WTH Is Hop Water & Why Is It So Popular?

what is hop water
What Is Hop Water?Alison Dominguez

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The grocery store checkout line is the ultimate test of willpower. There's a reason why they stock an array of snacks and drinks there—they know you'll buy them.

While I usually try to avoid prolonged eye contact with these displays, I was recently tempted by something called hop water. As a regular consumer of both seltzer and beer, my interest was piqued by the ingredients list: it was simply carbonated water and Saaz hops. Intrigued, I bought a can.

Unlike beer, hop water doesn't contain grains, so it's free of carbs, calories, gluten, and alcohol. It's literally just hops and fizzy water.

While hop water may be newer to your grocery store shelves, it's been around for nearly a decade, thanks to Paul Tucker. For years, the homebrewer was moderating his craft beer consumption with sparkling water. In 2013, he was inspired to brew a hoppy sparkling water using hops he grew in his backyard. The following year he brought his H2OPS drinks to a beer festival, and it quickly sold out. "It was there that the craft brewed sparkling hop water was born," he said.

There are several varieties of hops, each with distinct flavors and aromas. Tucker's H2OPs uses Citra and Mosaic hops, which are citrusy. It's brewed in a brewery using pelletized whole hops, rather than hop extracts or oils.

"Most hop waters are not trying to taste like beer, it's something different yet familiar," said Tucker. "I think it’s the unfermented malt that gives some NA beer a funny cloying off-flavor."

There are now several hop water brands on the market, such as Hop Wtr and Hoplark. Some have even experimented with adding additional ingredients like tea and adaptogens. Large breweries like Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada also brew hop water now.

It isn't just a fad. While sales of craft beer have declined by 7.2 percent between 2021 and 2022, hop water sales have grown by 43.9 percent, making it the fifth-fastest-growing craft style, according to NielsenIQ's Off Premises data.

I prefer to think of hop water as a completely different category than beer, and more like tea. And it's safe to say that as demand for non-alcoholic alternatives continues to grow, hop water's popularity will too.

"At first we were a category of one and were focused on doing as many beer festivals and sampling at retail to educate about what hop water was," said Tucker. "Now the hop water category is the fastest growing beer style in the U.S. and there are many hop water brands to choose from."

Just like any other novelty item I've picked up in the checkout, I wasn't expecting this to be great—at least not worth the few bucks I spent on it. But when I cracked open the can later that day, I was pleasantly shocked. It's crisp, refreshing, and has the subtle flavor and aroma of hops. I've never been a big fan of mocktails or non-alcoholic beers, and unlike those, hop water isn't trying to be something it's not. It's a completely different category.

As a Midwest native, former brewery employee, and a bit of a beer nerd, hop water is, dare I say, fun? Whether you're a beer enthusiast or want to learn more about hops, hop water allows you to experience the plant in a simple, pure way.

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