Hops are the cone-like flowers of a female climbing vine in the cannabis family which can grow as tall as 18 feet. Hops contain oils, bitter acids, and resins that counterbalance the sweetness of the malted barley, add flavour, provide aroma, and help preserve the beer. Preservation is a key word – the same resins and acids that flavor the beer have been found to delay the inevitable effects of bacterial spoilage, thereby giving beer a longer shelf life.
Beer with strong hop aroma and flavour are said to be “hoppy.” Those who crave bitter beers are characterized as “hopheads.”
Prior to hop usage in beer making, brewers bittered their beer with flowers, leaves, berries, spices, and a host of odd and sometimes unpalatable ingredients, many of which failed miserably. By the 16th century hops became the most widely accepted spice for beer.
IPA or India Pale Ale was originally formulated with the idea of surviving shipping from Great Britain to India. It was aggressively hopped in order to survive shipping from the old country to the chaps in the colonies.