Last year, a pilsner style beer brewed with every variety of noble hops competed against an IPA dry hopped with Ahtanum, Simcoe and East Kent Golding hops.
The pilsner won and the response to it was so overwhelming that Boston Beer Co. took the surprising step of replacing their spring seasonal, White Ale, with the newly dubbed "Noble Pils." In my opinion their White Ale was not a particularly authentic version of a Belgian wit, but it was nevertheless a tasty and popular beer. It seems a bit risky to me for a brewer of Boston Beer's size to replace a well-established seasonal.
But I suspect they know what they are doing. Noble Pils is definitely a world class brew, while still being approachable for beer drinkers used to light lagers.
Before delving into the specific characteristics of the beer, we've got to settle a little controversy here. All marketing for Noble Pils states that it uses "all five Noble Hop varieties." Connoisseurs who know their hop history understand that traditionally there are only four noble hops: Hallertauer Mittelfrueh, Tettnang Tettnanger, Spalt Spalter and Czech Saaz. The first part of the name indicates the region where the hop is grown, the second part indicates what variety. For the hops to be noble, they must be grown in the region where the variety originated. For example, Tettnanger hops can be grown in many places other than the Tettnang region of Germany, but if they are grown elsewhere, they lose their "terrior" and cease to be considered noble.
So what's the fifth hop variety in Noble Pils? According to the Boston Beer Co. press release announcing the new beer, Hersbrucker. Understand that the "noble" hop designation is a matter of history and subjective perception; non-noble hops are in no way inferior to noble hops by any objective measure. That said, Hersbrucker hops have never been grouped in with the four traditional noble hops, although they share some of the same aroma characteristics. I'm not really sure why BBC decided to rock the boat and group them with the others.
Hop hoopla aside, Noble Pils is a hop lover's dream among lagers. It's hoppier than many American pale ales I've tasted. The aroma is musky and features some lemon zest. The flavor is brimming with hops, which impart lots of floral notes, spiciness, and even hints of citrus. It has a pleasant grainy malt sweetness providing balance, but this one is obviously supposed to be about the hops.
I think I'd put this with some sushi with a generous helping of wasabi. The hops would be a nice compliment to the wasabi's spicy heat, but the beer is not so intense that it would overwhelm the delicate sushi flavors.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com