This simple pleasure of drinking a beer, it’s something we all know and love. Now, imagine you're drinking that beer surrounded by the aroma of hops and a stranger is rubbing barley butter on your bare skin. It’s...different. As America’s craft-beer culture continues to grow, the latest twist mixes suds and wellness—yes, wellness—as spas turn to beer and the ingredients in beer to make soaks, scrubs and other treatments aimed at easing what ails you.
In Sisters, Oregon, Hop in the Spa is billed as America’s first beer spa and got kind of an “accidental” start. A little over two-years-ago, Mike Boyle was in a serious car accident and couldn’t seem to shake the aches and pains. That’s when he visited the wellness practice of Sally Champa, a local Ayurvedic clinical practitioner, herbalist and massage therapist. Boyle needed to get back on his feet before a business trip to Europe, and Champa worked her magic.
In Europe, Boyle’s colleagues took him to a beer spa. He told Champa about it upon his return. As an herbalist, she already knew that hops had benefits beyond their use in beer-making, but the conversation led them to explore hops' other uses and, eventually, hop into the spa business together—hence the name.
“People have been soaking in the wort since the Middle Ages,” says Champa, who has created a proprietary mix of ingredients to add to the hot water for the spa’s hop hydrotherapy.
Arriving at Hop in the Spa, the one-story building—with rockers on the porch and a swing on the front lawn—doesn’t exactly scream “luxury spa.” It’s small, with a massage room on one side, the soaking room and changing space on the other. In the back, a casual pop-up pub opens in the evening, when the spa is closed, and plans for a beer garden in the back yard are in the works for summer. With the big “Hop in the Spa” sign out front and wooden posts on the porch, the vibe is more cowboy-chic than elegant serenity. But make no mistake, once you are inside one of the cedar tubs, head resting on a leather pillow, all that changes.
Once inside, three different hop hydrotherapy treatments address different issues: One is aimed at relaxation, another at reducing inflammation and muscle tension, the third is a detoxifying soak. The most popular treatment is the Black Butte Porter Microbrew Soak paired with a massage with hand-crafted hop oil, according to Champa.
Champa filled our tubs, arranged so couples can see each other while soaking, with hot water set to a temperature of 101 degrees. She added a brew of hops, lemons, roses, beer and a mix of herbs and minerals. Hop flowers covered most of the water surface.
‘You’re not soaking in the beer,” Champa says, although each of the soaks does incorporate a small amount of beer. “We’re using the medicinal qualities of the hops and the barley added to the hot water.”
You can soak in your bathing suit, but au natural is the preferred method for getting the most benefit for your skin. Our 30-minute soak was accompanied by a Deschutes beer and Bavarian pretzel.
But did this treatment designed to “relax and renew” actually work? Surprisingly, yes. The dry winter skin was gone, and the aches and pains from a long car ride were forgotten.
“Hops are a cousin to cannabis,” says Champa. “They have a lot of the same properties. It’s an anti-inflammatory, also an analgesic, so it helps with pain. The hops are also a moisturizer for the skin and it’s great for acne, psoriasis, eczema.” Champa also sells a line of bath products created around beer. “You have hops in every single product, which is medicinal and therapeutic,” she adds.
Over the past two years, Hop in the Spa has had more than 2,500 customers, most from Oregon, Washington and northern California.
On the other side of the country, in the Poconos, The Lodge at Woodloch in Hawley, Pennsylvania, has also drawn inspiration from beer ingredients and developed treatments with Dogfish Head Brewery in nearby Delaware.
The sophisticated spa currently offer two beer-inspired treatments. The Renew and Brew Body Polish is a body exfoliation treatment that blends lavender and marjoram essential oils with hops and barley, followed by a massage. The Renew and Brew Pedicure begins with a hops and barley scrub infused with lemongrass and citrus. The scrub is followed by a foot-and-leg massage. And, of course, you can enjoy a brew during both treatments.
Soon, the Midwest will be able to partake in the beer spa experience. Columbus, Ohio, Scottish brewer BrewDog is building the world’s first crowd-funded craft beer hotel, the Doghouse, set to open in late summer. Guests will be able to wake up in their rooms to views of the sour beer-filled oak foeders. Each room will feature Punk IPA on tap, a curated craft-beer minibar and access to breakfasts, lunches and dinners paired with craft beer.
Naturally, beer-themed spa treatments are also in the works at Doghouse, with the possibility of offering hops face masks and malted barley massages to guests. BrewDog founders James Watt and Martin Dickie even teased the idea of jacuzzis filled with beer in some of the hotel's luxuty suites.
BrewDog has also announced plans to build a 26-room hotel in Scotland, set to open in 2019, but the beer spa component is less of a novelty across the pond. Europeans have been lathering themselves in hops for year. Beer soaks and hop saunas can be found in Austria, the Czech Republic and Iceland, among others, sometimes with unlimited beer on tap, within reach of the tub in which you soak.
Maybe it’s about time the Americas catch up to this obviously beneficial trend.