Athletic Brewing Co was founded in Stratford, CT, in 2017 by ex-finance professional and ultra-marathon runner Bill Shufelt, alongside craft brewer John Walker. The duo wanted to share their passion for an active lifestyle and love of craft beer finding that, in the US, the non-alcoholic craft beer category had had ‘almost no innovation for almost 25 years’.
And the duo says its this dedication to craft that sets their beers apart from others: trying to keep as close to core craft processes as possible by brewing with natural ingredients in small batches.
“While most non-alcoholic beers have a single, industrialized dealcoholisation step, our process is more similar to true craft beer production," Shufelt told BeverageDaily. "We’ve made it our goal to change the craft beer industry and set new standards for flavour in alcohol-free options.
“Our process involves a series of more than 10 changes to the brewing process, monitoring and controlling natural variables. We brew fully fermented beer to under 0.5% ABV. In this fashion, we retain the delicate esters and compounds of fermentation and let the ingredients fully express themselves.”
From its Stratford base, the company opened the first brewery and tap room fully devoted to the production of non-alcoholic craft beer in the US: encouraging people to come and sample the products and engage with the brand.
In 2020 the company opened an 150,000 barrel brewery in San Diego: adding the capacity needed to keep up with demand in the US but also setting it up to explore opportunities in new markets. In July, it closed a $50m funding round: with athletes entrepreneurs and celebrity investors including Blake Mycoskie, David Chang, Lance Armstrong, Darren Rovell, Justin Tuck and JJ Watt participating. The funding round will go towards creating an east coast brewing location: meeting demand in both the US and abroad.
The company now employs more than 150 people, an estimates it hols nearly a 50% share of the US' non-alcoholic craft beer category. In 2020, the company grew almost 500% year-over-year for the second year in a row; and was named by Fast Company Magazine as one of the 'World's Most Innovative' companies of the year.
Athletic Brewing started its international expansion with a launch in Canada in January this year, followed by Australia. In the UK, it used the Low2NoBev show in June as part of its debut into the market: offering people the chance to sample its brews and find out more about the brand.
Shufelt says the company's international expansion plans has been led by demand.
“We took a very consumer led approach: we have always had people asking for our product internationally, so we listened and worked to get them our beer. The UK is a very exciting market because there is a more established alcohol-free category vs the US where it was essentially non-existent a few years ago.
“Each market is incredibly different so finding the right local partners in each country has been key.”
In the US, Athletic Brewing Co’s portfolio includes four key beers alongside a series of limited editions such as raspberry sour, coffee porter and IPAs. It has also launched line of flavored seltzers infused with hops.
Athletic Brewing Co. is entering the UK market with its two flagship brews: Run Wild IPA and Upside Dawn Golden Ale. A 335ml serving contains around 70 calories; is under 0.5% ABV, is vegan and non-GMO.
Expanding into the UK has had its challenges: such as different regulations and labelling requirements (such as 12oz cans in the US and 355ml cans in the UK). The pandemic, however, has posed the biggest challenge: particularly in terms of dealing with international shipping.
Run Wild IPA is 'the ultimate session craft beer, carefully brewed with organic Vienna malt and a blend of five Northwest hops, resulting in an approachable bitterness and classic piney, citrusy aroma with a subtle, yet complex malt profile.'
Upside Dawn Golden Ale is a 'light-bodied, refreshing and balanced golden ale brewed with premium organic Vienna malt paired with a combination of English and American hops that add earthy, spicy and citrusy character.'
The drinks are available in the UK in 6 x 355ml packs with a RRP of £10.99.
Setting out its mission statement, the company says it wants to positively impact health, fitness and happiness; as well as help communities and the environment.
As part of its UK launch, it is sponsoring the South West Coast Path project in the UK – an extension of the work the founders do to improve the maintenance and preservation of trailways and natural spaces in the US through donating 2% of all sales to their own charitable foundation Two For The Trails.
Athletic Brewing Co. is also official partner of the IronMan and Spartan global events – supporting athletes and amateur competitors in their pursuit fitness goals.