I don't believe in Dry January for the same reason I don't believe in diets—because it's far too easy to fall off the wagon once everything's wrapped. That may sound like a copout or a sorry excuse for not staying entirely sober, but I'd much rather improve my life in the long-term (habits that are healthy rather than harmful) than achieve a short-lived sense of accomplishment.
Lately, that's meant a lot of things: eating less meat and more vegetables, walking a couple miles a day, and dialing back on the double IPAs and barrel-aged stouts. Mostly because they stop being fun after a few sips. They're just so heavy, unlike, say, a lawn-mower lager or a low-ABV gose laced with salt and citrus.
But what about the wonderful aromas and widescreen flavors that come from hop cones and terpenes? I've found a few solutions, starting with light IPAs from the likes of Able Seedhouse + Brewery (Better Selves), Dogfish Head (Slightly Mighty), and Fair State Brewing Cooperative (Dry January). Supremely crushable without tasting watery or tame, they're leaps and bounds above the low-cal bores my parents' generation once leaned into.
Even better: the Really Hoppy One from Hoplark's peerless HopTea line. Now available nationwide through Whole Foods, it's a long overdue carbonated and canned rendition of something I've only seen on tap before. Downtown LA's G&B Coffee was one early adopter that rocked my palate and revealed just how complementary red tea and Citra hops could be. HopTea's bold tallboy is even more inviting, a delicate balancing act between the bitterness of several distinct hop styles (Simcoe and Citra) and the malty undertones of black tea. No alcohol. No sugar. No trendy CBD tinctures. No problem!
Turns out it took "18 months of hard work" for Andrew Markley and Dean Eberhardt to master Hoplark's most beer-like recipe in the latter's Boulder garage. "Andrew is a PhD biochemist and a part-time magician," Eberhardt says. "We probably ran over a hundred tests on our homebrew setup— a pretty advanced, 12-gallon Unitank—before Andrew finally nailed it."
The two friends came up with HopTea's basic concept when they were hanging out at BuckleDown Brewing in Lyon, Illinois. While Eberhardt was on the 25th day of a month-long break from beer at the time, Markley was drinking a particularly aromatic double IPA—one Eberhardt would have loved to try.
"In that one moment," he explains, "I immediately thought about replacing the malt in beer with tea and never fermenting it since tea and malt varieties are both complex.
He continues, "For me, the concept of a good non-alcoholic beer was not that exciting. It felt derivative of what the industry had already accomplished and full of empty calories. We were going for a new experience that was similar but its own thing—fully focused on flavor and healthfulness. I never imagined we'd create a new category of beverage."
Other breakthroughs during Hoplark's early days included melding the fruity and floral notes of Mosaic hops with an imperial green tea without getting too grassy or smoky—30 tea and 10 hop varieties later—and finding an immediate foil in organic chamomile flowers and Citra hops.
My favorite is still The Really Hoppy One, though, because it blends everything I love about IPAs and loose-leaf tea. With its Boulder taproom closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 crisis, Hoplark is moving full speed ahead with more innovative flavors and a membership program that features direct home deliveries and several exclusive styles. The company is also developing a winter seasonal with Whole Foods that uses a hand-foraged plant from Colorado's high country rather than a traditional form of tea.
"We are super excited about that one," says Eberhardt, "and continuing to push the boundaries of what folks expect from flavor experiences."
Hemp-infused HopTea then? One can only hope.