What Are Noble Hops? The Brewer’s Finest Crop

The world’s finest beers are brewed using noble hops. From pristine German lagers to assertive Belgian ales, these European hops bring elegant nuance. Noble hops are a cornerstone of traditional brewing and have cemented their place at the pinnacle of fine brewing hops.

What Are Noble Hops?

Noble hops are a group of traditional European hops used in brewing. The term “noble” has no official definition or legal meaning. It’s mainly used as a marketing term by hop brokers, farmers, and brewers to point to German and Czech hops of the highest quality. There are four varieties of noble hops: Saaz, Spalt, Tettnanger, and Hallertau Mittelfrüh. Noble hops are mainly used in European lagers and Belgian ales for bittering, flavor, and aroma. They’re characterized by herbal and floral aromatics, smooth bitterness, and delicate spiciness.

Compared to New World hops, like citrusy American or juicy Australian cultivars, Noble hops are subdued in flavor and aroma. They lean towards a grassy, herbal, and very gentle profile.

The four noble hops varieties are all traditional brewing hops, with long and storied histories. These special hops have been used in some of the world’s finest, and most important, beers for centuries.

Despite their long-time use, the term “Noble Hop” has only been around since 1970. There’s nothing royal or aristocratic about the hops, the term is simply used to denote high quality and to set the hops apart from the rest. Noble hops have long been heralded by brewers for the exceptional and consistent quality.

Noble Hop Varieties

There are only four varieties of noble hops. Each noble hop variety has a relatively low Alpha acid percentage, which is the component of hops that provides bitterness to beer. For noble hops, it’s usually between 3 to 5.5%. These varieties have similar chemical constitutions, but their flavor and usage differ slightly. That’s because each hop originates in a different geographical region, providing the hop with a sense of terroir.

Saaz

Probably the most notable of the noble hop family, Saaz is unique because it’s the only non-German grown noble hop. Originating in the Czech Republic, from a town named Žatec, Saaz has a very soft character but with a distinctive and elegant floral aroma.

Pilsner Urquell, that quintessential Czech Pilsner, is hopped entirely with Saaz. The spicy and herbaceous quality, soft bitterness, and clean floral finish highlights the unique character of the Saaz hop.

Profile: Spicy, floral, mild sweetness

Spalt

Coming from Bavaria, Spalt – sometimes called Spalter – is a mainstay in classic German Helles and Pilsners. It’s quite similar to Saaz, but with a more pronounced aroma quality, making it a great choice for late boil additions and dry hopping.

Spalt is a very old hop variety – dating back to the 8th century. This classic appeal has not been lost on modern brewers, as it’s still one of the world’s most popular varieties.

Profile: Spicy, floral, woody

Tettnanger

Grown in the region around Tettnang Germany, near the country’s southern border, Tettnanger hops are quite similar in use to Saaz. Spicy and earthy, with a mild floral touch, Tettnanger is a favorite in Pilsners and Helles. It can also provide great herbaceous balance in Belgian ales, like Tripels and Saisons.

The slight earthy grassiness brings a refreshing interplay with fresh malt and yeast character.

Profile: Mildly floral, spicy, earthy

Hallertauer Mittelfrüh

A favorite of many lager brewers around the world, Hallertau Mittelfrüh has a robust spiciness and a complex blend of earthiness and citrus. Often called just Hallertau, this hop hails from Germany’s largest hop growing region of the same name.

Hallertauer Mittelfrüh contributes the perfect mix of grassiness, fruit, and floral characteristics. In fact, it’s often used as a single hop. Paired with some other noble varieties, brewers have plenty of flexibility to create unique beers across a range of styles.

Profile: Earthy, herbal, light citrus fruit, spice

Not Quite Noble

For some hop growers, brewers, and beer historians, Hersbrucker Spät and Strisselspalt hops are considered noble hops. Generally speaking, however, these varieties are known for their fine qualities, but fall outside of the noble family.

With very similar characteristics to the four noble varieties, Hersbrucker Spät and Strisselspalt are great hops. They’re especially suitable for lagers as well as Belgian and French ales.

How To Use Noble Hops

Noble hops can be used during every stage of the brewing process. From bittering, to late boil additions, to dry hopping, noble hops can add bright herbaceous, grassy, and floral aromatics.

The following beer styles are all suitable to bitter and flavor with noble hops:

  • German and Czech Lagers: Pilsner, Helles, Bock
  • German Ales: Kolsch, Altbier, Hefeweizen
  • Belgian Ales: Abbey Ales, Belgian Pale Ale, Tripel, Saison
  • American Wheat Beer and Blonde Ale

As noted, noble hops only have alpha acid concentrations of between 3 and 5.5%. For that reason, many brewers choose to bitter their beers with higher alpha acid hops, like Magnum. On the other hand, bittering with noble hops can have added benefits like a rounder bitterness and improved foam retention.

How To Substitute Noble Hops For Homebrewing

Noble hops have a mystic and regalness about them. Grown to high standards and very consistent between crop years, noble hops are certainly some of the finest in the world. Because of their popularity, they can sometimes be hard to come by.

Substituting noble hops is possible with hops of similar characteristics, whether they’re American, European, or from the Southern Hemisphere.

If you’re unsure about the quality and age of noble hops that you have in stock, it might be wise to brew with a fresh and well-stored substitute.

Here’s our substitution chart. Always verify the alpha acids of the hops you’re substituting and make the proper quantity adjustments to hit the desired IBU (bitterness).

Noble Hop Name Substitution
Saaz Sladek, Tettnanger, Lublin, Sterling
Spalt Saaz, Tettnanger, Strisselspalt
Tettnanger Saaz, Fuggles
Hallertauer Mt Hood, Liberty

Final Thoughts

Noble hops provide clean and soft bitterness, herbal and floral aromatics, and a delicate flavor profile to beer. Used mainly in European styles like German or Czech Pilsner, Belgian ales, and wheat beer, noble hops are renowned for their quality.

If you want to brew the most accurate interpretations of traditional European styles, get yourself some noble hops. You’ll love the beautiful and unique subtleties of the four noble varieties. They will each offer their own delicate, nuanced, and delicious element to your beer.

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