As summer approaches and the days start getting longer, there’s nothing quite like spending a lazy afternoon relaxing in your garden with a cool, crisp IPA. But if you’re cutting down on alcohol - or maybe cutting it out completely - you can still enjoy that refreshing, hoppy flavour with zero alcohol, zero calories and completely gluten free.
If this doesn’t sound like any alcohol-free beer you’ve ever heard of, that’s because it isn’t. This summer’s must-have beer alternative is actually a seltzer-like drink called hop water. Made with water, hops and sometimes lemon, hop water is not intended as an exact copy of beer, and because it doesn’t use any grains, the complex flavour of hops is allowed to stand alone.
Hop water is far simpler and less wasteful to make than alcohol-free beer, which is essentially regular beer with the alcohol removed, a process that requires significant quantities of water and electricity. There are several companies that sell hop water, but it’s actually pretty simple to make your own at home.
If you do decide to brew your own, the only specialist ingredient you will need is hops, which can be brought from a specialist herb shop, or from any number of online home-brew retailers. There are likely to be several hop varieties available, and there are a few things to look for when choosing.
Hops are broadly divided into two categories - bittering hops, and aroma hops (sometimes known as finishing hops). Bittering hops, as the name implies, have a more bitter flavour, and are used in regular beer to balance the sweetness from the sugars used in fermentation, while aroma hops are added towards the end of the brew to add a pleasant, aromatic flavour.
For the purposes of making hop water, aroma hops work best. Unlike beer, hop water is sugar-free, so the bitterness of bittering hops will overwhelm the drink. Choose an aroma hop with 5% alpha acids (the chemical that gives hops their bitter flavour) or lower and some flavour notes you like the sound of. You can experiment with different varieties, or combinations of varieties, until you find the flavour that suits you best.
To make homemade hop water, you will need:
2 cups water
1 tbsp hops
Fresh lemon (optional)
Sparkling water, to taste
First, heat the water to around 170°F (75°C). This is a little below boiling temperature, so the best way to get there is to boil the water, then leave it to cool for around two minutes.
Add the hops to a teapot or a Pyrex measuring jug, and when the water is ready, pour it over the hops. Leave it to steep for between 5 to 10 minutes, depending on how strong you want the flavour to be.
Strain the liquid into a clean mason jar and squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice if you’re using it. Allow to cool completely, then serve with sparkling water at a ratio of one part hop infusion to two parts water.
Hop water isn’t the only hop drink that’s hot right now. There are also hop-flavoured sodas and several iced hop tea drinks on the market, with options including black tea, green tea, chamomile, and white tea, as well as slightly sweeter versions made with grapefruit or lemon.
Hop-flavoured drinks are definitely having a moment, but they’re not an entirely new phenomenon. As well as being used to flavour beer for centuries, they have long been used in herbal teas, and as a key ingredient in more established soda-like drinks, including Latin American favourite, Malta, and a festive Swedish drink called Julmust.
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