Sierra Nevada (CA)
Sierra Nevada Celebration has been around long enough that you can take for granted how odd it is to have an IPA as a winter / holiday beer. Nothing on the packaging really indicates that this is even an IPA, and as a winter beer, you'd expect some heavy malts or spices. Celebration is basically an east-coast style IPA from a west-coast brewery, meaning a heavier malt base, and much less citrus character than is typical, but that's about the only nod to the fact that this is a winter beer.
Regardless, Sierra Nevada Celebration deserves its reputation. It's nothing particularly unique — which, at this point, is awfully hard to do in an IPA, especially an IPA that's been around for a few years — but it's a great example of one end of the style. Malts are firm and bready, but never too sweet, and the hops compliment the stronger base very well. Piney hops are abundant here, with a bitterness that's both aggressive and yet still fairly smooth, never outstaying its welcome. There's a milder hint of fruit, but it's more of a general hop flavor, and easily overpowered by the earthy character of the beer. Celebration is bold, crisp and sharp, really dominating your tastebuds, but with a surprisingly clean aftertaste that doesn't turn unpleasant.
If you read the fine-print on the bottle, you'll notice that Celebration is billed as a "fresh hop" ale, which is I guess is more or less the same idea as a wet-hopped beer, before a bunch of breweries caught on to the idea of wet-hopped beers. Hops are harvested in fall, so it makes a sort of sense to release an IPA in early winter taking advantage of that — though wet-hopped beers are now beating Celebration to the punch by a couple months. In any case, it makes a bit more sense as a holiday beer than Lagunitas Sucks — although that one has a cooler story behind it.
Availability: Seasonal release — Celebration comes out in November and can be found for two or three months after that. Available in sixpacks, this one can be found just about anywhere.