What are Noble Hops?
You may have heard the term “noble hops” floated around in a conversation about beer or brewing. While it may sound a bit pretentious to call them “noble”, these hops are considered to be the most sought after aroma hops for making traditional lagers and Belgian ales. While these hops are very low in alpha acids (bitterness) they are quite unique in their flavour and aroma. Some common descriptions include things like floral, herbal, spicy and perfume. These hops are high in the hop oil humulene, which is a fragrance used in the perfume industry. This, along with the low bitterness levels, make for a very unique and delicate bouquet of hop aroma.
These days, noble hops are sometimes referred to as continental hops, as they all originate from central Europe. There are 4 varities that encompass the noble hop category, Hallertau, Tettnang, Spalt and Saaz.
Hallertau (Hallertauer Mittelfruh) – The original Hallertau hop, Mittelfruh is grown in the Hallertau region of Bavaria. There are a few different varieties of Hallertauer hops that have been developed lately to withstand the verticillum infection that plagued the original which has pretty much been phased out of production. Used in German and American lagers.
Saaz – Named after the city of Zatek in the Czech Republic and famously associated with Czech Lagers such as Pilsner Urquell and Budvar.
Spalt (Spalter) – Grown in the Spalter region of Germany south of Neuremberg. Spalt is not as widely grown as the other noble hops. It is used in traditional German Lagers.
Tettnanger (Tettnang) – Grown in the Baden-Wirttembuerg region Germany and similar to Saaz. Used in many Belgian and French Ales as well as Pilsners and Wheat beers.
Hops are much like grapes in that they are dependant on the soil and climate in which they are grown. In the wine industry, they refer to this factor as “terroir”. For this reason, these four hops are only considered to be categorized as “noble” when they are grown in the region specific to the variety. A Saaz hop grown outside the Czech Republic might not have the “noble” hop qualities of ones grown in the town of Zatek.
There are other hops that have some of the same characteristics of the 4 noble hops and these include EKG (East Kent Goldings), Fuggles and Styrian Goldings. We spoke to John from upcoming specialty beer Bottle-shop Bucket Boys who recently returned from a research trip to the USA stated, “Variants like Willamette & Liberty have been steadily in use as replacements for noble hops in the US”.
Now that you have a better understanding of what Noble hops are. You can mix it with the best of them with your beer banter. You will be surprised how much these names will pop up when chatting with other beer drinkers or even when you read the labels of what you’re drinking. Keep an eye out for future posts where we breakdown some more beer terminology for you to add to your beer vocabulary.