Though humans have been brewing beer for thousands of years, hops only became an ingredient around the year 800 AD. Archaeologists believe that the original fermentation process for beer most likely developed around the same time as cereal agriculture (the cultivation of crops like wheat, rice, barley and maize) about 12,000 years ago. Evidence of ancient beer-making has been found all throughout archaic civilizations including China, Mesopotamia and all over Europe. Before hops, often a blend of bitter herbs and berries called gruit was used to flavor beer. Commercial cultivation of hops began in Northern Germany in the 12th or 13th century, and Germany was already exporting hopped beer by the 13th century. By the 1600s, hops became the primary ingredient in most beer-making across the world, for both their flavor and their natural preservatives that kept beer from spoiling.
Hops grow in the form of a perennial vine, with the flower, or cone, being harvested for brewing. The Cannabaceae family that hops come from also include the genus Cannabis. Although hops can grow in a wide range of conditions, climate can greatly affect the flavor profile and aroma of hops, so some regions are preferable. Germany to this day remains the largest producer and exporter of hops, with the US and China following behind.
Brewers use hops in a variety of forms, including whole-leaf, pellet, and extract. Brewers can also choose when and how to add hops to their beer depending on their desired outcome. With dozens of varieties of hops today, possibilities for beer-making are endless.