Thursday, November 23, 2017

THE BEER BEAT: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale and a stray recipe for Eastern European Sauerkraut, Bean and Mushroom Soup.

These thoughts originally were published two years ago at the since-mothballed Potable Curmudgeon. Tonight's Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (drained; above) prompted the recollection.

The single most hellish aspect of aging are the times when you think something happened last month, and it turns out to have been five years ago. Consequently, most readers already know the point of today's digression.

First, some personal history.

At some point in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I'd pre-order as many kegs of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale as North Vernon Beverage could acquire via hook or crook, and we'd pour them at the Public House for weeks on end.

Probably a keg each year was deposited directly into my own stomach. It's a wonder we ever made any money. Holiday sentimentality is utterly lacking in my interior world, and yet this annual arrival of Celebration Ale truly came to define the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

In later years, the world evolved; NABC began its own brewing operation in 2002, and in 2004 came the first Saturnalia Winter Solstice festival, as explicitly devoted to "celebrating" winter and holiday seasonal draft beers.

In the years since, I've had my ups and downs with Sierra Nevada itself. To this very day, it still seems to me that an aspect of the company's crucial foundational California mythology was lost forever when it began brewing in North Carolina. However, this is not the point of my digression, and I've made my peace with multi-coastal modernity.

A couple of weeks back we were out shopping for groceries. I needed beer for sauerkraut, bean and mushroom soup (recipe below), and Bridge Liquors was just around the corner, so we stopped there for a couple of bottles of Paulaner Salvator.

Pro tip: Never, ever use water in soup.

While browsing Bridge's packed aisles, I saw six-packs of Celebration Ale and couldn't resist the temptation. Having paid very little attention in recent years, what threw me at first glance was the changed label design, which is gorgeous, and the words "Fresh Hop IPA."

The simple fact is that while we always knew Celebration Ale was a hophead's delight, I can't recall many barroom discussions centering on whether it was or wasn't an IPA. We simply accepted it was what it was, and remains: Celebration Ale. It's the same way I feel about NABC's Elector; not this or that, but merely Elector, itself.

Concurrently ... those various annual "Harvest" releases were designed to be Sierra Nevada's showcase for "fresh" hops, weren't they? Hence, this belated effort to rectify my grasp of semantics, and now it makes sense to me, because ...

The word "IPA" wasn't on the label in 2013, and appeared for the first time in 2014.

The Harvest series is about "wet" or unprocessed hops, while the significance of "fresh" in Celebration Ale, according to wording first deployed in 2010, is that the finishing hops (Cascade and Centennial) are selected, dried and used immediately. These distinctions are explained in detail by Heather Vandenengel at All About Beer:


Celebration Ale, which has been in production since 1981 and in its current form since 1983, is an enigma of a beer. It’s a holiday beer, so consumers might expect it to have the standard spices—nutmeg, cinnamon—but instead will find hop aromas and bitterness akin to an IPA. Since 2010, Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. has labeled it as a fresh hop ale, garnering confusion with wet hop ales, which are also often referred to as fresh hop ales.

Finally, at the risk of waxing curmudgeonly, I will never in my life consider Celebration Ale to be an IPA. To me, the attempted specificity mars the legend. It's a one-off, and should remain that way.


Eastern European Sauerkraut, Bean and Mushroom Soup

4 – 6 “medium” servings

I’ve adapted this Polish/Slavic/Hungarian amalgam for a cold day from The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors: Recipes You Should Have Gotten from Your Grandmother, by the late Jeff “Frugal Gourmet” Smith. It’s easy to make and requires only 20 or so minutes of prep time. I like it meatless, though carnivores might choose to accompany with Kielbasa.

Ingredient list

Olive oil or other cooking oil

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
4 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

24 ounces of beer … my preference for this recipe is Rauchbier, but Doppelbock works just fine and a malty Brown Ale would suffice in a pinch. The picture perfect choice is Schlenkerla Urbock, but save it to drink with the finished product. If you use Rauchbier, omit the smoked paprika – or not. Of course, feel free to get creative.

28 ounces vegetable broth

(Note: The object is to have a combination of beer and stock totaling around 50 ounces).

2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika (sweet)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (see beer note above)
¼ teaspoon Hungarian paprika (hot)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

32 ounce bag sauerkraut from the refrigerator aisle, rinsed
8 oz mushrooms from the produce aisle, rinsed
2 cans (circa 16 oz) navy beans, rinsed; add a third can if you’re a bean lover


Sauté the chopped garlic and onions in oil on medium heat until tender, about five minutes.

Add beer, veggie broth, sauerkraut, paprika, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature and simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.

After an hour, add the beans and mushrooms. Bring to a boil, then lower the temperature and simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally.

To serve

Serve in bowls with a dollop of sour cream. We accompany the soup with bread and butter: Jewish Rye (light rye with caraway seeds) or Pumpernickel (dark rye, no seeds) are preferred.

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