You probably already know that hops are one of the 4 main ingredients in making beer.
When added to the beer brewing process, they serve as a stability, bittering, aroma, and flavoring agent. They are what give beer its citrus, floral, and fruity flavors and aromas.
As a homebrewer who is building a flavor profile of a new beer recipe, you might have come across “Noble Hops”. The name might sound a bit like royalty, but they really aren’t.
What Are Noble Hops?
Noble hops are actually just a category of hops, usually consisting of 4 main hop varieties which are all grown in Europe.
Noble hops is a marketing term that is commonly used to describe the variety of hops that are relatively low in bitterness, with a high-intensity aroma.
Some of the best beers in the world are brewed using noble hops. From styles such as German and other European Lagers, Pilsner’s, and Dunkel’s are all brewed with Noble Hops.
These European-style beers make for an amazing taste and aroma, and have become an essential component of traditional brewing.
Just like grapes for wine-making have different flavor profiles depending on where they were grown, hops will also have a very different characteristics if they are grown in different regions of the world.
Some beer purists claim that a specific variety of hops can only be called “noble” if it was grown in the country of origin, that is why you will probably be paying more if you want to buy a true Noble Hop.
Noble Hops List
You will find four types of noble hops, all with German names even though some are grown in the Czech Republic with a different name called Žatec.
Brewers consider some of the globe’s finest beers to be brewed using only these four noble hops:
- Hallertau Mittelfrüh
One of the most notable amongst the hop family is Saaz, the only noble hop not grown in Germany. It is unique with a soft character and a delightfully distinctive floral aroma. It originates in a town called Žatec in the Czech Republic.
Elegant beers such as Pilsner Urquell is a Czech Pilsner hopped completely with Saaz. It brings a soft bitter taste, crisp floral finish, spicy quality, and herbaceous characteristics.
Profile: Mild sweetness, floral, and spicy.
This type of hope is commonly called Spalter, grown in Bavaria, Spalt. It is classically used in Pilsners as well as Helles. Its floral, woody and spicy character makes it a preferred variety by many brewers.
It is very similar to Saaz, however, this one brings a stronger aroma. It is ideal for the dry hopping and late boil additions in brewing.
Seen as early as the 8th century, Spalt is one of the oldest varieties of noble hops. Modern brewers still consider it as one of the most popular hops in the world.
Profile: Woody, floral, and spicy.
Also called Tettnanger hops, Tettnang comes from a region surrounding Tettnang. It is very similar to Saaz with a spicy, mildly floral, and earthy quality. It is a preferred variety for brewing Helles and Pilsners. Belgian ales get their herbaceous balance from using Tettnang hops.
Saisons and Tripels are some of the great beers that come from using this variety of hops. Brewers like the refreshing combination of Tettnang’s earthy grassiness that blends with the yeast characteristics and the fresh malt.
Profile: Earthy, spicy, mildly floral.
Hallertau Mittelfrüh is one of the most popular around the globe when it comes to lager-style brewing. It provides a complex combination of citrus, earthiness, and bold spiciness. You will often hear its common name as just Hallertau.
This variety hop comes from one of the largest hop cultivating regions in Germany, which is where the name comes from. Hallertauer Mittelfrüh provides brewers with an ideal combination of fruit, floral, and grassiness characteristics.
It is often utilized as a single hop because of its full character. This is a variety of hops that are used by brewers to create a broad range of unique styles.
Profile: Spicy, light citrus, fruity, herbal, earthy.
What is the Difference Between Noble Hops and Regular Hops?
The main difference between noble hops and regular hops is that noble hops provide a lower alpha acid content. This characteristic makes noble hops ideal for adding to the last five to fifteen minutes of the boil.
In addition to other things, beer gets most of its bitter taste from the hops’ alpha acids.
A lower acid content prevents the brew from becoming too bitter when used as finishing hops to add flavor and aroma. Noble hops have a larger quantity of essential oils, also known as hop oils. These oils play a significant role in the character of the finished product.
Whether noble or regular hops, brewers add them during the boil to enhance flavor, aroma, and bitter taste. They are added to the wort in stages and depending on the effect desired, brewers may add them at different times during the boil. For instance, to create bitterness, hops are added at the beginning of the boil and remain bubbling and steeping for about one hour.
The Best Way To Store Hops and Keep Fresh?
One of the most effective methods for storing hops is to store them in a vacuum-sealed and air-flushed package inside the freezer. Most homebrewers choose this storing method until they are ready to be used on brew day.
Some brewers just keep hops stored in the refrigerator, but this method does not effectively preserve the alpha acids. This can affect the bitter taste of your beer, making the brewing unpredictable. Hops can decrease potency and freshness if not stored properly.
There is an aged variety of hops called Lambics that get better with time, but generally, noble hops are best kept fresh. It’s worth making sure you store noble hops properly to also prevent them from picking up undesired odors inside of your refrigerator.
Storing your noble hops carefully will certainly allow you to brew the tastiest and freshest home beer. It is worth the effort to ensure you always have quality ingredients on hand that provide your brew with the qualities you expect.
Regardless of which storage method you use, it is best to use hops freshand buy them when you know you will be ready to use them.
Where Can I Buy Hops
For those of your that have a green thumb, growing hop vines is certainly an option.
Of course, most of us will want to just simply purchase noble hops from a local homebrew shop or online. Fortunately, online stores make a variety of hops accessible to people all over the world.
Although noble hops may not be easily available in the United States, there are great substitutes that are grown for those of you that want to source locally.
Noble hops give your homebrew an elegant taste and characteristics. These hops have been used for centuries and are noted for creating some of the best traditional-style beers.
As you become better at creating your unique beer style and recipe, you will find all four types of noble hops to provide your brew with a distinct flavor and aroma.
One of the most amazing parts of being a homebrewer is experimenting with different ingredients, including your hop choice. If you want to make a more authentic European style beer, give these noble hops a try on your next brew day.