Brewing with Noble Hops: Varieties and Characteristics

The following is an overview of the popular noble hop varieties and their uses in brewing beer. Although they are not as popular with American craft brewers as they are in Europe, noble hops have unique aromas and flavors that can bring balance to certain styles of beer and make them stand out on the palate. This guide will help you learn about noble hops, the varieties available to you, and how to choose which variety to use when brewing beer at home or in your microbrewery.

History of Noble Hops

Noble hops primarily grown in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland are a type of hop that has been cultivated and used traditionally in these regions of the world for hundreds of years; although the term “noble” only recently became used to describe them back in 1970. These hops are prized for their unique characteristics, most notably their strong aroma and flavor.

The term noble comes from the Latin word Nobilis meaning rare or unusual and was attributed to these hops as a result of the high price they were traded for in the late 1800s, even though they were not necessarily grown in noble soil or better than other varieties at the time.

What are Noble Hops?

These days, noble hops are still considered to be one of the most sought-after types of hops by many brewers due to their flavor profile. Noble hops can impart floral, fruity, and spicy flavors that compliment the malt backbone of beer styles like Belgian ales, bocks, and lagers to new just a few.

They are known for their low alpha acid levels, typically ranging between 3 to 5.5% which makes them ideal for adding flavor and aroma to the beer, although they can be used as a bittering hop which would provide for a more rounded bitterness level and head retention, they are usually used in conjunction with a higher alpha acid bittering hop.

Compared to the new age hop varieties from America, New Zealand, and Australia, which are considered to be juicy and passion fruit-like, noble hops have a gentler profile with hints of herbal, grassy, and earthiness.

Varieties of Noble Hops

The four types of noble hops that are often used in brewing are Saaz, Spalt, Tettnanger, and Hallertau Mittelfrüh. All four can provide an excellent base from which to create an aromatic pale ale or lager. All four have a low Alpha acid percentage and are lower on the IBU scale as well as having similar chemical constitutions, however, their flavor and aroma do vary to a certain degree from each other as a result of being cultivated in different regions.

Spalt Hops

Spalt is considered by some to be the most common of the noble hops. It has a spicy, herbaceous flavor, which can be described as floral, lemony, and peppery. Spalt hops are typically used for their aromatic qualities in German-style pilsners and other beers such as Kolschs and Bocks. The bitterness from this hop is also low to moderate so it balances well with maltier beers like Doppelbocks. Spalt hops can also be used in Pale Ales to add a light aroma without much bitterness.

Saaz Hops

Saaz is a noble hop variety that has a spicy, earthy aroma with notes of pine. Saaz hops are typically used in German Pilsners. Saaz hops can be boiled for about 20 minutes, or added for the last 10 minutes of the boil to bring out a more pronounced flavor. It pairs well with other noble varieties like Czech Strisselspalt and Tettnang.

Hallertauer Mittelfrüh Hops

Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hops are a noble hop variety that is traditionally used in German beers. They have a mild, pleasant aroma profile that is spicy, floral, and earthy in character. This hop also has a low to medium alpha acid content which makes them ideal for early or late additions to the boil. You can use Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hops as an aroma hop or bittering hop depending on what you want your beer to taste like.

Tettnanger Hops

Tettnanger is a noble hop variety that has a slightly spicy, earthy flavor. It can be used in the boil, which gives a more subtle taste, or in dry hopping for an intense aroma. Tettnanger hops are typically grown in Germany. They are most often found as a single variety in beers like traditional German Altbier and Dusseldorf Altbier.

What’s the Difference Between Noble Hops and Regular Hops?

There are many types of hops, each with its own characteristics. As such, there is no such distinction as a regular hop. Some hops have higher Alpha acids and are typically used for bittering in beer, while noble hops are often used for flavoring and aroma. That’s not to say that other hops can’t be used for flavor or noble hops can’t be used for aroma.

Every hop brings its own flavor and aroma characteristics to beers. New World hops are what most people consider to be the “hoppy” flavor.

The common ancestor of all known hops is Humulus lupulus. It wasn’t until 1079 A.D. when Benedictine monks in Germany made an herbal drink called gruit (or grut) by mixing various herbs, roots, and spices including the leaves and flowers of the female hop plant Humulus lupulus. Gruit became widely used until it was replaced by hopped malt beers around 1100 A.D.

How to Use Noble Hops in Brewing 
Noble hops on a table next to a pint of beer.
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As you have seen noble hops are a diverse family of hops and in the majority of cases, they are typically used as late hop additions to brews, which allows them to impart delicate aroma characteristics rather than bitter flavors. However, they can be used as an early addition for a reduced bitterness level. Bittering hops like Nugget are typically used in conjunction with noble hops because they complement each other very well.

The noble varieties differ significantly in terms of aroma; for example, some have floral notes while others have spicy or herbal aromas. They can be used in conjunction with each other depending on the brewer’s taste preferences. For instance, you could combine Czech Saaz and Hallertau Mittelfruh if you want a soft citrusy finish. Or, add Saaz and Hallertau Mittelfruh if you want an earthy yet slightly sweet flavor. Be careful not to mix too many different types of noble hops together when brewing because this can result in a disharmonious flavor profile.

Noble hops can also be added with different hop varieties. If you’re looking for a light and fruity flavor, try pairing Hallertau Mittelfruh with Pacific Gem. You can also play around with combinations like Hallertau Mittelfruh/Nugget or Tettnang/Cascade.

Another option when brewing with these traditional noble hops, such as German Hallertau Mittelfruh, is balancing them out by adding English Goldings or English Fuggles.

Another thing to note when brewing certain beers is that each country has its own specific beer styles and ways of using noble hops. For example, Germans prefer Tettnanger over Saaz due to its unique characteristics such as its intense spicy character. Another distinction among countries is how often they will include noble hops in their recipes. In Germany, noble hops typically account for up to 35% of all usage whereas, in Belgium, they can account for up to 50%.

Use these numbers as guidelines when deciding how much you want to put into your recipe. As always, experiment with proportions and find what works best for your taste preferences.

Noble Hops Substitutes

While noble hops are not essential to brewing a great beer, they do provide a number of benefits that other varieties don’t offer. They are also one of the most expensive types of hops available. If you can’t justify the cost or locate them in your area there are some substitutes that will give you a similar flavor. But do keep in mind that there is always a chance that the substitute won’t be as aromatic and flavorful or have the same level of bitterness as those grown in their respective region.

For example, Saaz hops have a similar taste profile to Tettnanger but lack its piney aroma. Fuggle hops are a good substitute for Hallertau Mittelfruh because it has comparable floral characteristics. If you want an American hop substitution for Tettnanger, try Cascade or Chinook hops. Hersbrucker is often used to replace Hallertauer Mittelfruh because it’s slightly less bitter and has comparable flavor characteristics.

The following are some common substitutes for noble hops…

Saaz – Sorachi Ace, Tettnanger, Lublin, Sterling

Spalt – Saaz, Tettnanger, Ultra, Liberty, Tettnang

Tettnanger – Saaz, Fuggles, Tettnang (US), Saaz

Hallertauer Mittelfrüh – Mt Hood, Liberty, Crystal, Hallertau Tradition

How to Store Noble Hops

Noble hops are typically best stored in a cool, dark place. They can be stored for up to one year before the risk of degradation becomes too high. There is no need to seal the bag or container as noble hops are not susceptible to insect activity. For long-term storage, it is best to store noble hops in vacuum-sealed bags or containers. It is recommended that you take note of the date on which you placed them into storage so that you will know how long they have been sitting. If you don’t see any signs of deterioration after six months, there’s a good chance that they will last even longer than that.

Last Call

Noble hops are a type of hop cultivated for their unique flavors and aromas. They can be used as bittering, although are primarily used for flavoring, or aroma in beer. There are many varieties of noble hops, each with different characteristics which make them perfect for different styles of beer. The most common 4 include Hallertau Mittelfrueh, Tettnanger, Saaz, and Spalt. Each variety has its own unique flavor profiles and nuances which is why it is important to know what you want your beer to taste like before picking out the hops.

P.S. If you make your own beer or want to start, be sure to get your gift of Big Robb’s top 5 favorite beer recipes from his brewpub, details are on the side of the blog or at the bottom if you are on your phone. Cheers!

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