As an ingredient in beer today that is nearly taken for granted by the general populace, hops hasn’t always had a place in the kettle when it comes to brewing. While beer has been around for nearly 5000 years, hops has been a part of the process for only the last 1000 years or so, and only 500 of that with any seriousness. So in relation to the age of beer, hops is still a relatively recent development (if 500 years ago can be deemed as “recent”).
But it’s not as if there wasn’t precedent for adding hops to beer. Back in the days, it was quite common for brewers and farmers to add all sorts of things to their beer, including plants that could either add flavor or further alter one’s state of mind. It was probably in this pursuit that someone, somewhere (likely in Germany) added a bit of hops to the brew. This occurred roughly in the late eleventh century (Wikipedia says 1079). British brewing traditions took a little longer to let hops into their lives, waiting until the early 16th century before accepting hops as part of their beer tradition.
One could easily categorize hops into two different types – those that primarily add flavor, and those that primarily add aroma. However, hops do bring a little more than taste and bouquet. For one, hops is a preservative, and adds to the shelf life of beer. As anyone with a basic understanding of markets can tell you, an extended shelf life means extended value.
Hops also allow yeasts to work more efficiently in the wort, although the mechanics of this were unlikely unknown until the past century or so. Back five hundred years ago, the brewers probably found that the hops made the beer have a little more alcoholic kick to them.
What it seems is that with all of the benefits that hops brings to beer, that this relative to marijuana was put on this earth specifically for the brew. It’s as close to a perfect match that one finds in this world.