I don’t know about you, but I love San Diego. Not just for Ron Burgundy, but for its amazing breweries! There is a slew of big name craft brewers whose beers are flooding the U.S. market right now, but recently I got the chance to enjoy a smaller, more local brewery’s beer – the brewery is Alpine Beer Company – and the beer was Nelson. Yes, Nelson is a man, and a beer. A Rye India Pale Ale to be precise.
The name is representative of the hop variety primarily used in this brew; from New Zealand comes a citrusy and spicy hop called Nelson Sauvin. It is used in both the brewing and dry hopping for this beer, as well rye malt is used to add a smooth, uniquely malty character to the beer. I really had no clue what to expect; I had never heard of Alpine, nor was there much detail of the beer on the bottle. But I knew that this was a west coast IPA at 7% abv with 60 IBUs. How bad can it possibly be? Or better yet, how good could this be?
I was pretty excited for this beer, I has asked a friend who was visiting San Diego to grab me a specific list of beers, and when he came back he added this surprise by recommendation of the liquor store owner. So who am I to not try this beer? I must indulge.
The Nelson came in a tall 650ml bottle depicting a calm river opening into the sea. I opened it cool around 10C (50F) and poured it into stemmed tulip glass. The pour was smooth but very vigorous igniting a crashing title wave of foam the second the golden orange beer hit the bottom of the glass. I slowed the pour to a very slight and gentle one eventually lifting a 3 or 4 inch head. This was an impressive sight. The Head was pitch white with tightly packed and organized carbonation near the beer, aggressive and lively, more scattered bubbles in the center, and then another slew of dense and tiny bubbles forming a creamy looking cap. The beer itself was glowing radiantly with bright golden oranges, metallic yellows, sunny copper and streaks of pale straw. It was transparent but showed loads of carbonation and life within, along with evidence of bottle conditioning by way of suspended sediment. This beer was strikingly gorgeous, and had already won me over.
The nose then took this beer from impressive to remarkable. The fresh and citrusy nose, which I can only assume is due to the Nelson hops, is juicy and delicious. It is big and richly hoppy bursting with lemon and orange zest, grapefruit, touches of pine, earth, sweet grape-like must, and hints of spice. Behind the hops is a wave of smoothly sweet pale malts and a touch of warmer candy like malt. The nose as a whole is very clean, refreshing, and appetizing. This is shaping out very well.
The head was still chillin’ right up to the brim of my glass, so an aggressive tip towards my mouth let a crisply cooling splash of Nelson into my palate. The bright and fresh hop flavors are what shine through strongest in this beer; as they should. Clean citrus aromas tingle on your tongue aided by sharply effervescent carbonation. Lemon, lime and grapefruit all show up here at the fore and empress your senses with a quick snap, then a smooth malty sweetness rounds over your tongue and cheeks to balance it out.
Earth, pine, fresh chopped wood, and lightly sweet green grapes fade in and out of the hop presence of the beer and tingle in a lightly spicy and refreshing manner. The rye malts have added a warmth and additional spice character to the beer and round out a nicely malty base. The finish is perfectly crisp, fresh and quenching. Actually, Nelson could be one of the most quenching beers I have ever had now that I think about it.
The reason it is so good is because it is not perfectly balanced, but just enough, leaving some room for heavy hopping. 50/50 may have been nice, but 70 hop and 30 malt here is where it belongs. And even though the beer was hugely effervescent, it was still very smooth and lush – whoever build this beer did a great job. It is on my list now, and so is Alpine.