India Pale Ales are hoppy ales that are a step up from Pale Ales. These were brewed strong in the olden days to allow the beer to hold up to aging during long shipping times across continents (like from England to India). Hops are a natural preservative which allow beers to ward off contaminants to some extent. Barleywines are the strong hoppy ales that are really meant for long-term aging. IPAs hold up to some extent, but they are typically consumed fresh, or at least within a year. One reason to drink them fresh is to enjoy the hop character better, as the hop aroma dissipates in a short time. Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is a 6.8% alcohol beer, with a respectable hop content (it’s bitter to a pleasant extent), and like beers meant for aging it has yeast in the bottle, making it a live beer, therefore one that will evolve over time. It also has a year stamped on the bottle, implying that it can be cellared, even if that might not be the intent of the brewer.
Celebration Ale is a classic beer in the American India Pale Ale style, and a beer that has been brewed since 1981. The bottling of this beer started shortly after, and this once-a-year release (fall of every year when the new hop crop arrives), receives a lot of attention and accolades from beer enthusiasts. Very recently a vertical tasting of 25 vintages of this beer took place. This is an extensive look on how this beer holds up over the decades. The beers were all stored under a house in the south Bay Area (that's as close as one might get to cellar temperature), and were purchased fresh. The only exception is for the 2012 version.
2012- A vertical tasting should begin with the most recent, and go in reverse order to the oldest. The fresh version is how the brewery means the beer to be for those that drink it upon purchasing. This beer shows off an orangey/citrusy aroma with slight resin and spiciness. Moderate high bitterness dominates over the slight bready maltiness. The hop aromas carry through to the flavor, especially the citrus and resin character. The recent vintages will have a medium light body, medium high carbonation, and slight warmth, along with a dry finish. The younger beers were all light amber in color.
2011- The hop aroma drops off to the point of the hops and bready malt (something not particularly noticeable in the 2012) being very close to even. The bitterness softens over a year (moderate level) and this lingers slightly. There is still a slight bready malt flavor.
2010- The aroma shows off a little sweetness (like caramel), and is a little perfumy. This is a little less bitter than the 2010.
2009- The aroma is a little rich in the maltiness and is a bit perfumy with a hint of alcohol. Bitterness and sweetness are close to even, and at a moderate level, and they both linger slightly. This is a smoother beer, but getting away from the IPA style a bit.
2008- This has a milder aroma compared to the fresher ones. A little sherry, perfuminess, and alcohol show through. The bitterness is a touch below medium and lingers slightly. Surprisingly this is not as smooth as the 2009.
2007- This has a bit of perfuminess and alcohol in the aroma, and a touch of spruce. One of the tasters noted a touch of celery in the flavor, and it was a bit more spritzy, as well as being lighter in body.
2006- Here's where the pleasant oxidation character of sherry-like shows through. This was moderate in the flavor, lingering with some bready malt, but no sherry was noticed in the aroma. This was low in bitterness, and was darker than the first beers. This is another sign of oxygen changing the beer. At this point the beer is not really close to an IPA, even if the label says so.
Stay tuned for part 2 which will feature older vintages, some of which were quite surprising.