With so many new and experimental hop varieties being utilized these days, it is tough to keep track of all the hop-driven innovation hitting the market.
Of course there are other ways to forge new ideas with countless malt varieties, yeast types, adjunct ingredients and fruits or vegetable — even water choices, since mineral content can have considerable influence over the direction of a beer. But, today, at least in the U.S., it is primarily about the hops.
When it comes to hop-forward beers, your average hophead is well-schooled in the classic “C” hops like Columbus, Chinook, Cascade and Centennial, not to mention Amarillo, Simcoe and others — all hops that have defined the IPA style for the last decade or more with herbal, pine or citrus notes. Mosaic, Citra, and Galaxy are currently some of the hottest strains being used as late-addition aroma hops, as the IPA continues its move away from an emphasis on bitterness and toward fruit-juicy, Pacific-centric tropical flavors.
While many of these hops are possibly very familiar to you, some of the more historic hop varietals known for subtle flavor profiles are slipping into relative obscurity. One such varietal occasionally mentioned, mostly among brewers or found on beer labels, is Noble hops.
Just what are Noble hops you may ask?
According to beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones, it turns out the term “Noble hops” is not a technical designation, but instead a marketing device developed to elevate and distinguish the “Old World” hops of Europe — specifically, German Hallertauer, Tettnanger, Spalter, and Czech Saaz, each having low alpha acid, and high essential oils. Tierney-Jones elaborates that beyond a common delicate, herbal and floral aroma, each is known for having a strong terroir character indicative of a long history of cultivation and adaptation to its land of origin. Prior to the “noble” classification, the aforementioned hops were simply “fine hops,” and today, he notes, such designations are not necessarily an industry consensus.
Even so, for a nice example of a beer showcasing one of the classic Noble hops — Saaz, to be specific — find yourself a Pilsner Urquell, the classic Pilsner and the world’s first in fact. An exceptional Pilsner fairly common in the U.S., word has it that the beer is even better when sipped in its purest, unpasteurized, and most unfiltered form … from a cask in the Czech Republic itself, of course.
This week’s recommendation: Pilsner Urquel, the original Pilsner brewed with Czech Saaz, a Noble hop with herbal, floral notes. 4.4% ABV. Plzen, Czech Republic