Little interview

Adoption of non-alcoholic craft has taken ‘surprisingly little education’

By Stuart Stone

- Last updated on GMT

Leaders in moderation: Athletic Brewing founder Bill Shufelt says the UK ‘is on the frontier of modern health trends’
Leaders in moderation: Athletic Brewing founder Bill Shufelt says the UK ‘is on the frontier of modern health trends’
Based in New England, US, Athletic Brewing’s founder Bill Shufelt talks possible UK expansion and the positive impact of low-and-no alcohol beer.

Athletic Brewing, which currently distributes its alcohol-free craft brews across the US and boasts what it claims is the country’s first non-alcoholic taproom, claims that “you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your ability to be healthy, active and at your best to enjoy great beer”.

Founded in 2017 and based in Stratford, Connecticut, its beers’ calorie counts dip as low as 50 – non-alcoholic golden ale Upside Dawn – with only its All Out non-alcoholic stout only just notching triple figures at 100. By comparison, a bottle of Peroni 330ml contains 142 calories, with a pint of 5% beer containing 215, according to the NHS.

According to founder Bill Shufelt, it may not be too long before Athletic Brewing joins low-and-no options like Shipyard’s American Low Tide Pale Ale and Brooklyn Brewery’s Special Effects in the UK market.

“We have already held a few great conversations with a few different channels of trade in the UK,” Shufelt explains. “Due to enthusiastic customer and community reactions, as well as winning awards at the International Beer Challenge and World Beer Awards, we have confidence we can add to the great evolving UK non-alcoholic craft beer scene.”

Athletic Brewing (1)

UK on health frontier

Citing research published in the journal BMC Public Health​, which claims more than 25% of young Brits class themselves as ‘non-drinkers’, Shufelt sees the UK as an ideal place for Athletic Brewing to stretch its legs.

“The UK is right on the frontier of modern health trends and has been a leader in trends towards moderation in recent data,” he explains. “Anywhere good food and beer is enjoyed, we will have a home.

“I love the idea of the non-alcoholic pop-ups in both the US and UK, but I think there can be a much clearer blending of the worlds.

“Words like sober and teetotal are very outdated – people can be sober forever, a year, a week, a day or an hour. It's just outdated – people want to feel good and not be impaired sometimes.”

New beer occasions

Shufelt, who spent more than a decade working in finance, found that cutting out alcohol on the cusp of his 30th birthday – six months before his wedding – had positive impacts on his professional, fitness, social and family life.

“After that realisation, I cut alcohol out and have never felt better – it's easier to sleep, eat healthily and exercise, among many other improved elements of my life.

“The consumer adoption of the new wave of non-alcoholic craft beers has taken surprisingly little education. It was a conversation already happening, there were just no products to meet modern taste and ingredient preferences on the market. It’s been very enthusiastic and building our community has been the highlight of our launch so far.

“Our drinkers don't necessarily ‘switch’ to non-alcoholic. Most of our customers also drink at other points during the week – we are just adding a significant percentage of new potential occasions to the beer market.

“They tend to come for the taste and refreshment and stay for the positive impact on their lives and health.

“We pride ourselves on not just having a great non-alcoholic beer, but a great beer that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with top beers.”

Athletic Brewing (2)

Deeper than drinking

As a lifestyle brand, Athletic has a lot of unique opportunities according to Shufelt, with Athletic Brewing’s merchandise arm and partnerships with races and fitness events possibly more akin to a sports nutrition brand than a beer.

“Our community has been connecting with us much deeper than just on their drinking occasions,” he explains.

“We run races shoulder-to-shoulder with our ambassadors and community and share celebratory beers after.

“Due to their non-alcoholic nature, our beers can travel and be sold in many places alcohol has never gone in its thousands of years of history, and because of that, our connections are more direct.

“Most of our ambassadors and athletes – from amateur to professional – have found us organically because they actually drink our beers and enjoy feeling good all the time.”

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