Director of Brewing Operations Paul Upham at Bissell Brothers Brewing Company. Upham developed the hop water recipe that would become Bissell Bubbles. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

About five years ago, Cushnoc Brewing Co. of Augusta decided to get into the hop water game.

For the uninitiated (which includes many of us at this early stage), hop water is essentially nonalcoholic seltzer water flavored with hops, a key ingredient in beer brewing. The product came on the national beverage market about 10 years ago, and has since built a small but growing fanbase, thanks in part to major brewing company products like Lagunitas Hopped Seltzer.

“I feel like we made it because we wanted to drink it, and then we realized that the market was coming around to the product as well,” said Cushnoc co-owner Tobias Parkhurst, noting that the brewery first offered their Cushnoc Hopped Seltzer on tap in late summer of 2019.

Cuchnoc’s Hopped Seltzer, which the Augusta brewing company started canning last year. Photo by Todd Dionne

The market is indeed coming around, as several other Maine breweries have recently developed their own hop waters. Bissell Brothers in Portland launched its canned Bissell Bubbles in January, and last year, Orono Brewing Company introduced three styles of canned hop water, which will also be on shelves at some Hannaford locations this spring. Side By Each Brewing will start offering its hop water on tap this month in Auburn, while Portland’s Allagash Brewing Company plans to unveil its own product this summer, featuring citrus and spice flavors similar to Allagash White.

Late last year, Cushnoc started canning its Hopped Seltzer for retail sale. “We were like, ‘We’ve been doing this as long or longer than anyone else in Maine – we probably should not be the last people to put it in a can,'” Parkhurst said.

It may be too soon to call it a trend, as nationwide sales of hop water pulled in just $5.5 million in 2022, according to data from NielsenIQ, a large database of consumer behavior. Still, it’s fair to say hop water is trending upward, since those sales represent a 143 percent increase from 2020, when just three major brands (including Lagunitas) accounted for 50,000 cases sold in retail chains. In 2022, NielsenIQ listed hop water as the fifth largest-growing craft beverage style in the country.


“People have really started responding to it,” Parkhurst said. “I don’t see it taking over or (Cushnoc) dedicating a tank to it. I can’t imagine a reality where this becomes even 5 percent of our sales. But certainly it’s become a product that (beverage) stores see value in allocating shelf space to.”


The product in general ticks a lot of boxes for today’s health-conscious consumers: Hop water has zero alcohol, calories or carbs. It’s both sugar- and gluten-free.

David Gross knocked back a can a day of Orono Hop Water during the University of Maine football season. Photo courtesy of David Gross

Like hard seltzer, low-calorie craft brew and nonalcoholic beer, hop water provides another option for the growing segment of the population craving lower-alcohol beverage alternatives, including a large portion of Millennial and Gen Z consumers. According to a Gallup survey in 2023, fewer than four in 10 adults age 18-34 reported having even one alcoholic beverage in the seven days before their poll.

David Gross, a former University of Maine athlete sponsored last year by Orono, said he drank hop water daily during the football season. “I’d bring it to my meetings. Half the time, my coach would be thinking I was drinking a beer.”

His peers soon developed a taste for it themselves. “A couple of my buddies tried it, and they were like, ‘Damn, I don’t even like seltzer water, but this is good,'” Gross said. “It doesn’t have a bitter aftertaste like seltzer water gives some people.”


“Like a lot of breweries, we’re seeing fewer younger customers, especially that Gen Z cohort,” said Ben Low, owner and brewmaster at Side By Each, who decided in January to develop a hop water. “Dry January has really taken off, and it is not good at all for a business built around alcoholic beverages. We were thinking about ways to give people a reason to come in the door.”

Yet some brewers said they see demand for hop water across the generations. Of Orono’s 28 hopped beverages (including beers with alcohol), hop water is among the top five sellers. “We see all ages enjoying it,” said Orono co-owner Abe Furth.

“(Hop water) is a product that gives you the sensation of treating yourself with a beverage with robust flavor, without calories or intoxication,” Parkhurst said. “You can participate in ‘having a beer’ without having a beer.”

Other brew professionals said they’re noticing a change in drinking habits outside of taprooms.

“People I know drink less at home than they used to five or 10 years ago,” said Noah Bissell, head of production at Bissell Brothers. “I’m certainly in that trend. And beer drinkers tend to crush standard nonalcoholic seltzer.”

Bissell said Bissell Bubbles has become his go-to, nonalcoholic alternative. “I continue to be surprised by how much I actually consume of it, how much of a staple it’s become,” he said. “I’m drinking a case of this stuff a week, easy.”


Among craft brew industry staffers, beer may be a less frequent drink of choice these days, many Maine brewers noted. “I think brewers by and large have been getting palate fatigue from only drinking beer,” said Bissell’s director of brewing operations, Paul Upham. “A lot of people who work in this industry are looking to quench their thirst with other stuff, and especially having something like this that’s nonalcoholic is pretty incredible.”

Parkhurst said at Cushnoc leadership’s weekly meetings when the company first launched, “We would always have a beer. And at our last weekly meeting, we were all drinking hop water. We joked about how young and cool we used to be just six years ago.”

Brewer Margaret Dever works in the production area at Bissell Brothers Brewing Company. Maine breweries, including Bissell Brothers, have begun producing hop water, a new nonalcoholic seltzer that is becoming more popular. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


Alcohol-free beer sales grew at 23% annually from 2018 to 2022 according to International Wine and Spirits Research, with the premium segment shooting up by 143% in that period. NielsenIQ noted that n/a beer sales jumped 32% from 2022 to 2023 alone.

The growth would suggest that there’s no need for a product like hop water. But the new beverage style differs distinctly from nonalcoholic beer.

“It’s not trying to be beer,” Bissell said. “It is hop-flavored seltzer water.”


Upham said while n/a beer clearly has its place, “it’s still a malt beverage, and it can be very filling and heavy on the palate.” While nonalcoholic beer is conventionally brewed beer with the alcohol removed (a tricky process requiring special equipment), hop water is not brewed, and is made using a more streamlined method, without yeast or grains.

“A product like hop water is a very smart initiative from our brewers to assess what consumers are looking for,” said Maine Brewer’s Guild Executive Director Sarah Bryan. “Hop water makes a lot of sense: It uses ingredients we already have a mastery of (hops and water). Hop waters are relatively quick to make. They don’t require tank space. They’re not fermented. They don’t need sugar.”

From a business perspective, adding hop water to a brewery’s beverage roster seems like a no-brainer. “It gives us the potential to diversify the portfolio with the equipment we already have,” Furth said.

“The biggest cost in producing the stuff is actually the packaging,” Parkhurst noted.

Bissell said a batch of their hop water can be made in a few days, a fraction of the weekslong process of beer brewing, using about a third as much equipment. The method entails boiling water, lowering the temperature to about 150 degrees, adding hops extract, chilling the mixture, and adding carbonation. Citric acid is also added to make the hop water shelf-stable.

“For me as a brewer, when I talk to someone about the process, it’s like, ‘I must be missing something.’ But no, it is that simple,” Bissell said.


Noah Bissell, left, head of production at Bissell Brothers, samples Bissell Bubbles with Paul Upham. Courtesy of Bissell Brothers


Yet while the process is uncomplicated, it can be tricky finding the right flavor balance, requiring plenty of trial and error. “It was very shocking how difficult it was to dial in and hit all these new targets that are so different from beer,” Bissell said.

In the first place, hops (the flowers of the climbing Humulus lupus plant) are an intensely bitter ingredient. Yet they work wonderfully in beer to balance other flavors, including the natural sweetness produced in the brewing process by grains and yeast. In hop water, however, hops are only mixed with seltzer. And the carbon dioxide used to carbonate seltzer forms carbonic acid, which has its own mildly bitter flavor. Yet bitterness isn’t the only flavor note in hops. Depending on the variety, they can also taste grassy, vegetal, fruity or spicy, for instance.

Upham spent about five months last year developing and honing the recipe for Bissell Bubbles. Some batches in the early trials came out cloudy, others had a distinct and lingering bitterness, while some tasted “ambiguously fruity, but not what hops would normally taste like,” he said.

Upham was filling 5-gallon kegs with his experimental batches, ultimately landing on his Goldilocks ratio of less than 1 milliliter of a blend of Citra and Mosaic hops per gallon of seltzer water.

“He did a ton of R&D for this,” Bissell said of Upham. “Thankfully, it was also good proof of concept, seeing our staff just killing all those hop water kegs.”


Upham called the end result “very clean on the palate, and the flavor profile is pleasantly hoppy and fruity. It has a very subtle, dry, hoppy finish, but by no means would we describe it as bitter. But it also doesn’t have any of the artificially fruity sweetness that Polar seltzer might have.”

Bissell Brothers will launch another hop water featuring Simcoe and Centennial hops in May, which Noah Bissell said will have more citrus, floral and pine flavors. Upham said 12-ounce six-packs of Bissell Bubbles retail for $8.50, which while several times more expensive than an equal amount of commercial seltzer water, is on par with other craft hop waters.

“Craft breweries are not brand-new at selling premium products,” Parkhurst explained. “It’s kind of what we do. So when we see that we’re more expensive than grocery store seltzer, but we feel there’s a reasonable value proposition there, we’re not going to be scared.”

“The market has been changing,” Bryan said. “There’s some soul-searching happening within the brewing industry and a reassessment of how inclusive our products are.

“Not everybody drinks or can drink, but they still want something delicious, house-made and thoughtful, and hop water really fills those buckets,” she continued. “I absolutely think you’re going to see more nonalcoholic options (in coming years), and hop water is an important part of that.”

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