Perhaps the most celebrated ingredient in American craft beer is the hop. It’s what gives beer its bitter quality, and it also contributes to flavor and aroma. The hop makes classic American Pale Ales citrusy, floral, or piney.
Many homebrewers have heard the term noble hops. But what are noble hops, and what makes them so noble?
There definition has become somewhat vague and diluted throughout time, but in general, noble hops are traditional European hop varieties. They are generally characterized as having low alpha acids and subtle aromatic qualities. As such, noble hop varieties are most suitable in low IBU beers and traditional European styles, especially lagers. Though there is some debate about exactly which varieties are noble hops, it’s generally agreed that there are four that fit solidly into the category. Here is a the noble hop list along with their basic characteristics:
- Hallertauer - Hallertauer hops are grown in the Hallertau region of Germany, north of Munich. Germany produces a significant portion of the world’s crop and most of these are grown in Hallertau. Hallertauer hops are noted for their floral and spicy flavor and aroma characteristics and are popular in European lagers, especially German Pilsners. (Alpha acids: 3.0-6.0%)
- Tettnanger – Tettnanger hops are grown in Tettnang, Germany (see a trend here?). They are a good aroma hop and noted for their spicy and fruity character. (Alpha acids: 3.5-5.5%)
- Spalt – Also grown in Germany, Spalt hops are known for their complex aromatic qualities with floral and spicy notes, similar to Tettnanger. (Alpha acids: 4.0-7.0%)
- Saaz – Authentic Saaz hops are grown in Czech Bohemia, near the town of Žatec. They have a distinct floral aroma with a slightly spicy flavor and are traditionally used in Pilsners. Pilsner Urquell is a classic example of a Bohemian Pilsner brewed with Saaz hops. (Alpha acids: 3.0-6.0%)
These noble hop varieties are grown in the US, but much like grapes, hops have distinct characteristics based on their local terroir. As a result, those hop varieties grown in the US are not usually considered noble hops.
- English Fuggles – Fuggles is a low alpha acid, earthy hop, typical of traditional English ales. It works fairly well in place of Tettnanger. (Alpha acid: 3.0-5.0%)
- Liberty – Derived from Hallertauer, Liberty is a fruity and floral hop. It’s a possible substitute for both Tettnanger and Hallertauer. (Alpha acids: 3.0-6.0%)
- Mt. Hood – Also a descendant of Hallertauer, this clean and herbal hop is typically grown in Oregon. It’s similar to Hallertauer and Liberty. (Alpha acids: 4.0-6.5%)
- Vanguard – Vanguard is a slightly spicy hop, similar to Saaz and Hallertauer. (Alpha acids: 5.0-7.0%)
- Willamette – Derived from Fuggles, Willamette is also grown in Oregon. It is an earthy and spicy hop and can often be used in place of Tettnanger. (Alpha acids: 4.5-7.0%)
Want to experiment with some different hop varieties?
Homebrew ingredient kits include all the hops required for a 5 gallon batch, but you can also order individual kinds of hops on E.C. Kraus. Simply go to the product Pelletized Hops, then select the type of hop you need.
Ed Kraus is a 3rd generation home brewer/winemaker and has been an owner of E. C. Kraus since 1999. He has been helping individuals make better wine and beer for over 25 years.