Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Young and the Old - IPA Edition

12 days earlier than the norm and central Virginia has had its first frost. Samhain has barely come and gone, and already the Yule beers are starting to appear on the shelves. We are at the cusp of that most cultural warfare of times....the Holidays. 

It is around this time that I also perform an annual ritual, that of buying a 6 pack of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale to drink a couple of and blithely forget about until this time next year.

I have a personal heresy when it comes to Celebration Ale, I think it is better with a year in the cellar to allow the fresh/wet/green/choose a descriptor hops to tone down a bit. I realise that kind of defeats the purpose of it being a "fresh hop ale" or in this year's case a "fresh hop IPA". At 6.8% abv, Celebration Ale does actually fit quite nicely within the definition of an Old Ale, even the 65 IBUs aren't wildly out of keeping with the style guidelines as promulgated by the BJCP. Sure a year sitting in a cellar is not long enough to really get some of the old ale characteristics associated with the style, you know all that oxidation, lactic, Brett, kind of stuff, but what about a decade?

As I was pottering around in the cellar the other day, mainly wondering why on earth I have so many growlers, and how to dispose of the vast majority of them, I discovered a bottle of Celebration Ale from 2011. A bottle so old that it's original cellar was the outside storage room of Mrs V and I's first abode in Virginia. A bottle so aged that it is now on its third US president, and was in the cellar before I last went to France to stay with my parents, when they lived there, for Christmas, and when I did a comparative tasting of fresh and aged Orval. I also noticed that I still have bottles from 2019 and 2020 floating about, but there was something more appealing about the direct 10 year comparison than doing fresh, 1 year, 2 year, and then 10 year old versions. I started with the fresh...


The autumnal sunlight streaming through the door to our deck made the copper liquid glow, flashing amber highlights at the edges of the glass, all topped off with a steady, persistent half inch of just off white foam, god it's a lovely looking beer. From experience of preferring it with a little age on it, I didn't bother to top up my pint dimpled mug with another can. Without even having to get the glass close to my nose, the hops are evident, all those classic American "C" hop aromas just bursting all over the place. Masses of grapefruit, pine resin, lots of pine resin, and spicy undertones, quite the heady brew. Ok, let's drink this...bracingly bitter, bracing, like jumping into a cold pool after a banya in the Belarusian countryside. Next time you have a grapefruit, eat the peel and the pith and you'll get what I mean, this is ripping citrus, and somewhere underneath it all is a toffee malt sweetness, not enough to give even the merest semblance of balance, but it's there. This is a brute of a beer, big, bruising, and powerful...I hope being in cans now means it won't stay the same after a year in the cellar.

With such a walloping mass of flavours to process, and the fact dinner needed to be made, twins put to bed, and all that jazz, it was a few hours later, and darker, that I got to the 2011 bottle.

Straight off the bat, the size of the head surprised me a little, I expected it to be more of a schmeer than the half inch it was, well at least there was still life there. Lacking sunlight, the amber highlights were only really noticeable when held up to the kitchen lights, but the deep copper was very similar to the young version. Ten years of sitting around had obviously impacted the massive hop aroma, though pine resin and grapefruit were still heavily involved. In the mix now was a stone fruit character that I really didn't expect, as well as a subtle sherry thing, which I kind of did. The years though have been kind to the malt, a fuller, richer malt flavour is present now, like dulce de leche spread on fresh from the oven scones. There is still a pithy bitterness, but it too has calmed down, though I expected it to have calmed further, even so this is a remarkably hop present beer for its age.

I still have most of the 6 pack of 2021 Celebration Ale in the cellar, will any of it make it to 2031? Who knows? If somehow I manage to ignore a beer for another decade, then at least if this experiment is any indicator, it'll still be a good, bitter, old ale when the time comes.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All Consuming Darkness

Back in 2010 I wrote a post on the old RateBeer forums advocating for Czech tmavé to be recognised as a distinct beer "style" rat...