Do hoppy beers not need to be aged? About how long does it take a hoppy beer to get to its maturation point?
I read the following on the label of a bottle of Pliny the Elder (a double IPA from Russian River in California):
"Respect your elder. Keep Cold. Drink Fresh. Pliny the Elder is a historical figure, don’t make the beer inside this bottle one! Not a barley wine, do not age! Age your cheese, not your Pliny! Respect hops, consume fresh. If you must, sit on eggs, not on Pliny! Do not save for a rainy day! Pliny is for savoring, not for saving! Consume Pliny fresh or not at all! Does not improve with age! Hoppy beers are not meant to be aged! Keep away from heat!"
That bottle was opened a year after it was purchased and it was still a good beer, but it did not have the hoppy zing of fresh Pliny.
Aromatic hop oils are the first to go when you age a hoppy beer: that wonderful aroma of hops will begin to fade after minimal aging. Hop flavor will fade a little slower, but it will fade for sure. The isomerized alpha acids that produce bitterness are not as delicate as the aroma and flavor compounds, but they will also fade with time.
If your beer is all about hop aroma and flavor, then it will hit its peak as soon as it's ready to drink or soon after. Any other beer will benefit from some aging.
I would try the beer as soon as it is carbonated. Younger beer is usually better. However, some of my beers have been a little rough in their youth and have definitely improved after a number of months. Hoppy beers do tend to age better than milder ones. IPA's were originally intended to travel from Britain to India and the extra hops acted as a preservative (they don't taste half bad either).
No, unless you want the bitterness to fade.
The oils and compounds from hops break down over time, resulting in a gradual decline in bitterness and hop flavor. The longer you age a hoppy beer, the less hoppy it's going to become. This is why certain styles such as IPAs are better enjoyed fresher.
Here is a short breakdown of the effects of aging on a few beer styles.