From microbrew soaks to full-on sudsy retreats, beer spas were once a stateside novelty and a travel wellness destination for those visiting Eastern Europe. Now, hops-inspired retreats can be found nationwide, and more are on the way. Much like wine baths in the early aughts, beer baths have become a full-fledged staple in the world of wellness tourism, and the timing makes sense: With the rise of adaptogenic “social” RTDs, non-alcoholic aperitifs, and even hype-y insulated mugs for staying hydrated, the drinks-wellness Venn diagram often feels like a circle.
While a beer spa might sound like a gimmicky product of the times, it’s a time-honored, 2,000-year-old tradition that finds its roots in Prague circa 921 when King Wenceslas had his servants prepare him cold brewery baths with wort from the nearby abbeys, explain the owners of Denver’s Oakwell Beer Spa, Jessica French and Damien Zouaoui. They seek to offer bathers beer’s purported wellness benefits (more on that in a minute), but also to share the relaxing experience with a larger audience.
French and Zouaoui became enamored with the concept of beer spas after visiting one in Poland during their 14-month, 25-country travels in 2017. They’d just quit their corporate jobs and weren’t necessarily on the hunt for a new business venture, but the draw of sipping Polish brews in a warm bath left them with a burning desire to craft their own resort for wellness, craft beer, and good company.
“After that first experience in Poland, we investigated spa and bathing cultures globally. We went to thermal baths in Budapest, jjimjilbangs in South Korea, and onsens in Japan,” they say. Eventually, they opened Oakwell, which combines “a day spa and a taproom into one.” Providing what they like to call “beer therapy,” Oakwell Beer Spa guests unwind in a private spa suite. There, they’ll find a giant tub filled with foamy medicinal herbs, including fresh hops and barley sourced from local breweries, as well as beer-infused bath products including a hydrating hair mask.
For award-winning brewer Jeff Tyler of Denver’s Spice Trade Brewery, he’d first visited Oakwell as a guest, but after talking with the owners, he set out to craft an alcoholic brew that was worthy of the beer-inspired experience and could only be enjoyed at the spa.
“[We wanted to create] a beer that was more true to spa life,” Tyler explains. “You think about normal spas and their cucumber water or their tea selection [comes to mind]. We started brainstorming some fun ideas for a custom beer that they could have on tap year round.”
After testing several iterations—including one with eucalyptus—the trio landed on a concoction they’d eventually name Spa Sidekick. Tyler says the beer is best described as a lemon-cucumber sour that’s refreshing, bright, and acidic. “It’s got fresh cucumber juice and lemon peel — really fresh, natural ingredients — and it tastes like what you want to be drinking when you relax in the spa,” he says.
This is another aspect of the curated beer-themed experience that’s making spots like Oakwell so popular: It’s helping to introduce a larger male clientele to a new aspect of wellness. “For whatever reason, the culture of masculinity in our country makes it seem like men and spas are incompatible. And that’s unfortunate, because they’re amazing,” Tyler says. Oakwell’s founders add that they also want to help break the stigma of spa-going being a purely feminine experience.
“We want everyone to feel comfortable,” they say of the near-$200 ritual. “In fact, nearly half of our guests are first-time spa-goers, typically coerced to come by their partner with the promise of beer. But by the end of their experience, that person is often the one begging their partner to come back.”
“They have the hops and everything in the bath, and you’re able to drink [beer] straight off the draft. Whatever combination they use definitely feels more silky, smooth, and comforting than actually spilling beer on yourself. It’s a cool concept.”
While customers are able to sip on pints as they soak, there remains the common misconception that they’ll be bathing in alcohol. That’s not the case, explains Barbara Corzo, the co-owner of The Beer Spa in Orlando, Fla. Though these baths contain most of the ingredients that produce beer, they aren’t brewed to complete the beer making process. Corzo says her proprietary blend of hops, barley, and brewer’s yeast took a lot of trial and error to nail, as the aroma of her blend was particularly important: It had to be something light and citrusy that would enhance the aromatherapy benefits for guests as they relaxed.
At The Beer Spa, the tubs are 150 gallons each. With nine appointments daily in each room (and some rooms having more than one tub), the establishment goes through over a thousand gallons of beer-like ingredients daily. And that doesn’t even include the actual brews they source from Ivanhoe Park Brewing, a local Orlando beer company, for their guests to enjoy throughout their afternoon. The brewery’s owner, Glenn Closson, says he’s enjoyed the spa himself.
“Beer is incorporated everywhere,” Closson says of his experience. “They have the hops and everything in the bath, and you’re able to drink [beer] straight off the draft. Whatever combination they use definitely feels more silky, smooth, and comforting than actually spilling beer on yourself. It’s a cool concept.”
Unlike other beer spas, Corzo’s establishment adds its alcohol-inspired blend directly to the tub loose, without the use of tea bags to hold the grains in place. It’s an unorthodox approach that adds a unique texture to the bath water, and Corzo believes in letting the grit of the hops help exfoliate your skin while soaking.
That’s just one of the many supposed benefits of bathing in the distinctive elements of beer. The act of bathing itself is restorative at its core. “We know that stress impacts our skin and hair for the worse — increasing inflammatory conditions, causing acne exacerbations, breaking down collagen, reducing hydration, and contributing to hair loss,” says Dr. Blair Murphy Rose, a board-certified dermatologist. While she’s not aware of any well-designed clinical trials investigating the benefit of soaking in beer for the hair and skin, she believes hops may have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects, while bathing in brewer’s yeast may provide topical skin benefits such as the plumping of skin and reduced inflammation. Hops are also considered a mild sedative that can help you feel more relaxed.
“In essence, we expect you to feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and replenished after a soak,” Corzo says. “Between the benefits of the soaking ingredients, the aromatherapy, and hydrotherapy, you’ll feel better.”