Hop water has been a topic of conversation lately amongst breweries and drinkers, but this hasn’t always been the case. It’s been a long road for the hopped seltzer being made at breweries, having first burst on the national scene about five years ago with the production of Lagunitas’ Hoppy Refresher, a sparkling non-alcoholic seltzer infused with hops sold in clear glass bottles reminiscent of old time soda. Now, many breweries have it as an option in their tasting rooms while others are packaging it for wide distribution.
Why has hop water taken off, and what is its future in the pantheon of beer? The beverage is relatively easy to produce, has a semi-quick turnaround time and is an easy entry for breweries into the ever-growing non-alcoholic drink space. With America’s love of non-alcoholic seltzers like La Croix at an all-time high, hop water allows breweries to create a new brand easily and welcome in new drinkers of all ages.
How is Hop Water Made?
It’s exciting to see how breweries large and small are making this drink in so many different ways, showcasing that even though there are only three to four ingredients, breweries have the means to adapt their systems (or add new technology) to make this product.
Austin Beerworks in Texas passes its brewing liquor through a UV sanitation filter first before creating the product.
“Hops and citric acid are added as a stabilizer as well as a flavor enhancer. It’s then assessed for quality and packaged,” says Will Golden, the brewery’s co-founder.
Call to Arms Brewing Co. in Denver makes a hop water called Essence of Wetness that uses acidified water (citric acid again) and then it boils the water for sterilization purposes before adding it to the fermenter.
“We add hops directly to the tank before we transfer to accentuate the aromatic aspect of the hops and not add any bitterness to the product,” says Fred Rizzo, the brewery’s production manager. “We bubble the water and hops over three days and then crash the tank to conditioning temperatures for about five days. Currently we’re using 0.5/bbl of dry hops which is plenty to add the aroma we’re targeting while keeping it light and refreshing.”
Revolution Brewing in Chicago uses a charcoal filter for its water before making Super Zero, a hop water that was introduced into wide distribution in early September.
“For producing hop water we then divert the filtered water to our brew kettle where we boil for 10 min as a kill step,” writes Chief Strategy Officer Doug Veliky. “We also want to drive out dissolved oxygen and adjust the pH of the water down to our desired target with food grade granulated citric acid. The hop dosing (lbs/barrel) is nearly that of our American IPAs. As far as hop dosing, we dry hop Super-Zero at approximately the same rate as our best-selling IPA, Anti-Hero.”
Although hop water has a quick turnaround time for the initial product, around eight days in the fermenter, the cost of making hop water is not cheap because the cost of hops fluctuates and many popular hops like Citra command a premium. Some brewers also take additional steps to make sure it is fit for consumption.
“We decided to go all out with our hop selection which brought the cost up to rivaling our premium lager, kölsch, and golden beer recipes despite not using malt,” says Veliky. “We could get that cost to be significantly less if we used more affordable, classic varieties and/or less of them, but we wanted Super-Zero to be impactful to a fan of pales ales and IPAs with a more modern flavor.”
For Call to Arms, timing is also a factor. Whereas beer can be shipped straight out the door once it is finished the brewery stores the cans warm for two weeks and then ships it out to a third party lab to confirm the product has not been infected by any pathogens.” Revolution Brewing obtained a certification from a process authority who confirmed that they have the proper training, testing, verification and qualified staff to ensure their product is pathogen free.
Sales of Non-Alcoholic Beverages Are Rising
Sales of hop water have been surging. According to NielsenIQ, hop water has grown 173% over the last 13 weeks through July 15, 2023. Non-alcoholic beverage sales have skyrocketed as a whole in recent years with the rise of non-alcoholic craft beers. One of the leaders in this space is Athletic Brewing Co. in Milford, Connecticut. Athletic introduced its DayPack hop water as a brand extension in 2021 and it has been a brisk seller for them, says founder Bill Shufelt.
“It was a fun pilot trial for our brewing team, which our internal team really enjoyed,” says Shufelt. “Then visitors to our tap room started to ask for it. So we ran a little e-commerce pilot and it was a hit, so we released it to the world.”
DayPack is now sold nationwide in chains like Total Wine and comes in a variety of fruit flavors.
Port City Brewing Co. in Alexandria, Virginia started brewing Hopwell as an non-alcoholic option in the tasting room because it was something the staff at the brewery wanted to drink themselves.
“We decided to make hop water instead of brewing an NA beer because our team at the brewery drink hop waters and they do not drink NA beers,” says Port City Founder Bill Butcher. Now their Hopwell hop water is canned and sold around the DC metro area. Port City sells 12-ounce cans of Hopwell in its tasting room for $3.
“We see that we are selling more and more every month, and we are very pleased with that strong growth,” says Butcher.
Why Hop Water is Good For Beer
Adding hop water is an easy brand extension for most breweries, whether they are smaller like Call to Arms or larger like Athletic. Non-alcoholic brand choices are increasing, and breweries can diversify their offerings without incurring expensive supply costs.
Hop water is what Shufelt calls a “daytime” beverage, whereas beer in America is seen as more of an after work or night time beverage. Getting into that daytime (hence the name DayPack) space is a great way to see your products used throughout the day instead of only with dinner or at parties.
“It’s meant to be an exciting change-of-pace hydration beverage for other dayparts than adult beverages, typically nighttime,” says Shufelt. “It’s an exciting, go-anywhere all day beverage. But its primary purpose is hydration.”
Americans’ obsession with hydration bleeds into the sparkling water category. Being in a tasting room and drinking beers, a switch to a glass of water is a very healthy and mindful way to watch your drinking habits. Enter the hop water, which breweries can sell to keep their customers hydrated while also giving people who are not drinking or of age something to purchase. More non-alcoholic options means more people feel welcome.
Austin Beerworks also mentions that hop water is a great addition to cocktails instead of adding club soda or regular seltzer, further extending a brewery’s range into “nighttime” beverages. Lagunitas has a free cocktail booklet on its website to show you how the brewery’s Hoppy Refresher can be used in drinks.
Hop Water’s Tasty Future
Obviously we can’t see into beer’s future (if we could I would have started making hazy IPAs in 2011) so we don’t know where hop water will be in a few years — but many breweries are trying their hand at it, meaning it has legs for the moment.
“I think its future depends on how many breweries decide to champion these beverages and how high of a priority they make it,” says Revolution’s Veliky. “If more and more breweries continue to place bets and put resources behind it, the category will have years of growth in front of it.”
This article was made possible by Yakima Valley Hops, which believes in a free and independent press. Through its sponsorship of All About Beer, Yakima Valley Hops ensured that the creators behind this content were compensated for their work. Great beer needs great journalism. Supporters like Yakima Valley Hops make that possible. Learn more about how you can help journalism in the beer space and All About Beer here.