There are four simple ingredients that are vital to beer: malted barley, yeast, water, and hops. The first three ingredients listed are vital to creating alcohol. Hops are required for beer but not for malt alcohol/liquors. Throughout brewing history, brewers have looked for ways to bitter/flavor their sweet beers. Usually, using plants, roots, herbs, or a combination known as later known as Gruit.
Hop plants are rising vines (more accurately, bines: vines without tendrils). The plant part used in brewing beer is the hop flower; a gentle, pale green, papery cone, full of unpreserved resins. They give a beer tartness when used early in the brewing process, and its aroma when added at the end. As a bonus, hops preserve and prolong the life of beer.
In the hands of American microbrewers, hops have shifted from their position as the supportive actor in the beer ensemble, to the featuring role.
West Coast microbrewers paved the way for creating beers where the character of hops (tart, piney, grassy, floral, or fruity) took center stage. Beer admirers took satisfaction in looking for the brews with higher and higher international bittering units (IBUs); the measure of the concentration of hop compounds in beer.
High-hopped beers are not for everyone. For the hop seekers out there, there is a spectacular array of hop varieties with new ones being developed all the time!
Today, American brewers have increased the hopping levels of their IPAs to such an extent that a new beer style has emerged: so-called double or “imperial” IPA. These popular beers present even more hop power with alcohol volume to match.
There is a new style of beer that fits the descriptors even more than Imperial or Double IPA. That would be the New England/North East Style IPA. It is the definition of a hop showcase, with malts there to help balance the extreme juicy, citrus, tropical fruit notes.