The surprising wellness trend based on beer

Beer spas have recently opened in Iceland, Spain and the US – but they take their cue from an older tradition in a country with a long history as a beer bastion: the Czech Republic.

muloozi Daniel
muloozi Daniel

The stained-glass image of one of greatest scientists in history – 16th-Century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe – looked down on me as I prepared jump into a giant 1,000-litre water-filled oak tub. Assisting me was Nikola Skypalova, who was holding big wooden ladles brimming with key elements to add into the water.

“This is hops – it relieves stress from your body and also opens up your pores,” she said, pouring it into the tub. “And this is brewer’s yeast, which has a lot of vitamin B, and makes you look younger.”

In it went, along with malt – another well-being booster.

I was at Chateau Spa Beerland, one of the grandest beer spas in the Czech Republic – the nation that gave birth to this idiosyncratic modern wellness trend in the 1980s. Located in an elegant, chandeliered national heritage building named U Zlaté Hrušky (At The Golden Pear) in Prague, this is where Tycho Brahe lived and worked beginning in 1599. Today, its beer spa rooms offer eye-catching decorative touches ranging from stained-glass windows to astronomical murals.

Next to the tub was a giant bed of straw, which provides a traditional Czech complement to the hoppy hot tub experience. After bathing, the prickly bed aims to further stimulate the skin via the roughness of the straw – the same way Nordic sauna enthusiasts might hit their skin with twigs – and also, perhaps, provide a sense of getting closer to something natural.

Skypalova rounded off the beer bath for me with several ladles of beer. Not just any old beer, mind you – this was unfiltered premium Czech beer which, because it still contains its full complement of key ingredients like yeast, is a more “alive” form, retaining qualities such as high vitamin levels. And the Czechs know their beer; this is a nation that consumes nearly twice as much per capita as the world’s second-most beer-loving nation, Austria.

In case you think pouring premium beer into a bath is a waste, handy taps dispensing an endless supply of the stuff beckoned beside the tub. I lowered myself inside and pressed a jacuzzi button to set the bath bubbling. As the air filled with beery aromas, I poured a glass of delicious dark Krušovice (a heritage Czech brewer founded in 1581), grabbed a hunk of beer bread –  whose wholesome brown colour comes from the beer used in its dough – and sat back musing on the quirky experience of beer bathing in a wellness beer spa.

A wellness trend going global

Proponents of the experience believe compounds in the bubbling brew of the bath are good for your skin, relieve muscle stress and improve circulation. The hoppy aromas, meanwhile, are reputed to promote relaxation and boost mood. And the pleasing novelty of this wellness trend is now seeing beer spas opening across the world.

There have been recent openings in Iceland and Spain; while BierBath, which opened in late 2023 near Baltimore, follows the 2021 opening of Oakwell Beer Spa in Denver. This year will also see the opening of the first beer spa in the UK at The Norfolk Mead in the east of England.

The concept’s growing international popularity is due to the opportunity it provides to unite two popular sources of pleasure: spa relaxation and beer – with the bonus of a cool European cachet. Eliza Oakden, spa manager at The Norfolk Mead offers another reason for the growing global appearance of beer spas. “Spas tend to appeal more to women, so we thought this would attract both men and couples.” 

At Bath & Barley – Belgium’s first wellness beer spa, which opened in 2023 in the canal-laced city of Bruges – visitors get a chance to tailor their experience, just as any beer lover might be tempted by different styles of brew. “You can compose your own bath brew by selecting from different hops harvested by a Belgian farmer. These hops have different essences, but the beneficial effects are similar,” explains co-founder Louis Raesouv. “We also believe we have created a more luxurious experience than some of the Czech spas in terms of interior design, the products we use, the story we tell.” This includes options like gourmet food pairing with Belgian beers. “We are also unique in offering a hop scrub in the tub.”  

The Taaka Beer Spa in Strasbourg has been a pathfinder of the beer spa experience in France since opening in 2022. “The concept has sparked a lot of curiosity among the local population, leading to a significant number coming to try out the spa,” says founder Naomie Crawshaw. “It has been fascinating to see how the concept has been embraced as a novel way to experience the region’s beer culture.”

Back in its Czech heartland, an array of beer spas complement the half dozen or so in the capital – some, like my Prague experience, take place in memorable historic surrounds. Inside another national monument, a neo-Baroque house called U Zlatého Beránka (At The Golden Lamb), the First Beer Spa Pilsen taps into the heritage of a town that received brewing rights from King Wenceslas II back in the 13th Century.

It has been fascinating to see how the concept has been embraced as a novel way to experience the region’s beer culture

Naomie Crawshaw

Or venture to the rough-hewn stone cellars of a 17th-Century herbal liqueur warehouse called Schloss Versailles, where the First Beer Spa has brought a novel brew-led angle to the Bohemian town of Mariánské Lázně, whose acclaimed traditional mineral spring spas have been in place since the 18th Century, drawing famous historic visitors from writers like Kipling and Goethe to rulers like the German Kaiser and Britain’s Edward VII.

Well-being or woo-woo?

Almost every beer spa talks of beer bathing dating back millennia – though this seems to involve conflating the historical existence of spas with the co-existence of beer, with no evidence the two came together at ancient kick-back time.

Czech beer spas, meanwhile, regularly cite one of the multiple former kings called Wenceslas as a regular beer bather. Sadly, this also stands up about as strongly as someone who’s drunk too many pints from the beer spa tub-side taps.

“This is certainly not true,” says Libor Zajic, a European brewing history expert at Masaryk University in Brno – though he adds that one of the royal Wenceslases did become the patron saint of Czech brewers in the 14th Century. “It’s a marketing trick of companies that operate beer spas – businesses that are a modern invention… Beer may have been added to baths in the Middle Ages, as many other substances were, but certainly not with any deeper intention.”

Beer consists of three components that are beneficial to skin: malted cereal grains, yeast and hops.

Dr. Cindy Jones

There may, however, be a stronger case on the wellbeing side. “Beer consists of three components that are beneficial to skin: malted cereal grains, yeast and hops,” says Dr Cindy Jones, a biochemist at Colorado Aromatics. “Both malted grains and yeast contain B vitamins, which increase skin hydration and elasticity, and decrease hyperpigmentation.

Hops, in particular, are rich in xanthohumul and humulone – the first a powerful antioxidant showing anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties, the second an antibacterial with promising skin-healing properties. Studies have also found hop extracts may decrease anxiety, mild depression and stress. Hops’ long history in folk medicine as a sleep aid is also being backed up by science.

“And hops is getting more scientific attention recently for skin care,” Jones continued, “It can increase collagen production to decrease wrinkles as well as decrease inflammation of the skin.” Global brewing giant Carlsberg decided to tap into the beer cosmetic trend when it launched a Beer Beauty line in 2015, backed by a witty promotional video. In the Czech Republic, beauty firm Manufaktura now has an expanding array of shops across the nation selling a diverse range of products, including bath salts containing hops and barley extracts.

But using those for a bath at home won’t come with unlimited premium beer or delicious beer bread or a chance to lie on a bed of straw – and its these things that make a wellness beer spa a truly quirky experience. 

Source: BBC

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