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Food by VICE

I Went to America's First Beer Spa

Unsurprisingly, it's in Oregon.

by Marina Riker
Aug 5 2016, 6:29pm

All photos by the author

Hop in the Spa in Sisters, Oregon, is almost too much of a cliché of the Pacific Northwest to take seriously. The facility, which opened about six months ago, touts itself as America's first "beer spa," and it offers customers microbrew soaks, hop-oil massages, and herbal steams, along with tastes of locally crafted beer. It also sells hoppy lotions, scrubs, and a flight of bath bombs that fit into tiny Deschutes Brewery tasting glasses.

The spa itself is a 1940s-era home with a creaky wooden porch on the main street of Sisters, a town that looks like it could be a movie set for an old Western. It's only about 40 minutes northwest of Bend, which has been dubbed Beer Town USA for having more breweries per-capita than any other city in Oregon—about one for every 4,000 people.

I just moved to Bend, and a Groupon for a beer bath seemed like a great way to de-stress after moving. Plus, it came with a free flight of beers.

When I first arrived at Hop in the Spa, a man named Mike Boyle, who helped open the spa, asked my music choice—"country, or spa-lala?" I choose the New Age spa music, in hopes of a slightly more traditional, relaxing experience. A 35-minute soaks starts at about $75 per person, and I wanted to get the most out of it.

Then the spa's owner, Sally Champa, walked me inside to the soaking room. Giant cedar soaking tubs were wedged into the corners of the room between plastic foliage; two taps for Deschutes beers served as a centerpiece. A flight of beers and soft pretzels sat on a small table between two leather armchairs, next to a stand with a growler and various beer-oriented brochures. It smelled like lemon and cedar, and faintly of lavender. The room was decorated with a mix of beer swag and classic spa decor. Himalayan pink crystal salt lamps lit the room.

Soakers have a choice to steep in their "bathing suits or birthday suits"; I choose to go au naturel, in hopes of soaking in as many of the touted benefits as possible.

I was a little disappointed to discover the tub wasn't literally full of beer. Instead, the bathwater was sprinkled with hops, the flavorful flowers used to make beer.

Hops have a sedative quality, Champa told me, which can soften your skin and relax sore muscles as you marinate in them. Though hops are the main ingredient in the bathwater, Champa also includes a combination of what she called anti-inflammatory herbs, something that she learned from working as a holistic-health practitioner.

While no major scientific studies have confirmed the benefits of bathing in hops, breweries and spas around the world have been offering beer baths for decades. From soaking in a specially crafted bathing ale in the Czech Republic to a hop-and-malt mixture in Austria, proponents say hop soaks can help reduce anxiety, ease pain, and soothe conditions such as psoriasis and acne.

As Champa closed the door, I stared at the flight of beers. I'd woken up with a headache that morning, so I wasn't feeling up to doing the kind of damage I normally would, but I took a few sips from each glass, undressed, and slid into the tub.

Petals of fresh hops floated on the surface of the water, along with half of a sliced lemon. There were pieces of other dark-green leaves and little seeds, and when I submerged myself, they stuck to my arms and shoulders.

Hops, one of the four main ingredients in beer, has a bitter flavor and works to counteract the sugars leftover from the brewing process. The tiny flowers also serve as a natural preservative, which was their original use centuries ago. In the bath, the scent of the hops was only noticeable when I squished a flower between my fingers.

I closed my eyes and sunk into the water up to my chin. A few minutes in, my skin felt soft in the water, and I could feel my muscles relax. I squeezed a couple of the lemon slices to make the aroma stronger and gently rubbed the hops and seeds across my skin.

Champa knocked on the door when there was five minutes left. The half hour went by fast. I submerged myself in the mixture one more time, feeling a little buzzed and extremely relaxed. When I stood to get out of the tub, dozens of petals fell to the floor. I found a petal in my hair later that evening.

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