Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Sierra Nevada Celebration Vertical Tasting 2011

Saturday my friend Lindsey and I took advantage of a break in the rain and biked over to Woodstock Wine and Deli for WWD's annual vertical tasting of Sierra Nevada Celebration.  I had always been intrigued by the event but never attended, so I was happy to get in on that. Every table in the place was full, but it was never more crowded than that during the time we were there, so the atmosphere was busy and exciting without being uncomfortable.

Celebration is a wonderful beer, the progenitor of the Hoppy Holiday Ale category, though it ticks me off that Sierra Nevada put the misleading tag "Fresh Hop Ale" on Celebration's label again this year when the beer only contains dried hops.  Remember, dried hops are NOT fresh hops, despite SN's wacky definition of "fresh" as dried and shipped within 7 days.  Nevertheless, it is a delicious beer if you like lots of hops and lots of malt, and this year's batch really hit the spot with me.

It seems slightly odd to age a beer known mainly for its hop character, but you'd be surprised how well the hop flavor held up in some of the older batches, and it does give you a glimpse of the year-to-year variation in the hops, since the beer's recipe is the same every year.  WWD tapped kegs from seven consecutive years:  2005-2011.  For the most part, I preferred the newer batches in the tasting, though for some reason the odd-numbered years stood out over the even-numbered ones (Lindsey called this "reverse Star Trek movie ranking"):
  • 2011: hoppy and clean
  • 2009: hoppy with some oxidation
  • 2005: hoppy and surprisingly flowery still
  • 2010: hoppy and piney
  • 2007: hoppy and a hint of maple
  • 2008: hoppy and malty with more oxidation than '09
  • 2006: hoppy but it's gone around the bend
I was surprised at how much I liked the oldest beer in the bunch, the 2005, which still had more floral hop notes than I got from the other years.  The 2006 was a dog:  interestingly, way back at the 2007 tasting Dave Selden also panned the '06; reporting on last year's tasting, Lisa Morrison found that the 2005 was off but she enjoyed the 2006.  Go figure.  Among people I talked to at the tasting Saturday, there was a lot of love for the 2008 and 2007 vintages, though they were pretty low on my list.  That's one reason I've been cutting back on my cellaring activities -- you can't go wrong with fresh beer, and there is definitely a tipping point after which even the biggest beer is too old, though the tasty 2005 Celebration shows that it's still a worthwhile experiment to age a few old favorites.

By the way, Woodstock Wine and Deli is an interesting place to shop for bottled beer.  They hide a few beers away and shelve the vintages later at random times.  Saturday there were bottles of Celebration as far back as 1996 for sale; on previous visits I've seen bottles of Bridgeport's Old Knucklehead from the 90's as well.  Even if you don't find that special bottle, they always have three or four decent beers on tap.

No comments: