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What Makes Nelson Sauvin Hops Special?

The One Hop to Rule Them All
What Makes Nelson Sauvin Hops Special?

In terms of age, New Zealand’s Nelson Sauvin hops shouldn’t even be allowed into bars. Bred from the indigenous Smooth Cone variety, this distinctly aromatic hop has only been around since the year 2000.

Nelson Sauvin is a very polarizing hop – it seems beer drinkers either love it hate it. When thrown in a kettle, it can produce a wide range of stunning flavor and aroma. Hop lovers can be dazzled, but the unsuspecting drinker may find its juicy bouquet overwhelming.

The flavor profile runs from fruity, tropical notes of lychee and mango to fresh crushed gooseberries and spicy black pepper. Many may also recognize a similarity to white wine – in New Zealand, Sauvin is shorthand for Sauvignon Blanc, a winemaking grape.

The wide range of flavors can be tough to manage for brewers, but also allows for different accents according to style. Depending on what the brewer is hoping to express, Nelson can make a powerfully aromatic ale by allowing the tropical aromas to shine, or a subtly bitter lager by expressing the spicy, earthy notes.

Or they can go for a balance of both. Such is the case with Alpine Beer Company, which makes the single-hopped Nelson, one of the most highly sought-after IPAs in the world. In a recent conversation, Alpine Owner and Head Brewer Pat McIlhenney commented on Nelson Sauvin’s low levels of cohumulone, which determine bitterness, and aromatic oils, which provide the majority of hop flavor.

Nelson Sauvin’s aromatic oils are intense, so in Nelson, McIlhenney aims to enhance the earth and spice character and mouthfeel with European Rye, which allows the entire range of the hop to shine without overpowering.

Part of Nelson Sauvin’s charm can be attributed to New Zealand’s unique geography. As an isolated volcanic island in a temperate climate, the soil is extremely fertile and there’s minimal need for pesticides, allowing hops to grow big and tall. If only the same could be said for Hobbits…

Nelson is as powerful as it is versatile. Tastes will vary, but for hop lovers, it may just be The One Hop to Rule Them All.

Header Image: Flickr/Paul Miller (changes made)

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