Rapidly growing Hoplark beverage company founders discovered how to deliver a hoppy, IPA-type beverage that has a whole lot of nothing.
As in no calories.
And no alcohol.
The Boulder-based company, which started four years ago by selling its HopTea at the Boulder’s farmers market, is riding a wave of success with distribution to Whole Foods stores nationwide. If Hoplark was a craft brewery, it’d be the state’s fifth-largest based on production, according to John Damiano, president.
Founders Dean Eberhardt, CEO, and Andrew “Drew” Markley started as home brewers. When Eberhardt was taking a 30-day break from drinking alcohol, he thought “what happens if you replace the malts in beer with tea.”
What happens is a drink that took the “natural space” beverage market in Colorado by storm, as it was sold next to canned and bottled teas.
“It changed people minds about what hops can do and how you can drink them,” Damiano said. “The ingredients list blows people’s minds.”
Now craft beer drinkers can have that “hop experience” all day long.
“Craft beer is a $25 billion business in the United States,” he said. “How many palates are connected to the hop experience? That relationship came through craft beer.”
And Hoplark has changed the relationship.
Company officials initially didn’t want to go after the non-alcoholic beer market, so they stayed in the “natural channel” next to the teas. They patented the extraction process, which is “scaleable” from one to 120 barrels of production. They introduced multiple flavors like hibiscus flower mixed with cashmere and lemon drop hops, which Damiano described as “mellow on the tongue and refreshing.”
Whole Foods came calling in 2019 when they saw the sales from the initial stores.
“Whole Foods wanted to take it global, which means nationwide distribution, and launch in six months,” he said. “They asked if we could do it.”
They answered “yes,” of course, then scrambled on “a wing and a prayer” to get a larger facility that would enable large-scale production.
They ended up at 3220 Prairie Ave., where they lease the facility but use all their own production equipment operated by about 70 employees (and, yes, they’re hiring). While that’s common for craft brewers, it’s less so for the food and beverage world, he said. The facility includes a “taproom” and sells to walk-up Boulder customers.
In January 2020, officials were about to go to a trade show to continue the conventional expansion. We all know what happened next.
“We had to completely pivot based on the pandemic and make lemon out of lemonade, so to speak,” Damiano said. “People were still buying us, but they just came to the website instead of the store. That’s a powerful relationship. … We built a strong direct-to-consumer base.”
In January, Hoplark leaders decided it was time to crack the non-alcoholic beer market, so they rolled out 0.0 Citra, a double-dry hopped sparking water. They use Simco and Citra hop extracts before the beverage is carbonated.
Yes, beer-flavored water.
“We just started in January, and now we have 22 distributors,” Damiano said. “We just hit the 20-state mark and signed on with Columbia Distribution for Washington and Oregon. We’re really just scratching the surface.”
The company’s products also recently landed at King Soopers and Natural Grocer stores, Argonaut Liquors in Denver and Illegal Pete’s restaurants, among the 600 distribution points in Colorado.
“We’ll be wherever you get crafts,” Damiano said. “We might not be there yet, but we will be soon.”
Consumers will pay more for Hoplark as compared to bottled/canned teas, craft beer or seltzers. A 12-pack of HopTea runs $35. A 12-pack of Citra or the new “0.0 Really Really Hoppy” costs $39. A 12-pack of canned flavored tea, meanwhile, runs about $18 for brands like Tierra Madre. A 12-pack of hard seltzer is about $19, and about $22 for most craft beers.
The lark bird seems an apt logo. It’s known for its ability to sing while flying, unlike most birds who only sing while perched, symbolizing cheerfulness and joy. It’s also known to mimic other bird songs, much like Hoplark drinks mimic beer.
“We love the fact that we’re from Colorado,” Damiano said. “The whole idea is around health — that’s one of our core foundations. We use really clean ingredients and nothing is ever fake.
“No one else on the planet is doing it as well as we are, as far as I can tell.”