The wedding was mid-day, held outside, the sun was blaring, and I had a long drive home ahead of me. While those staying locally enjoyed round after round of craft lager and IPA, I sipped my Victory Pils before switching over to review the thoughtful non-alcoholic options available to guests. Among the sodas and sparkling seltzers, one option caught my eye and captured my attention for the next few hours: Lagunitas’ Hoppy Refresher.
Chart’s LN2 dosers support container pressurization and TPO reduction, and Earthly Labs’, SES’ and Howden’s carbon capture and compressor solutions enable breweries to capture CO2 emissions during fermentation process, boilers, or anaerobic digesters and reuse it onsite. ChartWater™ utilizes high recovery and low-energy water and wastewater treatment technologies, including the optimization of water reuse for sustainable, market-leading solutions.
First released in 2019, Hoppy Refresher is zero calories and alcohol, sparkles on the tongue, and leaves notes of citrus and earthy hop flavor in the middle and through to the finish. It’s hopped with Citra, Equinox, and Centennial hops, as well as some brewer’s yeast, which the company says helps in biotransformation. “Yeast biotransforms the existing hop terpenes into more desirable terpenes,” Lagunitas’s brewmaster Jeremy Marshall wrote on the company’s website. “You need yeast to liberate the hop flavors, and that’s the most important thing that we know from making IPAs, and we leveraged it in making Hoppy Refresher.”
“It pulls on those bright fruity aspects and has the beer component but it’s definitely not beer,” Marshall said in a supporting video for the brand. “I call it the utilitarian tri-fecta. It’s a night extender for when you’re drinking all these 9 percent or 6 percent beers. It’s an alternative to sugary sodas. It’s also a zero calorie mixer that can go well in various cocktails…It fills that ‘Oh, I want to have an IPA, but it’s 9:30 in the morning and I’m out of IPAs’ kind of thing.”
Lagunitas has long worked to extend their reach beyond the beer category, including a non-alcoholic IPA, called IPNA. Since releasing Hoppy Refresher, Lagunitas has extended the brand to include a variety pack with blood orange and berry and lemon versions. In terms of the underlying science, Lagunitas says producing hop water is actually pretty straightforward. “We actually created this product first, almost on a lark,” Bryan Donaldson, Lagunitas’s Brewing Innovation Manager, wrote on the company’s website. “As much as I wish I could tell you all about a complex process of infusing hop flavor into water, the reality is much simpler. We take a giant tank of water and add hops and yeast, letting them hang out together for a few days, then we cool the tank down, separate out the hops and yeast, carbonate and put into bottles. We use a different yeast source than our normal beers, so we have a zero alcohol, zero calorie, zero carbohydrate, extra-low gluten, beverage with all the flavor of a highly hopped beer and none of the guilt.”
Consistent with the company’s long-standing connection with marijuana culture, Lagunitas also produces a line of sparkling waters infused with THC and CBD that are for sale in California and Colorado.
Hop Water is carbonated water that is infused with hop flavor and character. Unlike NA beer, which uses grain to achieve its flavor and body, hop water is grain free and is not brewed in any manner. Some brewers, such as Lagunitas, use some brewer’s yeast to biotransform the hops, but others simply hop and carbonate their ordinary brewing water. Others claim more proprietary techniques in order to fully express the hop character. Brewers can use kilned or pelleted hops or hop extracts. They can also infuse fruit or plant extracts or add other natural flavors.
One of the first hop waters on the market was H2OPS from Paul Tecker. First released in 2014, Tecker, a long time homebrewer, wanted to create a hop related beverage without the effects of alcohol and calories. He focused on aroma hops to create a fruity nose and flavor. “Inspiration came when I was brewing beer one day,” he says on his website. “I had picked all of the hop cones off my back yard hop bines and had quite a few left over. Perhaps it had something to do with the home brew I was drinking, but it seemed like a good idea to not waste the remaining hops. So I made up a sparkling hop water by brewing the hops with water and carbonated it in my kegerator.”
Sierra Nevada’s new Hop Splash, which debuted in 2022, is made with Citra and Amarillo hops, familiar friends to any IPA drinker. Sierra uses the same water as it does in brewing, which is carbon-filtered and pH-adjusted. The brewers then dry-hop the water tank for a short period of time to avoid the addition of bitterness. They then cool the water to allow the hop matter to drop and then spin it in a centrifuge, leaving it totally clear. Sierra also keeps carbonation levels similar to its beers to help connect the beverage experiences.
Market and Future
Since the release of H2OPS, many other competitors have entered the space, from bigger players such as Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada, and HOP WTR, down to small offerings at your local brewpub. At the recent Craft Brewers Conference, several hop suppliers offered hop waters as an alternative way of showcasing their products and to offer a non-alcoholic option for attendees. At the Haas pavilion, brewers and other attendees sampled a new hop water called HopKick, which will be released this summer.
Building on the growth in public interest in sparkling water and non-alcoholic options, hop waters offer both consumers and non-consumers of alcohol a new opportunity for occasion drinking. In contrast to regular unflavored seltzer or sparkling water, hop waters have a direct connection to beer, just without the alcohol or calories. The aromas are familiar, ranging from zesty and sharp to soft and fruity, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re about to tuck into a pint of a nice IPA. The relative novelty of hop water also offers some attraction and less judgment than one might encounter with other NA drinks.
“If you’re a beer drinker and you don’t want to drink a beer for whatever reason, and you want something that scratches the itch a little bit, this does for sure,” Sierra Nevada’s innovation brewer Isaiah Mangold said in a press release for Hop Splash.
Breweries also enjoy the relaxed regulations surrounding sales of hop water. Most offer a direct to consumer sales option and price the hop water largely in line with the price of their beers. Sierra offers a 12-pack of Hop Splash for $22 on its website, which includes shipping to all lower 48 states. HOP WTR charges $37 for its 12 pack.
Whether taking a break between rounds or as a standalone beverage, hop water is an attractive bridge between breweries and consumers seeking an alternative to alcohol. According to NielsenIQ’s Off Premises data in late 2022, hop water took in $5.5 million in sales, up by more than 142-percent in a year. At the same time, sales of craft beer dipped by 7.2-percent. The future of the market looks strong as many older and younger drinkers alike continue to hunt for low or no alcohol options, whether at home, at bars and restaurants, or a wedding on a hot day when you have to drive home.