This year marks my 20th anniversary of moving to New York City, a temporary adventure turned into a more or less permanent perch, a writing career, a marriage, and a daughter. This month she turns seven, a second-grader in an unprecedented school year, the weird weeks zigzagging forward. I’ll always look back on that November night when she was born at the stroke of midnight, right on time for a new day and a new life. To toast parenthood and soothe my new-parent anxieties over changing diapers, I bought a case of one of my most favorite IPAs, Sierra Nevada Celebration IPA.
The beer was born in 1981, just a couple years after me, but Celebration is the rare American beer to stand the test of time and taste electrifyingly new whenever I open the year’s first bottle. I attribute it to annual anticipation and continued excellence.
Celebration is Sierra Nevada’s fall seasonal, running roughly from October through December. Gaze at the label, garlanded in fresh hops and a cozy cabin glowing in a snowy landscape, and your mental associations might run to winter, to big stouts, strong barley wines, or spiced Christmas ales, liquids to lessen the brain ache of family gatherings. (Remember those?) The IPA can serve that role reasonably well, especially at 6.8 percent ABV.
Celebration, though, salutes the hop harvest. The beer is made with the harvest season’s freshest hops, kiln-dried to preserve their fleeting aromas and scents. Here, Cascade, Chinook, and Centennial hops are tabbed for leading roles, layered across a reddish base that’s rich with caramel, but not too much. The sweetness here acts as support structure for hop expression, the taste experience like strolling through a strand of resinous pine trees while nibbling on grapefruit peel.
Celebration uses its rugged, earthy bitterness for balancing effect, an enduring example of the West Coast tradition. Those 65 IBUs might jar taste buds attuned to the profuse juice of hazy IPAs, but it’s 2020: We should all be acquainted with ever-present bitterness by now. Embrace it. This is the season of Celebration.