The term noble hops traditionally refers to four varieties of hop which are low in bitterness and high in aroma. They are the central European cultivars, Hallertau, Tettnanger, Spalt, and Saaz.They are each named for a specific region or city in which they were first grown or primarily grown. They contain high amounts of the hop oil humulene and low amounts of alpha acids cohumulone and adhumulone, as well as lower amounts of the harsher-tasting beta acids lupulone, colupulone, and adlupulone.
Their low relative bitterness but strong aroma are often distinguishing characteristics of European-style lager beer, such as Pilsener, Dunkel, and Oktoberfest/Märzen. In beer, they are considered aroma hops (as opposed to bittering hops); see Pilsner Urquell as a classic example of the Bohemian Pilsener style, which showcases Noble hops.
As with grapes, land where the hops were grown affects the hops' characteristics. Much as Dortmunder beer may only within the EU be labelled "Dortmunder" if it has been brewed in Dortmund, Noble hops may only officially be considered "Noble" if they were grown in the areas for which the hops varieties were named.
Some consider the English varieties Fuggle and East Kent Goldings to be noble. They are characterized through analysis as having an alpha:beta ratio of 1:1, low alpha-acid levels (2–5%) with a low cohumulone content, low myrcene in the hop oil, high humulene in the oil, a ratio of humulene:caryophyllene above three, and poor storability resulting in them being more prone to oxidation. In reality this means that they have a relatively consistent bittering potential as they age, due to beta-acid oxidation, and a flavor that improves as they age during periods of poor storage.
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