QUESTIONS & PHOTOS BY CHRIS TIESSEN; ANSWERS BY MARVIN DYCK
Have you ever wanted to taste the hoppy goodness of your favourite craft brew without having to experience everything else (the calories, gluten, alcohol – and sometimes even hangover) that comes with it? Then Wellington Brewery’s got what you’re looking for: a refreshing and bubbly hoppy drink that you can enjoy on the beach, at the office, and even while driving in your car. Magic, we know. And strikingly delectable, too. A few weeks back, we asked Welly brewmaster Marvin Dyck to give us the lowdown on the brewery’s marvelous new creation. Here’s what he had to say:
Can you tell us a bit about your new hop water? What’s all the hype about?
For sure. Our sparkling hop waters are meant to be a healthy and refreshing non-alcoholic alternative to beer that anyone can enjoy – anywhere, anytime. They shine a light on the lively citrus and bright pine flavours of locally-grown Ontario hops without adding any ‘natural’ flavours. What’s more, our hop waters have zero calories, zero carbs, and zero percent alcohol. This all adds up to a drink that’s got a smooth mouthfeel balanced by a subtle hoppy bitterness.
Where did you get the idea to start brewing hop water?
At least five years back [at a Canadian Brewing Awards conference], our Marketing Manager, Brad McInerney, asked me why we couldn’t make hop water. I laughed at the idea initially – having already attempted my own versions of ‘hop water’ by steeping hops in water and tasting the result which was, alas, an overly bitter and vegetal product. Not great. Then, a couple years back, we had the opportunity to try Hoppy Refresher from Lagunitas brewery in the US and were blown away with how tasty it was. Fast forward to about a year ago and we started messing around with having carbonated water on tap for staff – sometimes adding various flavours. We tried adding some hops to the carbonated water through a unique brewing process and it was an instant hit. It’s nice because it has just a touch of bitterness which makes it really refreshing.
How is your hop water made?
Our process is a bit more involved than just making carbonated water and then adding hops. We actually brew our hop waters in order to infuse the hops with brewers yeast. The yeast helps with a process called biotransformation, which brings out a variety of flavours from the hops and gives the result a more complex hop flavour profile.
Are there multiple flavours of hop water? Or just one core drink?
We currently have ‘Cascade’ and ‘Chinook’ versions of our sparkling hop water – representing two varieties of hops that are grown around the world. But, as terroir has an influence on hops as a crop, we chose to use cascade and chinook grown right here in Ontario at Hayhoe Hops in Aylmer. We wanted to showcase the distinctive taste of each of these unique Ontario-grown hops. The ‘Cascade’ version is more citrus-forward whereas ‘Chinook’ has berry and piney notes.
Who’s the ideal audience for your hop water?
When we first started brewing our hop water, we made it for ourselves and other staff who were interested – craft beer drinkers looking for a healthy ‘anytime’ alternative. In the beginning, our hop water was entirely in keg format and limited to our tap room. After some time, though, we decided to can some and let staff take a six-pack home to share with people. The feedback we got back was overwhelmingly positive, so we expanded it to a broader audience and have been enjoying the stories of who’s drinking it, and why. Honestly, it’s being enjoyed by everyone from kids to pregnant women to non-beer drinkers to craft beer enthusiasts looking for something different. It really is an ‘anytime, anywhere’ beverage – something you can enjoy with lunch, at work, on the beach, out boating, everywhere. The opportunities are endless. Since we designed it for our limited-space five hectolitre pilot system, we’ve been having trouble keeping it in stock. We now need to figure out a way to scale it up to our production brewhouse and size it to our larger tanks.
And any future plans for this fantastic new drink?
We’ve spent a bunch of time perfecting the two versions we’ve already released, but we’re keen to keep working on new products. As it stands, we have some trials in the works that we’ll be diligently drinking in-house before releasing them to the public. Predictably, we will be playing around with different hops and looking for other ways to enhance the flavours of our hop waters – all the while staying true to all the features that make this drink so spectacular: the subtle notes of hop flavour with no calories, no carbs, and no alcohol.