Friday, 10 July 2015

Brewing an Alpine Nelson clone

Alpine Beer Company's Nelson - a "Golden Rye IPA" featuring that amazing and delicious New Zealand hop variety, Nelson Sauvin - has always been on my wishlist of beers to try. I've had a few Alpine beers, and they were all excellent (especially Duet, an IPA which I've attempted to clone not once, but twice), and I've always heard rave reviews on Nelson, so of course I'd want to experience drinking an IPA featuring my favorite hop, from a highly-respected brewery. This is looking more likely now that Green Flash has purchased Alpine; during my two recent trips to Alpine, before the buy-out, I didn't happen upon Nelson anywhere. Now, I notice that Alpine beers are starting to pop up on tap at a lot of beer bars outside of California, such as many in Vermont; hopefully it's only a matter of time before we start seeing them in Maine.

In the meantime (and hey, it's not like I live in Maine anyway), there's only one way for me to try to experience Nelson... clone it! Or do what I always do, try to brew a close approximation of it. I was pretty lucky with my Duet clone; while Alpine's founder, Pat McIlhenney, didn't give me a recipe for Duet, he was nice enough to give me some tips as to the grain bill (the hop schedule was kind of easy, since it's well-known to be equal amounts of Amarillo and Simcoe). Soon after, I got the impression that I was really lucky to get any information at all; apparently Pat has a reputation for being quite secretive when it comes to specific details on his beers. I've been interested in brewing a clone of Nelson ever since then, but I didn't bother contacting Pat again... I didn't really want to push my luck!

Well, about four months ago I happened to stumble upon a Reddit post, "Who Needs Alpine When You Can Brew Nelson Yourself?", which included an extremely detailed recipe for, supposedly, a Nelson clone. I was skeptical... this recipe had exact amounts for the malts, and amounts and times for the hop additions. The author claimed that years ago, the recipe had been "coaxed out of Pat by some [Alpine] locals", and that it was supposed to be a very reliable recipe, when compared side-by-side to the real thing. Hey, that was good enough for me! Even if it wasn't Nelson (and I'd never know, anyway), I wanted to try this recipe. I really liked the look of it, and the large addition of Acid malt sure seemed to match up with what Pat mentioned in his Duet recipe (they use the Acid malt for, of course, mash pH adjustment purposes).

Looking over the recipe further, I admit I was quite shocked by how minimal the hop additions seemed. Nelson is hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Southern Cross (another NZ variety), but this recipe wasn't calling for a hell of a whole lot. Sure, the dry-hop addition is pretty hefty, but from the beginning of the boil till the dry-hop, there's only about 2.25 oz added. That's not a lot, especially compared to a lot of other recipes I've brewed. But, as I've pondered before on this blog, maybe more isn't necessarily better, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and trust the recipe, as-is.

The grist isn't quite as simple as a lot of IPAs out there. It's made up of a majority of 2-row, but there's also some Maris Otter in there. A healthy proportion of Rye malt is featured (it IS a "Golden Rye IPA", after all), plus some Cara-pils and Acid malt (depending on your water profile, you may want to decrease the amount of Acid malt included in the grist). I also threw in a small amount of rice hulls, just as a precaution against a stuck sparge. As expected, the mash temperature is fairly low, at 150 F; the Alpine hoppy beers I had were perfectly dry and let the hops do their thing, just as they should.

As I mentioned for the hopping, it's pretty low, at least in terms of kettle additions. A FWH addition of Southern Cross, a bit of Nelson at 30 minutes (I haven't done a 30-min addition in a while), a bit more Southern Cross at 15, and then 1.25 oz between the two at 5 minutes. No flameout-additions, so no hop stands/whirlpools. As you can imagine, the IBUs for this beer are pretty low - 45 - for an IPA of 7.5% ABV. But that's on a homebrew system; that's with 5 gallons of wort that takes anywhere from 5-20 minutes to chill down to pitching temps. I assume on a commercial system, the hops are actually in contact with hot wort for longer, and therefore the IBUs would be higher? Either way, I resisted temptation to add more hops, and just went with the original recipe. But it wasn't easy! The beer then has a single dry-hop of both varieties; maybe not the biggest I've seen, but at over 4 oz, it's definitely enough to pack a wallop (especially considering one of the varieties is Nelson, which is one hell of an expressive hop).

A few words on Southern Cross - like I mentioned, it's a New Zealand variety; I've never brewed with it before now, but I've heard/read good things. According to Bear-Flavored's Hop Cheet Sheet, its characteristics are listed as "lemon, lime, pine"; other sources state the same, and it appears to be a variety that has been around for awhile (since 1994). I was lucky enough to grab a pound of it online, solely for the purpose of brewing this beer.

Ferment in the high 60s F with California Ale yeast (or in my case, my usual substitution of US-05), and there you have it. The directions note to transfer to secondary before dry-hopping, and "rouse twice in 2 weeks", but I'm sticking to my usual dry-hopping method of 5-7 days. I also didn't bother racking from the fermentor to my dry-hop keg, since I planned on dry-hopping early, and with one addition, I have good results just throwing the pellets into primary. The only real difference with my recipe is the small addition of some CaCl2 and Gypsum, as usual, to boost the calcium levels. Together with the fairly-large addition of Acid malt, my projected mash pH came in at 5.3.

The brew day went off without a hitch; I followed the instructions in the recipe for a 90-minute boil, even though for a beer like this, I'd normally stick with my usual 60 minutes. Fermentation was fairly quick, visible activity not really lasting any longer than my typical 4-5 days when using US-05. After 10 days or so, I threw the dry-hop addition into primary, and after 5 days racked the beer into a keg and started carbing.

Well, turns out there was no need to be skeptical about this recipe... the beer came out delicious! It's definitely got low bitterness for an IPA, but that never really bothers me. There's enough to balance the malt character nicely; speaking of which, I love how this beer is just bready enough to show it's not ALL hops, and the rye gives a bit of a nudge to your tastebuds, too. The aroma is quite nice; I really like how the Nelson and Southern Cross work together. Nelson is usually so distinct with its tropical berry, white wine character, but the Southern Cross does an excellent job of rounding out the fruitiness, while adding its own lemon-lime character to the beer. Overall, this is an easy-drinking IPA (I've been drinking this beer for weeks now; in fact, the keg is about to kick, and it's held on amazingly well).

I just came back from a trip to Vermont, and while I drank copious amounts of Hill Farmstead and Lawson's, among others, I didn't see any Alpine in my travels. However, a friend who HAS had Nelson tried this clone, and while admitting that the bitterness was lower, thought that it tasted and smelled quite similar, from what he could remember. Either way, the recipe made a really tasty IPA, so if you can get your hands on both hop varieties, I'd recommend giving this one a try!

Recipe Targets: (5.5 gallons, 72% efficiency) OG 1.069, FG ~1.013, IBU ~45, SRM 5.8, ABV ~7.3%

4.2 kg (60.4%) Canadian 2-row
1.2 kg (17.3%) Rye malt
800 g (11.5%) Maris Otter
400 g (5.8%) Cara-Pils
250 g (3.6%) Acid malt
100 g (1.4%) Rice hulls

Southern Cross - 10 g (14.1% AA) FWH

Nelson Sauvin - 7 g (12% AA) @ 30 min
Southern Cross - 10 g @ 15 min
Nelson Sauvin - 21 g @ 5 min
Southern Cross - 14 g @ 5 min

Nelson Sauvin - 72 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)
Southern Cross - 58 g dry-hop for 5 days (in primary)

Misc: 1/2 tab Irish Moss at 5 min

Yeast: US-05 Safale (1 & 1/2 packs, rehydrated)

Water: Fredericton city water, carbon-filtered; 3 g Gypsum and 3 g calcium chloride added to mash

- Brewed on May 6th, 2015, by myself. 60-minute mash with 19 L of strike water, mashed in at 150.5 F (target 150 F). Sparged with ~5 gallons of 168 F water for final volume of ~7.25 gallons.

- SG 1.054. 90-minute boil. Final volume on target of 5.5 gallons; OG a bit low at 1.067. Chilled to low-60s F, then poured into Better Bottle. Aerated with 90 seconds of pure O2, pitched rehydrated yeast at 64 F.

- Fermentation going strong by about 24 hours after pitching, kept up for several days before starting to slow. Temperature never got above 70 F.

- 20/5/15 - FG 1.011; added dry hops into primary.

- 26/5/15 - Racked beer to CO2-purged keg, set in keezer to bring temp down before starting to carb the next day.

Appearance: Pours with a moderate-sized, white creamy head that has pretty good retention. Body is light-golden coloured with great clarity.

Aroma: Big fruity blast on the nose; lots of tropical aromas in there, with a bit of rye in the background. No flaws that I can find.

Taste: Ditto, ton of tropical fruit, bit of rye spice in there, all finishing quite dry with a moderate bitterness in the finish that lingers slightly. In a word: juicy.

Mouthfeel: Medium-light bodied, moderate carbonation.

Overall: Great beer; nothing to compare it to, unfortunately, but I'm loving the juicy, fruity flavours and aroma in this one.


  1. I guess you read/watched these two links

  2. Just fermenting a beer based on this recipe now - thank you. Lucky for us in NZ its easier to get a hold of the hops - smells great 5 days in, the Southern Cross is quite limey! Will let you know how it turns out.

  3. I'm lucky to have access to Nelson and have brewed a variation of this recipe many times. Nelson is my favorite beer ever...even above Pliny. A couple pointers to help you dial this in. Nelson is 1.065 OG, 1.012 FG, 7%. Keep the Maris Otter at 10%, bump the rye to 20% and split evenly rye malt and flaked rye. Move the 5 min hops to flameout and do a whirlpool/hop stand. Nelson is much lighter in color and pretty hazy. Don't fine or filter as the flavor from the haze from rye combined with the hops is what really makes Nelson amazing. If you're ever fortunate enough to score a bottle definitely swirl it gently to rouse the hazy sediment before pouring. Or pour a bit into one glass then rouse and pour into a different glass and compare. I always wondered why the bottled version didn't "pop" like the draft version until I figured this out. Cheers!

  4. Hi. What would be a good substitute for flaked rye? Flaked wheat, flaked oats, or simply go all out with 20% rye malt?

    1. I'd go with the straight Rye malt; that's what I used in this recipe, as I don't believe the original called for flaked at all. I'm sure either would suffice.

  5. Thanks! And, of course, love this blog!

  6. pamelamyers775@yahoo.com12 April 2016 at 23:33

    Anyway you would put some time into making a clone of Alpine McIllhenney Irish Red? It has 11 malts and I am in Nevada - they don't distribute up here or anywhere near me.

    Thank you!!!

    1. Hi, thanks for the request! I doubt I'll ever get anything out of Pat again, and 11 malts is a heck of a lot to try and guess around, so I probably won't be cloning that one. Sorry!

  7. This is an awesome recipe. I live near Chicago, Illinois an never had a Alpine Brewing Nelson Rye IPA before. I love Nelson hops and Rye IPAs I have had I have enjoyed (Great Lakes Brewing Rye of the Tiger and others) . So after surfing the internet for Ideas I found this recipe and tried it out. Bumped it up to double IPA OG and Hoping rates but same grist. It turned out awesome. First few weeks out of the keg the rye and/or southern cross hops were a little strong but week four through the end of the keg it was spectacular. Thanks for the great recipe I will brew it again and again. Probably once a year the short time Nelson hops are available. Hallertau Blanc is a close subititue for Nelson but not as bright.