My lightbulb moment came in January, 2014. I was working hard to build a hopyard on the family homestead in South Bristol, NY, attending hop growing seminars and watching as new breweries sprang up across the Finger Lakes region every month.
It was just after the holidays, and memories of the family celebrations were fresh in my mind. I thought back to the conversations I’d had with my daughters and nieces and nephews, all Millennials who love craft beer but drink mostly cheap beer, and who are in the habit of flavoring their water, their coffee and their vodka.
That’s when the lightbulb went off. All these thoughts came together and I got the idea that was to become an obsession: Why not take all these hops I was growing and create a flavor concentrate for beer?
Mad (Hops) Scientist in the kitchen
My first “recipes” were literally cooked up on the kitchen stove.
This pic of my first hop-brewed tea shows a nasty, cloudy result. The taste was as bad as the appearance…
But that didn’t stop me; I was convinced I could figure it out.
Next I tried some off-the-shelf flavor concentrates. My first taste of success was with fruit concentrates, which definitely added color, aroma and flavor to a Genny, our beloved local macrobrew. In some cases the beer was much better, but it still didn’t have the craft beer “zing” I was hoping for.
Flavoring beer, a shared experience
There were enough good things going on that I felt I could start sharing my experiments with other people and see what they thought.
Right away I discovered something interesting: flavoring your beer is fun! A Mad Hops tasting always turns into a party. After witnessing this a few times I was more convinced than ever that beer flavoring could actually be a “thing”.
I still had two major challenges. First, how do I add other beer ingredients to the concentrates to elevate the base beer flavors, add body and create a more robust beer?
A buddy in the beer industry helped me navigate around and connect with some of the leading companies in the business. These beer and flavor experts shared my vision and provided much-needed advice and strategic assistance. Together we went through numerous iterations of the flavor development process in search of the right combination of beer components that would bring a balanced robustness to our drops.
It was hard work, and frustrating at times. Turns out it’s not that easy to come up with the perfect formula for flavored beer drops, even for the experts. We’ve had to drink a lot of beer over the past 3 years to come up with our final product. (I know, sounds rough…)
In the end, we succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, though ultimately that will be for you to judge. Our partners in the lab are now our suppliers, we got all the necessary FDA approvals, and we worked with a co-packer in Florida to produce Mad Hops at scale.
Go Mad Hops!
The next challenge was coming up with a cool name. Now that we had a product to sell, who should we market it to and what were we going to call it?
Ever since those early conversations with my young family members around the Yule log, I have always thought Millennials were the target demographic for us. Their taste buds have come to appreciate the rich, complex flavors of craft beer, but their pocketbooks often dictated that they settle for a lot cheaper buzz. Our vision was to create a product that bridged that gap.
We felt our new brand had to be fun and a little edgy. One day I was talking to my best friend in Florida, one of my earliest supporters. He’s streetsmart, and was a basketball star in his youth. He brought the name Mad Hops to me. In street basketball, someone who can sky for rebounds or drive to the rim is said to have Mad Hops. I knew immediately that was the right name for our product, tying my rural hops farm with some hip, urban slang.
Taking Mad Hops to market
My personal life and business life intersected to bring the Mad Hops brand image to life. A new friend Catharine McCracken and her team at Trellis Marketing created a cool logo, branding, packaging, image, videos and all kinds of exposure in Western NY. They made Mad Hops feel like a real company!
So here we are in 2017, we launched our product last September and we are working hard on a three-tiered approach to market Mad Hops. Flavoring beer is a new concept for people, so we have a lot of ‘splaining to do!
- Events. Because tasting is believing, our strategy is to do Mad Hops tastings at a lot of events, everything from craft beer festivals to music festivals. We have served Mad Hops to thousands of people over the past year, and it never gets old watching the amazement on people’s faces. Check out our calendar for an event near you.
- Retail. View our list of retailers here. As we travel the country we are making connections and getting the product in more and more retail locations every week. Our goal is to have a Mad Hops display next to the checkout counter wherever Millennials are buying inexpensive beer. Retailers must commit to host our team of “Mad Hopsters” for frequent in-store tasting events (because tasting is believing, remember).
- Online. Click over to our shopping page if you’ve heard enough and are ready to try Mad Hops today. In the past few months we have already sold product in 37 states and 5 countries, including Australia. (They know some good Mad Hops when they see it; it’s the home of the kangaroo after all!)