What The Hell Is A Noble Hop?

We throw around a lot of hop terminology at American Craft Beer and can lose sight that for some, the mere mention of a noble hop is borderline gibberish… So what are noble hops anyway?

The Hop Basics

Beer is basically made up of four ingredients…malt, water, yeast and hops. And hops only came to the forefront in the 16th century when they replaced herbal mixtures called gruit as the drink’s primary preservative.

But in addition to helping beer last longer, hop oils added aromatic and bittering qualities that were quickly embraced. And over the eons different hop varies evolved, every one of them with its own distinct taste and aromatic characteristics…

Which brings us to the Noble hop …What the hell are they?

Noble Hops (And Nots)

Noble hops actually refers to a family of four specific hop varieties, all grown in Europe.

And although “noble hops” sounds all ancient and regal, the term actually came into common usage in the 1980’s as a marketing reference “meant to set apart, from the world’s hundreds of hop varieties a select few, venerable Continental European {varieties}” according to Craft Beer & Brewing.

More commonly associated with Pilsners and German Lagers, noble hops are renowned for their fragrant floral, spice and herbal notes and centuries old terroir.

Some noble hop varieties are now grown in the US…but some argue that referencing those bittering flowers not grown in continental Europe as noble hops is like calling a sparkling wine that doesn’t come from a very specific region, Champagne.

The Four Noble Hop Varies

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Having been cultivated in specific European locations for hundreds of years, the names of the noble hops themselves are identical to the regions in which they were developed. All four have German names, although Saaz is also grown in the Czech Republic where it is called Žatec.

Hallertau

Grown in the region of Hallertau in Bavaria, Hallertau hops have a strong, spicy flavor and floral undertones and are widely used to make lagers and German-style pilsners.

Hallertau hops are somewhat delicate and susceptible to crop diseases, so brewers stopped using Hallertau in the 1970s and began Hersbrucker hops instead. Later Hallertauer Gold and Hallertauer Tradition variants were developed from the original Hallertau stain that were more disease resistant.

Spalt

Nuremberg’s Spalter region in southeastern Germany, is home to what have become known as Spalt hops.

Slightly spicy and very hoppy, Spalt hops are used in traditional German styles such as Bock beers, Pilsners, and Helles lagers.

Saaz

Defined by its spicy, earthy flavor without being too strong, Saaz hops are grown near the town of Žatec in a region that is now part of the Czech Republic.

Saaz hops are commonly used to make pale lagers (beers like Pilsner Urquell and Budvar), pale ales, and wheat beers.

Tettnang

Named for the town of Tettnang, the Tettnang hop is the most popular of the four noble hop varieties.

Found in Belgian and French ales, bocks, lagers, pilsners, and wheat beers, Tettnang hops have a floral and slightly spicy character similar to Saaz hops.

This noble hop variety is thought by many to have the best flavor and is widely used by brewers around the world

Want more on hops?

A NEWBIES GUIDE TO HOP VARIETIES

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