We Spoke to the Founder of America's First Beer Spa

Mike Boyle is the co-founder of Hop in the Spa in Sisters, Oregon and he is on to something big.
March 3, 2016, 12:00am
All photos courtesy of Hop in the Spa

Is there a better way to relax after a long, stressful week than by throwing back a whole lot of cold ones? How about taking a dip in a 55-gallon hot tub filled with dry-hopped hot beer while you throw those cold ones back?

This is the million-dollar idea that entrepreneur Mike Boyle bet on. He is the co-founder of Hop in the Spa in Sisters, Oregon, a.k.a., the first beer spa in America. And based on the swarm of media attention that the small spa has received since word got around a few weeks ago, he is on to something big.

It shouldn't come as a complete surprise that the evergreen state of Oregon is home to the malty concept. After all, the state's breweries—like Rogue, Deschutes, and Widmer—are the forefathers of the American craft beer movement. What is surprising, however, is that Boyle was not a beer drinker until very recently. I found out about this and his near-death experience that sparked the whole concept when I spoke with him this week.

MUNCHIES: Hi, Mike. What inspired the beer spa? Mike Boyle: Up until four months ago, I wasn't a beer drinker—I was a wine drinker. Then, coming home one night, I bumped my car off the road and rolled three and a half times into a power pole. It should have killed me, but I crawled out. I had a bruised ego but I didn't get hurt.

Nonetheless, my doctor suggested that I go to a massage therapist. I found one on Craigslist and during the massage, she was talking to me about marketing—which is my background—and asked if I could help her develop a product to sell for her clients. A week later, I headed out to Scandinavia for my other business, dealing with restored glass in architecture and automotive. A friend of mine had just come back from a beer spa in Prague and brought me back a brochure.

While I was talking to the Ayurveda-trained massage therapist, she started telling me about the medicinal power of hops. We jumped in the car and went to a bunch of hop farms across the Northwest. I started drinking beer during this trip. I got back to Sisters and developed a brew bath using beer, fresh hops, essential oils, and some minerals. I pitched it to Deschutes and now I have a strategic alliance with them. This all happened two and a half months ago, and we just opened Hop in the Spa two weeks ago.

Let it be known that you do not come out intoxicated or smelling like beer, either. Those are myths. In fact, you will have this very pleasant aroma afterward because of all of the oils.

Did you anticipate the media explosion that you were going to generate? I've been launching businesses my whole life and I've never, ever seen anything like this before. We were just in the UK Mirror_'_s print edition, even. It is so bizarre and so wildly crazy. I'm originally from Southern California but I've been in Sisters for 28 years, so I am just happy that more people will be coming here now.

So, how exactly is your beer spa set up? We actually take a 55-gallon barrel of hot, hot water. We put hops, barley, and minerals into it. We brew it. Then we steep all of those materials out and pump all of those materials into a polyurethane-lined cedar tub upstairs, where you take a dip. We add whole hops, essential oils, and trace minerals—along with two liters of brew into the beer at the very end as the water cools, so it doesn't burn off the alcohol. The alcohol has some disinfecting and medicinal qualities along with the hops. You soak for 25 minutes. After this, you come out and get a massage with hop oil. We do a hop education with our customers, too. People are fascinated by hops.

How much does each session cost? A standard, hour-long soak session is $75 per person. The majority of people are doing soaks and massages. A couples' soak runs about $295 with your choice of drink and appetizers.

What varietal of hops are you using for your hot beer spa? The primary hop that we use is Cascade, but we are expanding the options to four different soaks using a different hop for each within the next week. The other three hops will be exclusive strains of hops available to Deschutes, directly from the farm that grows it.

Are you going to be able to choose your own hop varietal to soak in? Yup. You are going to be able to soak in Deschutes Mirror Pond ale, Black Butte porter, Red Chair northwest pale ale, and a seasonal beer that Deschutes changes every quarter.

Wow. I know how I will be treating myself for my next birthday. Well, there is no drunkenness here. We serve a maximum of 12 ounces of alcohol during your whole process.

Aside from that, what kind of benefits come with dry-hopping onseself? When people get in the tubs, the first thing we tell them to do is to tear the fresh hop flowers apart and rub it all over their skin. The oils soften your skin and the hop acts as an exfoliant. Hops provide really great conditioning for your skin and hair if you dunk yourself completely in.

We are holding back before we make any official claims until we get the medical community to embrace it, so we are not going to do what most spas do and make claims that have been around for centuries but aren't necessarily true.

What we do know is that that the 40 or 50 couples that have been here so far—the majority of people coming are couples—is that everybody has this very relaxed, wonderful feeling afterward. Part of it, I believe, is the atmosphere, with our subdued lights and plants in the room. You pick your own playlist, too. All while drinking and eating hors d'oeuvres.

What kind of food do you serve? You get your choice of cheese, meats, or fruit. Right next door to us is a legendary little wine shop called Cork Cellars. They make all of our appetizers for us; it's mostly tapas. We do local cheeses and fruits from Oregon. We just started production for Mirror Pond German-style sausages with a local sausage-maker to serve to our customers, too.

How would you describe the feeling of bathing in beer? I hate to use these words, but it's intoxicating from a sensory and physical standpoint. I've soaked in it for two hours while drinking a diet Coke and it was just very cool. A big part of this experience is not just how your skin adapts to it, but the unique aroma of the room. It's quite a naturally intoxicating experience (hence our slogan).

Let it be known that you do not come out intoxicated or smelling like beer, either. Those are myths. In fact, you will have this very pleasant aroma afterward because of all of the oils.

What have been your customer responses so far? It's all been, "Wow, that was well worth it." Most people don't know what to expect and they really embrace it, despite how a lot of spas talk about toxins in your body (alcohol being one of those). The fact of the matter is that there is nothing better when coming to a spa than getting fully relaxed. We have people booking from all over the US and even people outside the country. We're booked solid for every weekend for the next few months.

Do you have any other locations or hop-related projects in the works? Yes—Bend, Oregon. We've just acquired a partner there who wants to open a couple of beer spas. We are looking to open in Durango, Colorado next. The minute that Deschutes announces their production facility in the East Coast, we will break ground with a beer spa there. The biggest plan right now is an outdoor, German-style beer garden outside the spa, so you can soon relax and look at the stars while bathing in our twilight soak at the same time.

Lastly, I just filed for patents to integrate hops into coffee for a new line, called Hop in the Cup. That's going to be fun because it takes the jitters out of coffee.

Thank you for speaking with me.