Along with water, yeast and malt, hops have been one of beer’s basic components for hundreds of years. A natural preservative with potent aromatic and bittering qualities, the flowers of this hardy, pine cone-like plant began widely replacing gruit, an herb mixture, in the 1500s. You’d be hard pressed to find a beer made without hops today, with hundreds of available varieties that vary as vastly as the terroirs in which they are grown. Four such aromatic varieties, drawn together by their distinct continental European terroir, are collectively known as “noble hops.” Boasting low alpha acids and high (fragrant) essential oils, they are added at the end of the boil to retain aroma. The result is a floral nose and a spicy, herbal and clean — less bitter — finish.
This delicate, spicy, aromatic hop is the darling of Bavaria’s Spalt region. “Noble” due to its high aroma and low bitterness, it works particularly well in continental European beer styles such as Pilsner, the maltier Bock, Kölsch, and Helles and is the go-to hop
for the dark-malted German Altbier. It also finds its way into some locally produced porters and barley wines.
The noblest of the noble, the undisputed king of German hops has a solid aromatic reputation. Hailing from Bavaria’s Hallertau region — where the world’s first documented hop cultivation took place — this complex, earthy, herbal hop is responsible for the mild
bitterness you’ll often find in refreshing, crisp lagers, particularly Pilsners such as Nova Scotia’s own Propeller Pilsner or classic Euro-lagers such as Beck’s.
From the Žatec region of Bohemia, Czech Republic, this clean, mild, cinnamon-spicy hop is a popular choice for Bohemian pilsners. In fact, it defined the first-ever pilsner — Pilsner Urquell, from its namesake brewery in Pilsen, Czech Republic — in 1842, on which most popular North American lagers were based. Many contemporary North American lagers, such as Creemore Springs, continue to use this classic hop variety.
Cultivated since the mid-19th century in southern Germany’s Tettnager region, this mild, slightly citrusy, aromatic hop is a classic choice to balance malty German pilsners for an effervescent brightness. Used around the world in Belgian-style ales, lagers and Pilsners, it is notably similar to Czech Saaz.