A few years ago, we speculated: Is Craft Sparkling Water the Next Big Thing? While we can’t say we predicted that trend, we got pretty close; breweries decided to take things further by adding hops to sparkling water. Just hops and water in a can or on draft, hop waters are a seemingly simple non-alcoholic beverage that has quickly made a massive splash in the NA craft category.
For instance, bigger breweries such as Sierra Nevada released their own version—Hop Splash—in early 2022 after almost two years of research and development. And Lagunitas has been a pioneer in the hop water category for the last four years, releasing Hoppy Refresher in 2018.
But over the past few years, craft breweries across the country have ::cough, cough:: dipped their toes into the pretty cool “hop water.”
What Is Hop Water?
It may seem like hop water is just hops, water, and a little bit of carbonation. But hop waters are so much more than that.
“It’s really a pure expression of hops and hop flavors that isn’t masked by anything else,” Sierra Nevada Brand Director Kyle Ingram told us. “You don’t have barley and malt components integral to beer, so for hop heads, hop water is a really cool way to experience that pure hop flavor and different varieties of hops.”
Similarly, Paige Guzman, chief marketing officer at Lagunitas, one of if notthe first brewery to release a hop water back in 2018, points out the ability of hop waters to truly express the flavors of hops. “Hop water is carbonated water infused with the flavoring of hops,” she explains in an email to Hop Culture. “No grains are used in this brew, so it’s 100 percent non-alcoholic with zero carbs, zero calories, and gluten-free.”
All this means that hop waters are poised to make a significant dent in a growing category of beyond-beer and non-alcoholic offerings.
The Recent Growth of Hop Water
Although still a nascent category (the very first hop water from a brand called H2OPS appeared on the market in 2014), hop water has already grown significantly.
Between August 2021 and August 2022, hop waters generated $5.5 million in sales, surging by 142.5% from the year prior, according to NielsonIQ’s Off Premises data.
And here’s a pretty eye-popping stat: The hop water category climbed to the fifth-biggest growing craft-style beverage in the U.S., with sales increasing by just shy of forty-four percent last year, despite craft beer sales as a whole dropping by 7.2% based on Nielsen data through October 2022.
And just to give you an accurate picture of hop water’s popularity, the styles that ranked above hop water included hazy imperial/double/triple IPA in first place, followed by hazy American pale ale, American lager, and hazy IPA.
That’s a significant accomplishment for a drink that doesn’t contain alcohol and isn’t technically considered a non-alcoholic beer.
The Important Difference Between Hop Water and Non-Alcoholic Beer
You might want to group hop water in the same category as non-alcoholic beer. But according to Sierra Nevada, that would be a big mistake.
In fact, although Sierra Nevada has been making non-alcoholic beers for a long time, they’re way more excited about their hop water—Hop Splash.
“The challenge with making non-alcoholic beers is you’re always taking something away,” Sierra Nevada’s VP of Technical Innovation and Brewing Sean Lavery told us. “When you make a beer, and then you run it through some process to strip all the alcohol away, it feels like you’re dumbing everything down. … It’s hard for everyone to get super excited around that.”
Whereas with hop water, you actually get to create a drink that is almost like the purest expression of hops. You can make the best version of a hop water and truly showcase the hops inside the can.
From a consumer perspective, hop waters are a product you can drink all day.
“If you really love hops and want that hoppy experience at any time throughout the day, that is where [hop water] differentiates itself from non-alcoholic beer,” says Ingram. “It opens up new occasions where NA beer doesn’t play … times you are not even necessarily looking for an alcohol replacement, but you’re just craving hop flavor … that is still refreshing.”
In other words, hop water is something you can drink all day—morning, noon, or night.
“The thing that is really cool about Hop Splash is that it’s something you can drink all day,” says Lavery. “I haven’t drank so much water since we made Hop Splash; it’s probably been really good for my health, frankly, because it’s something you can drink all the time.”
Whereas drinking non-alcoholic beer in the morning, although technically acceptable, still has a bit of a social stigma around it. “It’s weird to drink beers outside of a normal beer-drinking occasion,” says Lavery. “The nice thing about Hop Splash is it feels like it can fit in so many other occasions. It’s just a refreshing, sparkling, flavorful beer alternative.”
But Why the Heck Would a Brewery Make a Hop Water?
For a lot of potential reasons.
Non-alcoholic beer isn’t just another beer trend. In 2021, the non-alcoholic beer market in the United States recorded a revenue of nearly 5 billion U.S. dollars, while the non-alcoholic beer industry generated 25.28 billion U.S. dollars in revenue globally, based on a report from Statista.
While the hard seltzer bubble has potentially burst over the last year, RTDs and NA options like hop water are just starting to shine.
“Non-alc continues to see significant growth, and beverage categories continue to blur,” wrote Guzman, noting Lagunitas is very energized by the explosion of the non-alcoholic category. “As we stay innovative with our brews and expand our offerings while staying true to who we are, we’ll stay at the forefront of beverage trends.”
Whether we like it or not, the craft beer category is losing a significant share of drinkers. According to the Brewers Association’s Harris Poll, those more than 2,000 craft consumers surveyed cited drinking other bev-alc products as the main reason for the dip, followed by “opting for a healthier lifestyle” and “cutting back on overall calorie consumption.”
Whether they’re simply sober curious, interested in a healthier lifestyle, want to moderate their drinking, or just love hops but are looking for something to drink any time of the day, these consumers interested in non-alcoholic options shouldn’t be ignored.
That was the thought at Lagunitas. “The driver of all our innovations is that at Lagunitas, we believe there is a ‘seat at our bar for everyone,’” wrote Guzman, who pointed out that Hoppy Refresher has helped Lagunitas broaden its consumer base. “We are IPA, we believe in IPA, and we will always focus on IPA, but we also want to be sure we have a beverage for everyone. … Hoppy Refresher broadens our consumer base, but it also opens up drinking occasions so that there is a craft beverage option between beers when someone wants to moderate or a delicious non-alcoholic version for someone who wants to abstain.”
According to Guzman, Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher shows strong organic growth of +73% vs. YA (Source: ACNielsenFDMC+ Latest 52 weeks ending 6/25/22). “Lagunitas has a huge piece of the pie of the hop water category—we have sixty-seven [percent] share of the hop water style, accounting for over half of the category’s dollar growth, per Nielson,” she wrote, noting that Hoppy Refresher doubled in sales in 2020 and 2021, growing at more than sixty percent.
Hop waters have a high-profit potential because they require less time and labor than traditional beers.
Plus, at the end of the day…
Hop Waters Are All About the Hops
We all know we have an unabashed love affair with hops in this country (and others).
Hop waters such as Hop Splash and Hoppy Refresher prove that hop heads can get their fix anytime without having to pop open a can of beer.
“We’re not alone in our love of hops, and we felt like there was a real market for our product, and we could do it in a way … that was consistent with our values,” says Ingram. “We felt hop water was a great platform for us to experiment and find new ways to express even more hop flavor than we were able to achieve in certain beers.”
At Sierra Nevada, Hop Splash involves just that—hops and water.
But these aren’t just any hops and water.
Lavery says their water, aka brewing liquor, has been adjusted for the pH to “have optimal extraction, flavor, and balance.”
And the hops are a combination of Citra and Amarillo.
Lavery and the brewing team worked for over a year and a half to two years to perfect Hop Splash, trying all different kinds of hop combinations before settling on the two aforementioned.
But you have the entire hop library of types to play with here—Cryo, whole-cone, pellets, and even extracts and oils.
At Sierra Nevada, Lavery says the brewing team tried pretty much everything. “We played with all the different types of the way the hop comes—whole cones, pellets, lupulin, or cryo—we played with all those different hop varieties and methods to see which one generated the flavors we liked the most.”
Eventually, they settled on whole-cone hops mostly because it’s intrinsically Sierra Nevada and because the goal was to “capture that character so we’re not bringing bitterness to the table and letting the hop shine through,” according to Lavery.
Sierra Nevada even went as granular as to identify what they loved from particular hop lots. “It’s critical to check the hop varieties we’re using up front,” says Lavery. “We’re not just going to use this hop and this hop. That one particular lot could be so much more expressive than another lot. … It’s a particular type of character we’re looking for in those lots they’re expressing.”
Lagunitas starts with the same focus on the purest expression of water and hops, showcasing a blend from Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington State along with “our same delicious and fresh brewing water from Russian River in Sonoma County that we use in beer production,” says Jeremy Marshall, brewmaster at Lagunitas.
But Lagunitas does include one more ingredient in their hop water recipe: brewer’s yeast.
“The purpose of the brewer’s yeast is that it snacks on the hops, and it helps liberate aromas from the hop oil,” says Marshall. “The brewer’s yeast has unique enzymes to help develop the nose of Hoppy Refresher.”
What Is the Future of Hop Water?
Basically, the future of hop water is already here, but “the category will continue to grow based on Nielsen tracking and consumer data we track,” wrote Guzman.
So if you’re looking for hard numbers…
As we mentioned, Lagunitas Hoppy Refresher doubled in sales between 2020 and 2021 and grew by more than sixty percent last year.
“Hoppy Refresher reached high velocity with this incredible combination—insights of consumer needs, retailer and distributor white space, matching brand with Lagunitas, and simply the best delicious brew,” wrote Guzman.
Based on the success of the original Hoppy Refresher, Lagunitas released a variety pack that includes the original flavor and two new flavors—Blood Orange and Berry Lemon.
“Hoppy Refresher is our big bet for 2023, and we are bullish that the category will continue to grow,” wrote Guzman. “It fits within our strategy of innovating based on consumer needs and wants, and we’ll continue to track and evolve as consumer taste buds do.”
Sierra Nevada’s Hop Splash has only been in the market for about a year and a half, but the opening signs are positive.
Ingram says whenever he’s in the gift shop, he sees employees and folks walking out with cases of hop water. Or when they host distributor meetings, Hop Splash is the number-one consumer product “because people are cracking one in the morning, cracking one at lunch, as an afternoon pick-me-up, or to moderate in between beers at the end of the night,” he says.
The drinking occasions with hop water are exponential and still unexplored. “We’re just scratching the surface of what this product could be, what it could achieve, and the role it could play in people’s lives,” says Ingram.
One thing is for sure though: Non-alcoholic beer is here to stay. And honestly, NA craft beer, more specifically.
“If we look at the total NA category, NA craft is driving the majority of growth there, and that doesn’t show a lot of signs of slowing down any time soon,” says Ingram. “Just knowing that IPA is the dominant category within craft, obviously there are a lot of people out there who like hops and probably like to have more hops across different product verticals, different times of the day, etc. The future is bright not just for NA, but for hop water specifically.”
Hop Culture’s 10 Favorite Hop Waters to Try Right Now
Hoppy Refresher – Lagunitas Brewing Company
One of the OG hop waters, Lagunitas, adds a touch of brewer’s yeast to its base of hops (a blend from Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington State) and water (local from the Russian River) for a version that we found a bit pleasantly sweeter than others we tried. Although we’ve only had a chance to try the original, Lagunitas released two new flavors this year—Blood Orange and Berry Lemon. We can imagine a touch of tropical citrus, like blood orange, would make this refreshing hop water even more refreshing.
Hop Splash – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
If you asked us, “Hey, Hop Culture, I’m totally new to hop water, so what is the prime example to try?” we’d point you to Sierra Nevada’s Hop Splash. Just a pure expression of Citra and Amarillo hops in a zesty carbonated can, Hop Splash is the hop water we want to reach for any time of the day and anywhere.
Just The Hops – Cerebral Brewing
One of the newest hop waters to drop, Just the Hops from Cerebral Brewing aims to let the hops shine. With just sparkling water and, for the first version, the same hop bill as the brewery’s flagship IPA Rare Trait—Citra, Mosaic, and El Dorado—Just The Hops does just that!
Cerebral recommends drinking Just The Hops as a hydrating beverage between beers, when you’re looking for a non-alcoholic alternative, or just because you want some hop flavor without the alcohol. Whatever the reason, if we know Cerebral at all, this hop water will pack a serious punch.
DayPack Sparkling Water – Athletic Brewing Co.
Makes sense that one of the world’s most successful non-alcoholic breweries would make slammin’ hop water. DayPack comes in four core flavors—Blood Orange, Mango, Black Cherry, and Lemon Lime—plus a seasonal—Strawberry Watermelon. Although we’re suckers for just water and hops, Athletic’s fruity take gives a nice spin to the typical.
Hop Water – Citra & Galaxy – Fair State Brewing Cooperative
On a recent stop at Fair State’s taproom in Northeast Minneapolis, we spotted a couple of hop water options on their menu. This version stood out for its combination of Citra and Galaxy hops, the latter known for its uber-tropical, juicy qualities. We’ve drooled over many a beer with Galaxy, and we’re happy to say the water carries through those guava, papaya, and passion fruit notes. Also, find Fair State’s hop waters with hop combinations such as Citra and Centennial and Citra and Mosaic.
Hop Water – Fulton Beer
About a ten-minute drive Southwest of Fair State, in Fulton Beer’s taproom you’ll find this iconic Minnesota brewery’s own version of hop water. Aptly named Fulton Hop Water, this can is full of “hops, water, bubbles. ‘Nuff said,” according to Fulton’s website. Although found exclusively in Fulton’s taproom, you can expect this hop water to be delicious and refreshing sans alcohol, carbs, and sugar!
Hop Water – Noon Whistle Brewing
Another hop water you’ll find as only a taproom exclusive, Noon Whistle’s Hop Water packs “fruit-forward citrus flavors and combines them with some of the finest filtered water we can find,” according to Noon Whistle. “Add some bubbles, and voila! Magical elixir unlocked!”
Sparkling Hop Water – Métier Brewing Company
Seattle-based Métier Brewing dubbs its hop water a “refreshing zero proof brew.” Offered on tap at the Woodinville location and in a slightly smaller 8oz can, Sparkling Hop Water drinks as “crisp, citrusy, piney … infused with hoppy aromas and a burst of energizing juniper, its smokey earthiness is perfectly balanced by a citrusy finish,” according to Métier Brewing.
Sounds like a new favorite to add to the list!
Hopped Water – Forgotten Boardwalk Brewery
Cherry Hill, NJ
From the Queer-, women-led brand Forgotten Boardwalk in Cherry Hill, NJ, Hopped Water is described as a non-alcoholic IPA alternative. Infused with one hundred percent real Sultana hops, Hopped Water aims to give all the taste we love from an American IPA without any of the ABV, carbs, calories, or sugar.
Forgotten Boardwalk Founder and CEO Jamie Queli developed Hopped Water as something she could drink while biking, hiking, or kayaking. “I wanted all of the celebratory summit bubbles following these adventures, but sometimes I wasn’t in the mood for the ABV that came with it,” Queli said in a press release. “This is just another option for folks that want more choices in their NA selection. This is a classic story of merging two great loves: beer and NA seltzer.”
Perhaps Forgotten Boardwalk describes its Hopped Water best: “All Bite & No Booze.”
Holy Hop Water Sabro Infused Sparkling Hop Water – Northern Monk
Leeds, West Yorkshire, England
Proving hop waters are becoming a global trend—Northern Monk in England makes its Holy Hop Water infused with Sabro hops, and that’s it. Holy Hop Water showcases the sweet fruit and citrus characteristics of this hop beautifully.
Los Angeles, CA
An entire brand dedicated to hop water, HOP WTR goes beyond just hops and water, adding a proprietary blend of stress-busting hops, adaptogens, and nootropics. Each of the five flavors—Classic, Mango, Blood Orange, Lime, and Peach—tingle on the tongue and lift your mood. The brand sent us a package this year, and each version we tried gave us a little zip of energy. Consider this hop water like an afternoon pick-me-up. As the brand likes to say, “these hops hit different.”