Hop’in Around: Simple supply and demand

By on October 2, 2019

Hard water. I’m not talking about the mineral-heavy H2O causing calcification on your kitchen sink. I’m talking about the super-trend in drinking, which continues to be the cause of creation for new concoctions hitting the shelves — a new product almost every week.

White Claw, from the folks who brought you Mike’s Hard Lemonade, can’t keep up with the demand it created for its spiked “seltzer” water. Sales of the product grew by over 280 percent in one month this summer and boosted a slew of spinoffs — Bon & Viv Spiked Seltzer (ABInBev), Truly Hard Seltzer (Boston Beer Co. for all intents and purposes), Natural Light even got in on the act!

Most of these “seltzers” are the result of a brewing process (malted barley and fermented sugar) placing them in the malt beverage category, like Zima and “wine coolers.” It did not take long for small, indy breweries to take notice either; Braxton Brewing Company (Covington, Ky.) released Vive and Mother Earth Brewing (Kinston, N.C.) brought us Sercy Spiked & Sparkling.

I recently stopped in at Origin Beer Lab, the 3 bbl. test facility for Center of the Universe Brewing Co. (Ashland, Va.), and spotted something absolutely clear coming from one of the taps.

“We saw the demand in the market and wanted to be able to offer something to our fans,” said co-owner Chris Ray, before handing me a sample of Crystal COTU, his form of spiked “seltzer.”

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you; this brew is clear. Watermelon Crystal COTU is the Origin Beer Lab’s answer to customer demand for hard “seltzers.” (Photo by Michael Upton)

The 4.5 percent ABV version on tap during my visit was watermelon flavored, and despite not really being my thing, I can see how people would really enjoy something light, refreshing, and mildly fruity on a hot day in the south. (It was 90 degrees at the end of September when I visited.)

Also appealing to the masses, at least the mass of visitors with me on this day, was the lab’s Mexican Corn Lager. I was relatively apprehensive while trying this beer, but Ray assured me it was likable beer. That it is! Think Corona with more flavor and no need for a lime.

I was most impressed with Origin’s double IPA made with beet sugar and their Lower Ashland Lucky BA Stout, which got its overwhelming moniker from a fundraising raffle winner. The lab has a small barrel aging program — and by small, I mean four barrels — which is manned by lab brewer Corey B. Johnson. Johnson, who worked a stint as a professional chef, is glad to lend his creative vision to the brewing world through the pilot program at Origin. Only a handful of the beers created here make it to the main brewery.

One example of the lab’s work making it to COTU Brewing is Redrum Bloodsucker DIPA, which also doubles as the official Halloween Haunt beer for King’s Dominion amusement park. Year-round beers at COTU include Pocahoptas West Coast-style IPA, Chin Music Vienna-style lager, Ray Ray’s American Pale Ale, and Slingshot Kölsch. COTU Brewing won a silver and a gold at last year’s World Beer Cup and is part of the Richmond Beer Trail, which, at 36 stops, is a subject for an entire Hop’in Around in itself.

Until then… Cheers and thanks for reading!

Michael C. Upton is a freelance writer specializing in arts and leisure. He welcomes comments at somepromcu@gmail.com and facebook.com/SomebodiesProductions.

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