11141192_382457961959520_261657764075685836_n

I have always been fascinated by how something comes to be. Whether it’s a product, a company, or a character on the stage, how it goes from thought to execution has always amazed me. I suppose that is why I got into the craft of acting to begin with.

This fair city of ours has a wonderful entrepreneurial spirit and entertainment scene as well, which provides me ample fodder for my fascination. And when you put them together? Well you get a truly one-of-a-kind product: Hopwater.

Hopwater is a brand new, locally-made product that is best described as a non-alcoholic craft soda, made with the pleasing bitterness and aroma of hops. It comes in four flavors—Original, Lime, Grapefruit and Ginger—and is sold in bars, restaurants and retail locations across Greater Cincinnati.

As Brandon Dawson, CEO of local startup 48th Parallel, expressed to me in a recent interview, Hopwater was born because he and five other guys that had played music together for years just wanted to actually spend more time together doing something they enjoyed. With backgrounds in flavor chemistry, marketing and graphic design, Hopwater came together organically, and so did their team of six.

When was the last time you heard a group of musicians say they wanted to spend more time together? That in and of itself is special. As is Hopwater. So special in fact, the process by which it is made has a patent pending on it.

Naturally when you get musicians together, beer is involved. But what do you do when you are getting hot and sweaty playing under the harsh lights of the stage, or the sun, and you don’t want the alcohol but still want the flavor?

That’s the brilliance of this product.

Hopwater involves a process–developed by two of the founders who just happen to be flavor chemists when they aren’t creating music–that extracts the essential oils from the Zeus hop. Zeus hops were specifically chosen, after a lot of experimentation, for two reasons: 1) It has a distinctive bitterness and aroma; and 2) It is not a common hop that beer makers use.

These gentlemen aren’t dumb. Why compete for ingredients with a saturated craft beer market, especially when that isn’t the product you are creating, right? In fact, this group believes that they have not only created a one-of-a-kind product, but an entirely new industry—hops outside of beer. It’s an innovation they plan to build on.

Most of you gentlemen reading this are now probably asking yourselves, “If it doesn’t have alcohol, then it’s really just flavored water even with the hops, right?” Wrong.

Hopwater truly tastes like nothing else you’ll ever try. In fact, it currently is the only known non-beer product that has an IBU (International Bitterness Unit) rating listed on every bottle. Each flavor is listed as 48 IBU, which for all the non-hop heads out there, sits right in between a lager and an IPA on the bitterness scale. I have tried all four varieties and I will attest that each has its own distinct flavor profile, all pleasingly bitter and refreshing, but without the alcohol or calories.

Did I forget to mention that each bottle only contains 48 calories? Yep, if you are a gentleman who is in the business of keeping fit but still wants that hoppy flavor when hanging with your crew, this is your choice.

Once the process was honed and the flavors perfected—after much trial-and-error through weekly tastings over an eight-month period—a couple of the guys began taking the bottles to festivals and public events. By this point, they had already formed the parent company known as 48th Parallel, which they currently market Hopwater under to this day.

They only had one caveat of the early adopters who dared to try it: Be brutally honest with your feedback. They wanted the public to rip it apart, so they could find any seams in Hopwater and repair them. But the more festivals and events they toted the “bracing and beguiling” soda to, the more the feedback stunned them.

The biggest seam anyone noted was to question why they can’t buy this in stores.

Today that is not a problem. According to Dawson, Hopwater can be found in more than 100 locations throughout the Queen City and Northern Kentucky. By the end of this year they hope to break into the Cleveland and Columbus markets. And sometime next year they hope to have nationwide distribution.

Not bad for six guys who just wanted to find a way to hang out more, huh?

But even with the recent success, the guys at 48th Parallel all remain tight and still have a great sense of humor. The graphic designer in the group created the Hopwater logo, which includes a visual embodiment of the Zeus hops they call Hopman. Until recently, Hopman was simply a character they joked about when they got together.

Now….well, he has his own mythos and Twitter feed. Gotta love that!

Hopwater is pretty awesome on its own, but mixed with your favorite spirit? Now that’s taking it to the next level. Since the release of the four flagship flavors, the guys at 48th Parallel have formed partnerships with local bars and restaurants to create original Hop-tails—cocktails made using Hopwater as a mixer. You can check out the recipes on their website for some delicious concoctions created by both the Hopwater team and local bartenders. And after just three months in the market, plans are in the works for a tonic-like product that will be specifically marketed as a mixer.

For all the gushing I have done about Hopwater (full disclosure: Dawson and I worked together in a previous life, but no, I’m not one of the six co-founders), the best advice I can give you gentlemen is to pick up a bottle at a tasting event or at your local purveyor of fine adult beverages, and try it for yourself.

As Dawson noted to me several times in our interview, “people can’t fully understand what Hopwater is until they have tasted it.” Amen.

If Hopwater is whetting your appetite, you can find more information, as well as a full listing of where to purchase the hopped beverage, on their website: www.drinkhopwater.net, or on their Facebook page.

Until next time gentlemen….