple on the shelves that lets you know the year is winding down. It is also one of the earliest examples of an APA with production starting in 1981. This seasnoal favortie has had the same recipe since 1983! Celebration (labeld as a Fresh Hop Ale in recent years) is a Winter standard.

Here at BLC HQ (by da beach boooy!) we decided that we’d take a little trip down memory lane with good ‘ol Celebration. Through collecting and saving as well as some timely help from our buddy Bellport Dave, we managed to acquire a bottle of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale from the past eight years (wow). Though technically a holiday brew, we waited until after all the Christmas craziness died down to sample this epic flight.

While you may ask, “why did you choose Celebration?”, our answer is that we have heard it’s a good candidate for a vertical tasting. People seem to enjoy buying a pack and saving a few bottles over the years hoping to develop flavors within the festively decorated bottles. Since we have been experimenting with aging other types of beer for quite a while we figured why not see what happens when Sierra Nevada Celebration had a few years on it?

We started the evening with a photo shoot starring Santa Claus and the beers. Fun. For the pours we used a small juice glass so each of us (Alicia and Kevin) could sample one year at a time. We started with 2013 and used it as our “constant” coming back to it taking notes of how the later vintages had changed (for better or worse).

We made sure to leave a bit in each bottle so we could go back at the end and revisit each year’s offering. This would allow us to compare all of the beers back against each other and also allow for us to see what the beers would be like when they warmed up a bit. Don’t be scared of warming (not warm or hot!) beer. Below are some quick notes on what we thought of each year.


Aroma: Extremely oxidized with notes of sweet sherry and faint undertones of dates, spice and tea.
Appearance: Dark copper body with hints of ruby, topped by a head that rose slightly and dissappated, leaving behind a ring. Slightly hazy with light sediment and very little visible carbonation.
Taste: A harsh oxidized bitterness is present throughout with a malty, almost tea-like background. The finish is very warming and dry and overall this year was fairly unpleasant to drink.

Aroma: Sweet, fruity cherry juice with hints of wax and wet cardboard.
Appearance: Copper body with a bit more orange than other years, with a small beige bubbly head that stays up. Moderate, visible carbonation with sediment throughout.
Taste: The sip itself has a fruit juice flavor but that quickly gives way to a very warming and bitter finish. The acidity level borders on vinegar like and it is mouthwatering, but again in a less than pleasant way.

Aroma: Sweet dark fruits give way to a harsher, oxidized scent. There is a touch of alcohol but no floral notes or spice.
Appearance: Clear, light burnt orange body (with a small amount of yeast particles) that most closely resembles 2013. The head is sand colored with moderate to vigorous carbonation visible.
Taste: Has some notes of a barley wine, but in a much more subtle, muted way. There are light notes of tea and a semi-dry finish with light warming bitterness.

Aroma: This one is most similar to a barley wine with notes of holiday spice, dark fruit and oranges. There is no hop presence and the scent is sweet and syrupy, bordering on floral.
Appearance: A burnt orange body with some yeast particles and a creamy head that has the best retention we have seen yet. Mild carbonation that takes the form of tight, visible bubbles.
Taste: Like the aroma would suggest, this tastes similar to a barley wine. There is a creamy mouth feel with lots of sweet, dark fruit throughout the sip and a bitter, astringent finish. Alcohol flavors are prevalent and accompanied by a warming sensation. Of all the years we tried, this tasted most like a totally different beer.

Aroma: Very sweet and candy like, almost reminiscent of a flat cream soda with a bit of spice, amaretto and dark fruit. Still oxidized with no hops at all detectable.
Appearance: A hazy, burnt orange body with lots of visible carbonation and a head that falls extremely quickly.
Taste: Smooth and malty, with a very mild bitterness in the finish. Slick, smooth mouth feel with a bit of tingle from the carbonation level. Slightly warming with a low level of spice (cinnamon, clove, allspice) throughout.

Aroma: A bit of holiday spice with a malty sweetness taking over. Subtle hop bitterness is present.
Appearance: Hazy, yellow/orange vigorously carbonated body with a small off white head that quickly falls to a cap.
Taste: Well balanced malt and hop flavors with a little warming spice presence. This one is still a little oxidized and has a bitter finish, but in a pleasant way.

Aroma: Sweet and candy like, with hints of bread and caramel apple. Similar to a holiday spice candle.
Appearance: A slightly hazy, sunset orange body that is a little on the hazy side with lots of visible carbonation. The off white head leaves behind lots of sticky lacing.
Taste: The sip is hoppy yet tea like with a harsh, bitter finish. A slight alcohol and spice aftertaste lingers.

Aroma: Grassy hops and straw with a little bit of spice are prevalent over a sweet malt background.
Appearance: Clear, light yellow/orange with an off white head that hangs around and leaves a good amount of lacing.
Taste: Sweet and hoppy with more malty, bready notes than you would expect from an IPA. a little bread in the aftertaste. The sip is slightly warming with a finish that is bitter but not overly so and leaves a hop presence on your tongue.

Overall, this was a fun experiment but we wouldn’t recommend hanging onto these bottles for too long. As a 6.8% ABV IPA, Sierra Nevada Celebration is able to be aged but not for years and years like some higher ABV stouts and barley wines are. With the trend of aging beers being slowly adopted by beer distributors you can see a distinct change in when some of these bottles may have had a kinder hand put to them. Since many stores are now hanging onto beer to sell as aged and consumers are then keeping them in their cellars for another few years, it makes sense that distributors may also now be taking better care of their bottles with aging in mind. Of course, that could also be wild speculation but we just drank eight years worth of beer so give us a break.

We did enjoy the bottles that were a bit on the fresher side while the oldest couple years bordered on un-drinkable. Had we had a couple bottles of 2005 or earlier, it may have been a rough night. If you’ve done a vertical experiment of your own, let us know what have been some of your hits and misses.


Written by A+K

January 29th, 2014 at 12:06 pm

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