HBC 291: Prelude to an American Noble Hop


I am not the world’s number one fan of the fruit-bomb, citrusy hop varieties that have recently been released – I’m a bit of a traditionalist, weaned on “America’s Fine Light Beer®” (before light beers were officially introduced). But don’t get me wrong. I love hops and also appreciate that hops are now more than just a subtle aspect of beer, and I order IPAs more than any other style. What I’ve really fallen in love with is an experimental hop cultivar – unnamed, and soon to be released by HBC (Hop Breeding Company) and available through Haas. It’s currently known as HBC 291.

291_cone_retThose of you who are familiar with the term “noble hop aroma” are aware that it signifies an essence that’s difficult to describe yet it’s unmistakable – most often associated with fine German and Czech hops yielding a delightful combination of notable floral, herbal and spicy notes. The closest I can come to describing the noble effect is comparing it to a fine tobacco that is rich, pleasant – that enlivens the senses but does not overwhelm.

The European hop growers and brewers would be shaking their heads thinking that we would be so bold as to claim a nobility in a hop developed on this side of the pond, but I think if there was ever a candidate, HBC 291 gets my vote. However, this is not your father’s noble hop. HBC 291 has a personality borne from the soil of the Yakima Valley which has produced many of the outrageous U.S. varieties that have recently gained favor in the craft brewing realm. HBC 291 shows some of this impetuousness, but it’s a personality trait that becomes most evident after you’ve taken some time to get to know this hop and a beer produced with it.

No, HBC 291 doesn’t have the distinctive European noble aroma, but instead, a floral, herbal earthy and slightly fruity character that’s distinctive in its own right – and that rightly could be classified as an American noble hop with a bit of an attitude. The beers that our brewer Virgil McDonald has made with HBC 291 here at the Haas Innovations Brewery have become my favorites, and I’m excited about the upcoming commercial release of this new variety. Move over big-time fruity and citrus, here comes something new and different.

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