The surest sign that we’re living in the golden age of technology: a tea bag that promises to make crap beer taste like craft beer.
The product is called “Hop Theory” and it’s a small packet filled with hops, spices, and a bit of orange peel, that, when dunked into that pint of Coors Light you ordered, could brighten your spirits. The only drawback is that you have to be that guy with a tea bag in your beer.
“I’m a student and I can’t always afford to buy $7 beers at the bar,” says Bobby Gattuso, founder of Hop Theory. The 25-year-old is studying functional biology of animals at university. But despite being on the pre-med track he says that what he really wants to do is get into the beer business. “My whole goal in life is to own a microbrewery,” he says, adding that his successful Kickstarter campaign is his first step into that industry.
Gattuso got the idea from dry hopping, a process of adding extra hops towards the end of the brewing cycle. If you were brewing a batch of say, IPA, you’d likely add hops in the last few minutes of your first boil—these are called finishing hops. But then, if you wanted the beer to be really hop-forward, you’d add more hops in the final days of fermentation. The late-addition hops mostly add aroma, since they’re not cooked—which is the process that typically makes the hops release their oils. It’s a great way to make a super piquant brew. Hop Theory is basically dry hopping done on a micro, accelerated scale with a tiny mesh bag and a single serving of beer.
Right now, Gattuso is only offering a single blend, called Relativity. “But eventually I want to pair every season with a new sachet,” he says. Relativity has orange peel, coriander, and Cascade hops, but Gattuso envisions using pumpkin for fall varieties and dried raspberries in the summer.
Let’s be clear: There’s only so much that can be done to a Bud Light, and Gattuso is upfront about Hop Theory’s limitations. “A Bud Light basically becomes a Blue Moon,” he says about adding Relativity to a light beer. “The Cascade hops, orange peel and coriander really do give it a lot of flavor though,” he says.
Gattuso developed the first flavor blend through his home craft brewing experience. But he shopped the blend around a bit with local Maryland brewers to get feedback on whether they thought his product was viable or not. Fred Crudder, the marketing director for Baltimore-based Heavy Seas Beer, was one of Gattuso’s early tasters. Crudder was skeptical. “It was far better than my expectations, but honestly my expectations were very, very low,” Crudder says, adding that as a craft beer lover who is not concerned about price or calories. “I’m not the target audience but I was pleasantly surprised by the flavor it added.”
Gattuso doesn’t see this resonating with drinkers already hooked on hops, and he doesn’t think Hop Theory will ever replace craft breweries. The three target markets he’s really aiming Hop Theory at are the craft curious—those that are maybe starting to order Blue Moon but aren’t ready to commit to full hop-head-dom—the calorie counters, and the frugal.
The product already resonates with some folks: gluten-free beer drinkers, who are usually relegated to a couple of craft options if they’re lucky; and recovering alcoholics, who add the packets to the few non-alcoholic options on the market. “So many have written to me about how excited they are to have craft beer again,” Gattuso says.
And it could be a great option for those who travel often and sometimes end up in places where craft beer is hard to come by. So long as there’s a minimart and you’ve packed a sachet from Hop Theory, you’ll never want for decent beer.