Anyone who’s been paying attention to the drinks world over the past several years—and even those who haven’t—is no stranger to the growing behemoth that is the nonalcoholic industry. What might have gone slightly less noticed, however, is the prevalence of hop-infused sparkling waters, which have quietly boomed in the shadow of N/A beer.
Since the category was created in 2014 by brewer Paul Tecker of H2OPS, nearly 30 brands have arrived on the market; some are from existing breweries, like Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada, and others from hop water–focused upstarts. With the explosion of the category has come something of an identity crisis—it’s not quite a beer, not quite a seltzer. Where hop water can really shine, however, is in an arena it was never specifically designed for—as a standout ingredient in spirit-free drinks.
The downside of mixing drinks without alcohol is that there is usually a loss of flavor intensity. Since ethanol is a stronger solvent than water, its ability to hold and transmit flavor is an asset to traditional cocktails, and some level of dilution is required via shaking or stirring to make the drink more palatable. With N/A cocktails—by definition water-based—if you add too much dilution, the drink just tastes watery. With hop water, you can get the dilution you need while adding an additional dimension of flavor. The hop varieties used tend to provide more bright, piney aromatics as opposed to the boldly bitter notes found in many IPAs, making it a more flavorful, but not overbearing alternative to plain soda water.
Here are three recipes that offer relatively simple ways to spruce up a can of hop water and build a flavorful nonalcoholic cocktail. Although all hop waters are a little different, these drinks should work with most nonflavored brands.
Thinking of hop water as an offshoot of beer, it’s an obvious candidate for traditional beer-based cocktails. Poi Dog Chili Peppah Water, made by Philadelphia-based, Hawai‘i-raised chef Kiki Aranita, is a vinegary blend of chile peppers and ginger often used as a condiment in Hawai‘i cuisine. Here, it provides a complex hit of gentle spice, thanks to the ginger and vinegar. The lime wedge garnish serves more than just a visual function, too, as drinkers are encouraged to squeeze it over the drink, adding an additional hit of acidity and citrus aromatics.
The piney and citrusy notes often found in hops mirror those found in grapefruit, so this drink leverages those flavors with a shrub based on a black pepper and grapefruit oleo saccharum. The red bell pepper gives some rich juiciness to balance everything out. This version reconstructs classic tequila spicy-vegetal-fruity notes with bell pepper and black pepper while maintaining the original’s bright, refreshing vibe.
Ever since I developed a tapioca pearl cocktail, I’ve been obsessed with finding ways to incorporate them into cocktails. This drink is a bit of a mashup of traditional milk boba teas and a classic Tom Collins, with the hop water and elderflower providing some of the same botanical elements that a gin might. The light florality is an intriguing counterpart to the dairy and tapioca elements here. If you’d prefer to use an alcoholic elderflower liqueur such as St-Germain, just note that those products bring a bit more acidity to the table in contrast to the nonalcoholic syrups, so the finished drink will read more acidic, too.