The earliest years of the tasting are reviewed below, and one should not expect to find any older Celebration Ales in existence. These are well beyond the age of what the brewery would want anyone to have, although the donor of these beers has more of the vintages reviewed in storage. This will conclude a unique tasting of a classic beer, and while part 2 of this series might suggest that nothing will end up remaining in this beer over time, that was not the case.
1991- This one was surprisingly pleasant, and the dominant flavor and aroma here was almond. There was a bit of caramel in the aroma, but the flavor had cherry pit and burnt almond instead. This one was a bit sweet, basically no bitterness (very far from an IPA at this point), and showed no signs of the negative oxidation characteristics of paper or cardboard. Smooth and very drinkable.
1990- The aroma has a slight almond character, and slight tobacco shop notes, with a touch of caramel and alcohol. The flavor had a slight peanut taste, but also some almond. Very low bitterness, with the sweetness being stronger. Again, there was a big surprise of not showing any cardboard or paper.
1989- This had a mild aroma, with a little almond and tobacco shop aromas. A bit of cola nut was evident, and the flavor had some pecan, with the sweetness dominant. Basically no bitterness, and low carbonation. A very smooth beer, and one of the older favorites of the panel.
1988- Now for a 25-year old beer. Here the aroma has hints of almond, tobacco, and bread crust. A bready sweet flavor dominates, but at a low level. No bitterness, and this one shows off some paper flavor which lingers in the finish.
As none of the beers were bad, this is a testament to Sierra Nevada’s quality control. The 2007 vintage showed a very slight vegetal character, a lighter body, and higher carbonation (all clues to contamination), but this was not a problematic beer. One should still consume this beer fresh, but this was a research project in beer aging, especially due to the rare ability to be able to do this, and maybe the only of its kind for this beer. The beers suffered a little over time, but not to the point of being bad. The brewery equipment has been changed and expanded a few times, and this might have had some effect on the beer having variations. One year's harvest of beer ingredients will not be the same as all the others either. No doubt Sierra Nevada tries to get this beer as consistent as possible.
Much thanks to Joe Goss for making this possible (and his anonymous donor), and to Scott Williams for hosting this event.
For more info: see the Examiner article on Bigfoot Barleywine. This is one of the classic beers really worth aging.