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A Simple Guide to European (and English) Hops

A Simple Guide to European (and English) Hops

The superstars of the beer world in the 21st century are hops. Everyone's talking about the “hoppiness” of beers, or the IBU, or what-have-you hop-related feature. In part, this hop-obsession was driven from the rise of IPAs, which consistently brag hop-forward flavors, or flavor profiles dominated by the strands of hops used in the brewing process.

While hops are hard to pin down, as their flavor profiles can range from piney to floral, spiced to fruity depending on the specific strand, they have been a staple of beer since purity laws were established and one of the four ingredients beer is brewed with. 

English and European hops share bit of history, as the English imported their first hops from Europe, predominantly from the areas that are now Germany and the Czech Republic. The English were resistant to the bitterness hops added to beer and brewed many un-hopped beers instead, experimenting with other preservatives.

In fact, the British Hop Association even notes that the infamous British ale was traditionally brewed without hops. It was only until the 17th century that the un-hopped ales actually went out of style in Britain due to how well hops preserved beer (and a little because of how good the European brewers were getting with their hops). By that time, hops had been produced by European farmers for centuries, and English brewers often imported European hops before the English hop farmers caught up.

Due to the slow acceptance of hops by the English, European hops dominated much of the early beer world and that continues to today. European hops are still in high demand and used throughout the beer brewing world. According to Brad Smith of BeerSmith, the staple hops from Europe are known as the noble hops: Tettanger, Saaz, Spalt, and Hallertau. These hops come from Southern Germany (Bavaria), Austria, and the Czech Republic.

The noble hops are likely the most well-known hops to come from Europe, and they form the hop backbone of classic beers we've come to expect from the traditional European brewers and even some brews from here in the States.

Saaz, for example, is the predominant hop strand used in Pislner Urquell, the oldest pilsner from the Czech Republic. Tettanger is often found in Marzens and in nearly all classic German style beers. Spalt is found its way into lagers throughout the world; and Hallertau, funny enough, is the staple hop in Sam Adams Boston Lager

Like the American hops I recently wrote about (check it out here), condensing the entire European and English hop varieties into one blog post is nearly impossible as each strand of hops bring something different to the beer and to the palate. Some hops are used predominantly for aroma, some for flavor, and some just as preservatives. Like their American counterparts, Europe's hops range in flavors from citrus to spiced and earthy to floral.

However, the noble hops, which characterizes much of Europe's hop culture, are generally milder and more spiced. They have a cleaner, simpler taste of distinction that can only come with the dedication and tradition that goes into growing and brewing the oldest, most well-known styles of beer in the world. Europe's hops are no passing phase. As long as people are drinking beer, Tettanger, Saaz, Spalt, and Hallertau will have a place in every beer drinker’s palate.

Stephen Pendergast
Stephen Pendergast

Steve Pendergast is a beer and food enthusiast. After going to school in Albany, he's split his time between drinking beer and writing about it. He's always searching for a new craft beer to try, and loves finding the local brewpub to immerse himself in the unique taste that each town develops. When he's not writing or reading, you can be sure to find him sitting by a campfire with a bottle of Green Blaze in hand or hiking whatever mountains are close at hand.

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