Befitting a company that prides itself on riding the cutting edge of the craft beer industry, Traverse City-based Right Brain Brewery was perhaps the first brewer to ever bring a hydrogen-infused beer to the commercial market.
For Right Brain owner and founder Russell Springsteen, the possibility of infusing beer with hydrogen proved too interesting to pass up.
“I was pretty fascinated with it,” Springsteen told MiBiz. “I’m always looking for what’s new and what we can do that the consumer will be into.”
A couple hours to the south, Muskegon-based Unruly Brewing Co. LLC has also begun to dabble in infusing hydrogen into a beverage. In July, the brewery unveiled HyJacked, a hydrogen-infused hard apple cider.
Both Right Brain and Unruly were able to bring these products to market thanks to a partnership with HyVIDA Brands Inc., a Muskegon-based producer of hydrogen-infused sparkling waters that are distributed through retailers including Meijer Inc. and Family Fare. Along with its own beverages, HyVIDA has launched a new segment of its business called HyInfused, which is dedicated to equipping clients with the capabilities to infuse all types of beverages with hydrogen.
Following the successful launches with Right Brain and Unruly, HyVIDA Brands President and CEO Rick Smith said his company is working through a pipeline of approximately 50 beverage makers from around the country who are interested in using this method to bring a newfound smoothness to beverages while easing the sting and bloat of carbonation.
Right Brain used hydrogen to infuse three of its brands — CEO Stout, Northern Hawk Owl and Who Goes There — which it sold in four packs of cans.
Springsteen said that the hydrogen dosing enhanced all three of his brews, smoothing out Who Goes There, a sour beer, while also making the coffee flavor pop from the brewery’s signature CEO Stout.
This fall, Springsteen said he plans to organize a meeting of Right Brain members to teach them more about the product and give them a guided tasting.
“It’s a challenge just trying to get people’s brains wrapped around what this product is,” Springsteen said. “I’m always interested in the next big thing and this could possibly be it; we’re just trying to figure it out.”
HyInfused initially empowers beverage makers to infuse hydrogen into their products through a do-it-yourself kit, which consists of the granular material — a form of magnesium — and a measuring spoon. The beverage maker applies the granular material by hand, generally before filling up a can and sealing with it a can seamer.
However, with the help of West Olive-based Olive Engineering Company, HyInfused has also developed a dosing machine for which it recently received a patent. A producer could implement the machine on virtually any traditional canning line without disrupting the existing operation.
“(Brewers) have their standard production process, we don’t change that at all,” Smith said. “We put our ingredients either in the empty can before they fill it with the beverage or just after filling we’ll deposit our ingredients before the lid is applied.”
This has led Smith to discussions with companies like Cedar Springs-based Microcanner LLC and Grand Rapids-based Oktober LLC to provide this hydrogen infusion option as a potential value add for their clients.
“Ultimately, my goal isn’t really the taproom — it’s to use the taproom as an R&D lab so (beverage makers) can evaluate the technology and rent a machine and go into mass production for retail,” Smith said.
Educating the market
At this early stage of the market, Smith said producers must prioritize familiarizing customers with hydrogen-infused beverages and the benefits that come with the products.
“We want to license it to more players, get more people and more brands out there talking about hydrogen and therefore educating the market,” he said. “And that’s happening. Once you get a little more lift in that category, it’s considerably easier to expand (our) brand.”
Through its partnerships with Right Brain and Unruly, Smith said that his company has learned how to approach brewers and sell them on a process that would seemingly alter their beer.
“By calling this hydrogen an enhancement in a sales process, you’re psychologically telling the brewmaster you’re changing their baby,” Smith said. “In reality, that’s not what we’re really doing. Our goal isn’t to say, ‘Let’s make your existing product better.’ We’re saying, ‘Let’s look at a new way to experience products and develop new products around the concept.’”
While HyVIDA consistently touts a variety of potential health benefits available through its sparkling waters, alcoholic beverage producers will likely have to take a different approach given tight federal regulations forbidding advertising health claims in connection with alcohol. However, advertising the ways in which hydrogen affects the taste and flavor of alcoholic beverages would be fair game.
HyInfused is striving to enable 100 hydrogen-infused beverages by 2022. One selling point for beverage makers that find themselves in a highly competitive market is that hydrogen could be a differentiator, according to Smith.
“Every single beverage category is saturated,” he said. “People are saying, ‘What’s next? I need something unique to get on the shelf.’”
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