Every year I anticipate its arrival with the zeal of a child who awaits Christmas day. It’s a nicely hopped pale ale from the Sierra Nevada® Brewing Co. called Celebration® Fresh Hop Ale. Typically released in November for the holidays, Celebration® Ale is an American IPA style beer, amber-red in color with a robust mouth feel. The bright notes afforded from the dry-hop process during its production range from citrus to pine and under the nose, the heady aroma clearly signals hops take center stage. There are other supporting roles of course, like malty caramel, a touch of spice and a zing of yeast. The medium-bodied brew is deliciously balanced with an alcohol content that pleasantly warms the soul.
I’ve been a hophead for a long while. It was my brother, a home brewer, who first introduced me to Sierra Nevada® Pale Ale in 1992 at the Fox & Firkin Brewing Company in Newport Beach, CA. The beer was featured on a guest tap that day and it started an odyssey of microbrew and brew pub exploration for a decade or longer. The best education about beer, for me, came from visiting the small independents, talking up bartenders, servers and patrons. And I did a fair amount of reading from the publications often times free for the taking at these establishments. The setting was ideal to experience the many styles of beer and the manner in which they are crafted.
The pinnacle of my experiences, however, was my first visit the Sierra Nevada® Brewing Co. in Chico, CA. It was 1996 and in those days, the brewery conducted tours in very small groups. There were six of us that day, including the tour guide. We were guided through the premises which included fermentation, refrigeration and bottling areas with interval stops along the way for in-depth explanations. The experience had a red-carpet feel to it and the memory of it is indelible. Intimate excursions like that one are rare there today. The free 90-minute tour nowadays is immensely popular attracting throngs of visitors—as one version of the tour ends with an Educational Tasting for ages 21 and over!
My family has visited there several times over the years. Most recently, my kids expressed favorable reviews of their meal in the Tap Room, a delightful bar and restaurant serving fare that can rival any first-rate steakhouse. It’s great when your children come of age with their developing palates, and can sit through a nice meal without being wiggly and impatient. But it’s even better (for the adults) when the food matches the quality of the beer—it brings a whole new meaning to the phrase steak & ale.
Every trip to the brewery ends in the gift shop. It was there my wife & I spotted attractive packages of peanut brittle made with their pale ale—and jalapeno! I adore peanut brittle. And many of you know I’m also a chilihead. One glance to my wife and she knew I had to try it. Without hesitation, it was quickly placed among items to purchase. I found the candy to be exceptional, if not addicting. It covers the bases of sweet and savory under an umbrella of buttery spice (not overly hot, but spicy) with a note of floral hops in a confection that’s big, bold and sturdy. In short, the pairing is what I consider to be the ideal man candy.
So here we are at the end of 2012 and my anticipation of this year’s Celebration® Ale release has been met without disappointment—a beer that’s big on flavor delivering the kind of punch you expect in a winter brew. However the sweetest surprise this season is that the beer isn’t the only thing I’ll be sharing over the holidays.