A Chicago brewery is producing creative hard seltzers

Hopewell's new Wayup brand explores beverages that aren't beer.

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
Wayup seltzer, Hopewell
Photograph: Jack Li

If the towering stacks of White Claw at your local liquor store haven't tipped you off, hard seltzer is having a moment, accounting for more than $4 billion in sales over the past year in the United States. Chicagoland brewers have taken note, with Solemn Oath producing its widely distributed City Water line and Lo Rez Brewing experimenting with berry-flavored seltzers. Back in December, Hopewell Brewing Co. joined their ranks, launching a pair of hard seltzers under a new brand called Wayup. 

"In the Before Times, every Friday a lot of us would show up to work with a can or bottle of something that we liked and maybe wasn't beer, but a seltzer or a canned cocktail," says Hopewell co-founder Samantha Lee. "We were always tasting these things and talking about them and thinking about how we would make it."

The Wayup seltzers grew out of these tasting sessions, as the team at Hopewell slowly began developing their take on a bubbly, fruit-flavored and gluten-free beverage. When the pandemic hit and breweries like Hopewell suddenly had far fewer kegs to fill (due to bars being closed), there was suddenly time to dig into more experimental projects. "A lot of breweries like us have extra capacity to try things out," Lee says. "I think that's why you're seeing more folks experimenting right now, just because we can."

Hopewell didn't have to purchase any new equipment to begin producing hard seltzer—it just uses a slightly different process to produce the neutral alcohol that forms the boozy base of these beverages, fermenting sugar instead of grains. While developing the Wayup line, Hopewell brewers decided to make seltzers that are more acidic than their contemporaries, creating a variety crafted with pineapple, mango and key lime flavors and another that combines yuzu and tangerine.

Hard seltzers are only the beginning for the Wayup brand, which Hopewell is positioning as a catch-all label for its "not-quite-beer" products. According to Lee, the next beverage to hit the shelves (tentatively scheduled for March) will be a riff on an aperitivo spritz, though it's not an actual cocktail in a can—Hopewell's license doesn't allow it to produce liquor or wine. Future Wayup flavors could include Riesling grapes or a seltzer that mimics the flavors of a prickly pear Paloma.

"What we're trying to do with Wayup is find another outlet for creativity," Lee says. "We make a lot of beer, but the variations in beer are changing up the malt or the yeast or the hops, and we don't stray too far from that because we like things to be really straightforward."

Since launching in December, Wayup Citrus Dream and Tropical Vision hard seltzers have made their way into Whole Foods stores as well as various liquor and grocery stores throughout Chicago. Both seltzer varieties can also be purchased directly from the Hopewell Supermarket, which is currently occupying the brewery's Logan Square taproom. Hopewell is hoping to launch a handful of new Wayup products every year, with many only being available for a limited time.

"Our advantage is that we are small scale and can offer something a little bit different, because we're not aiming to move seltzer brands off the shelf—we are just looking to offer something else," Lee says.

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