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Welcome to our Athletic Brewing review!
It may not have been the first thought in our minds as we combed the rows upon rows of vendor booths at Natural Health Products Expo West 2022, but when we saw (and tasted) Athletic Brewing Company’s non-alcoholic craft beers, we knew a brand review was already brewing.
Speaking with co-founder Bill Shufelt at the event and after the fact revealed ABC’s mission to subvert the centuries-old institution of casual drinking for the betterment of public health, as the company (mostly) 86es the alcohol while chopping down calories as low as 25 per beer and sticking to high-quality, often organic hops and other ingredients.
And finally, we found a brand completely dedicated to non-watery, flavorful non-alcoholic beers that stands in stark contrast to the tokenized offerings of major breweries, all while keeping the productivity-sapping hangover and weight gain out of the equation.
For their uncannily beer-like products, amazing variety of brews, environmental activism, customer service and more, Athletic Brewing Company became the first brand in the history of The Nutrition Insider to earn an overall grade of A+.
Here’s how they did it, from the first generation of IPAs, ales, and lagers to the more fleshed out collection you can browse today.
A couple of major revelations drove ABC co-founder Bill Shufelt to tread onto the barely touched battlefield of craft-grade NA beers.
Namely, as he endeavored on a personal level to be more mindful of his health, he quickly arrived at a sensible self-diagnosis: “Alcohol was an unnecessary distraction in my life” that he didn’t get much real enjoyment out of to offset the health impact.
Then, he learned from this 2014 but still illuminating article on drinking statistics from the Washington Post that more than 60 percent of adults consume 0-1 drinks a week.
After about two seconds (because that’s all it took) of reviewing the underwhelming options available at the time, he realized there was, “Unbelievable expansion opportunity in the beer set to reach broader audiences” fitting into the category described above (one drink a week), so he created Athletic Brewing Company in 2018 with fellow co-founder John Walker.
The pair started out test-brewing batch after batch of beer on homebrew equipment until they were happy enough to form a brewery in Stratford, CT, following up with a San Diego, CA brewery later.
These two facilities were the only fully non-alcoholic breweries in the world, and since they were set up, the brand has amassed a catalog of craft IPAs, lagers, ales (golden, copper, etc.), sours, and more, all non-alcoholic – which is differentiated from alcohol-free beers by the 0.5% (versus 0) ABV limit.
As they’ve grown, so has their commitment to environmental restoration projects, and their B corp certification signals another commitment to a smaller (social/ethical/environmental) footprint.
“We’re trying to reframe how people think about drinking as a modern lifestyle,” Bill told us, and within a few days, we got it.
We’re trying to reframe how people think about drinking as a modern lifestyle.Athletic Brewing Founder, Bill Shufelt
Every brand we review is assessed according to the following universal criteria (Athletic Brewing’s individual grades are included):
Together, these categories encompass dozens of other sub-factors, from the wording of shipping policies to the level of industry disruption invoked by the brand.
In other words, we’ve got a lot to cover in order to provide a truly comprehensive Athletic Brewing review covering far more than the taste and quality, but know at the outset that Athletic Brewing Company earned an overall grade of A+ for their excellent performance across the board.
As usual, we’ll start with the pivotal issue of quality.
Sustainably sourced (and often organic certified) ingredients, ample in-house talent, and superior taste and quality deliver an A+ for Athletic Brewing Company.
You can’t have consistent end product quality without sound sourcing and manufacturing standards, which is why we lump all of these and more into the quality category.
Our Athletic Brewing Company beers arrived in high quality, durable boxes and cans, on which were tastefully plastered everything you would want to know, including:
The malt, rice, and wheat used in Athletic Brewing Company beers is certified organic by Bay State Organic Certifiers, a USDA-Accredited agency.
Their grains are sourced from the Pacific Northwest, after which ABC takes control of the entire brewing/manufacturing process in either of their two breweries.
“By doing everything ourselves without hiring out, we own the quality in total,” as Bill explained to us.
By doing everything ourselves without hiring out, we own the quality in total.Athletic Brewing Founder, Bill Shufelt
Since Athletic Brewing Company co-founder John Walker was already an “incredibly talented brewmaster,” Bill went on to say, who had a major hand in developing most of the flagship recipes (and still does today), the team is able to innovate from within.
Finally, and speaking of brewing and quality, the beers are very, very well made.
Not to mention, the almost complete lack of alcohol content slashes calories in half or more in most cases.
Imitation meat could learn a lot from this team on subtle and effective mimicry, because even the craft beer snobs among our team were very impressed with how full-bodied, vibrant, and delicious each and every beer was while remaining virtually indiscernible from alcoholic beers.
Speaking of, here’s a look at the full Athletic Brewing Company product catalog, starting with the flagship brews.
In addition to the Run Wild IPA, Free Wave Hazy IPA, and Upside Dawn Golden Ale already featured above, Athletic Brewing Company currently offers the following IPAs:
The spectrum of hoppiness is well-covered here, while leaving plenty of room for additions like mango and coconut (Superfood Swell), blood orange (Rainbow Wall), floral notes (Marco’s Mischievous Mistral), and more.
If hops aren’t as much your thing, you have no turned-up noses to fear here, as Athletic Brewing Company has amassed a still-flourishing and judgment-free selection of lagers, wheat beers, and light beers, including:
A respectful tip of the hat to classic German (wibier/gose) and Mexican (light copper) brewing techniques adds excellent variety to this selection of light, crisp beers.
If low-calorie NA beer is your aim, Athletic Lite boasts a piddly 25 calories, and you’ll find plenty of citrus and even nutty (coriander) embellishment added to the Wit’s Peak Witbier and the Downwinder Gose.
Infused with notes of coffee and bittersweet chocolate, All Out is an extra dark beer that Athletic Brewing Company recommends you pair with savory dishes and sweet desserts.
First Ride doubles down on the coffee element, delivering a shot of medium and dark roast to go along with the smooth and nutty flavor.
Athletic Brewing Company offers two limited-quantity sours and one members-only sour, including Soul Sour, All The Fruit Fruited Sour, and a second appearance of the Downwinder Gose (counts as both a wheat and sour beer).
Soul Sour mixes blueberry, lemon, and mango to create a sweet and tart flavor profile, and 100% of the profits from this product are donated to scholarship funds and other impact programs.
Raspberry, blueberry, strawberry, and red currant all add to the “pucker factor” of All The Fruit Fruited Sour, which is exclusively available to Athletic Club members.
Though the Downwinder is considerably lighter, the lime leaf still makes for a tart flavor profile.
Finally, if beer of any kind isn’t your thing, Athletic Brewing Company offers an eclectic selection of Daypack Sparkling Waters, including the following flavors:
You won’t have to dig too much on the Athletic Brewing Site to find the major trust-building content pieces disclosing where and how the products are made, who is making them, and why.
It doesn’t take volumes of content or consumer psychology genius to understand what customers want to know and express that succinctly on the company website, including, at a bare minimum, answers to the following universal questions:
Fancy graphics are nice, but we just want to see these questions clearly answered, both as reviewers and consumers.
Here’s what we learned in our Athletic Brewing review after donning our secret shopper hats for a quick perusal of the Athletic Brewing Company website: for starters, they have a proprietary brewing process.
Understandably, the ABC crew keeps the lid fairly tight on the finer details of the brewing process, but Bill at least informed us, “We started with scratch and came up with our own 10-12 step method…that is delicate and respects the elements of fermentation.”
This makes sense after trying the products, which are simply in a different quality tier than those made by bigger breweries that just suck the alcohol out and call it a day.
Customers can also quickly glean a fairly complete sense of the brand—the story and philosophy, staff, operations, and locations—on their various about-style pages (Our Brewing Process, Our Values, etc.).
Athletic Brewing was also forthcoming with a tidy breakdown of their production methods and supply chain.
We reserve an A+ for brands that answer all of the above questions with next-level content quality, interactive features, etc., but ABC definitely answered all of them in a concise and approachable manner, earning an A in this Athletic Brewing review for transparency.
Athletic Brewing Company’s neatly designed and organized website makes it easy to browse, shop, and learn about the products and the company itself.
The depth and quality of relevant, beginner-friendly content as well as the functionality of the ecommerce portion of the site (how easy it is to browse, purchase, etc.) take precedence over design in this category, given our purposes as reviewers in a consumer packaged goods arena.
That said, a flat-out ugly and/or highly distracting design will surely earn a deduction, but Athletic Brewing Company steered clear of this with simple and attractive images, videos, copy, and web design.
Once on the site, users can learn about how their beer is made (to an extent), what the company’s values are, and why they do what they do.
If Athletic Brewing Company produced a more technically complex product, like a psychoactive supplement that boosts concentration or relaxation, we would harp on the lack of a blog or “X 101” pages, but since everyone knows what beer is and what alcohol does, we found the amount of beginner content to be more than sufficient in this case.
Browsing and purchasing products was made easy and enjoyable, namely because of the filters in the sidebar that allowed you to shop by beer type (lager, sour, ale, etc.) as well as the above-average amount of product information on individual product pages.
If you’re just looking for their non-alcoholic beers or their sparkling waters, each of these has its own link in the main navigation bar, but the “shop all” page is still easy to explore, given the filters.
As far as what we were happy to not see, there were no screen-hogging popups, excessive splash pages, or otherwise weird/broken features that broke the immersion of the shopping experience.
Finally, the site performs smoothly on both mobile and desktop devices, with no bugs or formatting issues to our knowledge, which sealed ABC’s grade of A+ in our Athletic Brewing review for this category.
The customer service agents we spoke with provided prompt and polite answers to all our questions, but the hazily defined return policy could use some improvement.
We assess both the number of available customer support services and the responsiveness and accommodation level of these services when considering this review category.
We also take into account how clearly communicated and flexible the brand’s shipping and return policies are.
Athletic Brewing Company lists a phone number as well as an email address on their support page.
After submitting our question to the email system, they replied to us within two hours, and we were able to speak to a human being without holding after calling the number (separate question).
The email response was in-depth and friendly, and though the phone support agent didn’t have the answer we needed, they took our information and had someone else call the same day with another helpful and polite answer.
However, inconsistent language and a bit of a goose chase on the Athletic Brewing Company website have shaken our confidence in what exactly the return policy is.
The shipping and returns page says that Athletic Brewing is “unable to process returns for our beverage products as they are perishable products”—not outlandish, but there could be a compromise here—but then directs us to the terms of service page for a breakdown of their damaged-on-arrival product return policy, where no such breakdown is found.
Athletic Brewing Company Bill Shufelt did help to clarify the issue, explaining, “We usually just refund the customer, since returns aren’t possible with perishable and opened foods.”
We did read on a somewhat obscurely located support article that customers can “take a picture and email us at [email protected] brewing.com” in the case of products that are “damaged or do not meet your expectations,” which contradicts the earlier statement that they never offer returns on the basis of satisfaction issues.
Our direct experiences with customer service agents at Athletic Brewing Company were befitting of a top-tier company, and the availability of their policies is also A-grade, but the returns issue (not to mention no satisfaction guarantee that we could find) brought them down to an A- in this Athletic Brewing review for customer service.
A six-pack of Athletic Brewing Company beers costs around $3 or $4 more than most competing NA beers, but this gap is reconciled and then some by subscriber savings, selection, and raw product quality.
As usual, apples-to-apples comparisons are made even more difficult by the unique nature of this company and this product, but to at least provide some lightly weighted context, a six-pack of Stella Artois and Heineken NA beers (in bottles) both retail for $9.99.
Athletic Brewing charges $13.99 for a six pack, a price point that is standardized across the vast majority of the beers they make.
One of the several mitigating factors we considered when making this loose comparison is that Athletic Brewing is the only major brewery in the world to have NA-dedicated breweries, and it’s also very unlikely that other breweries are totally reinventing the brewing process for the one NA beer that they make.
Obviously, the added value of the use case—opening up high-quality craft beers to people not wanting to consume alcohol—also pushed ABC to the more favorable end of the value spectrum.
The subscription program (more just below) is also highly flexible and fairly generous in that it offers solid savings without requiring you to meet a super high threshold of monthly purchases.
Finally, and we challenge anyone with a bottle of “X brewery zero” in their hands to a taste test if they contest, the competition isn’t even close to the amazing taste and massive selection of the Athletic Brewing Company collection.
For these reasons, Athletic Brewing Company earns an A+ in this Athletic Brewing review for value—here’s a look at their subscription plan, as promised.
So long as a subscription plan is flexible (cancel or pause anytime) and offers more than a paltry amount of consistent savings, we generally affirm it as a worthwhile option for regular customers.
Such is the case with the Athletic Brewing Company subscription, or the “Athletic Club,” which works like this:
Subscribers will also receive early access on new and/or limited-time beers, exclusive merch drops, and “maybe you’ll even get a fun surprise from us every now and then,” per the site copy.
We can’t knock the savings, flexibility, or exclusive perks, so we recommend this subscription for anyone looking to stick with the product for any amount of time.
There was too much coming at us in the brand value assessment this time to back down from an A+, including Athletic Brewing Company’s trail restoration efforts, institutional knowledge, and what they’ve done to elevate the NA beer industry.
It’s a wide net, but using discretion when necessary, we treat this category as a way to measure the total impact that a given company has had on their industry, also awarding credit for charity and philanthropy efforts affecting anyone inside or outside the industry.
Key factors we come back to in this category include, but are not limited to the following:
NA beer was obviously a thing before Athletic Brewing Company planted their flag, but it was a drab and completely uninspiring thing, the revitalization of which we accredit in large part to how Athletic Brewing Company changed the game with superior quality and a massive selection.
Having a brewmaster as part of the core leadership team who actively participates in recipe creation (versus an outsourced “consultant” on a “specialist board,” etc.) bodes very well for the institutional knowledge factor.
Both their ongoing contributions to Two for the Trails—a program that funnels 2% of all ABC sales to trail restoration non-profit organizations—and their organic/sustainable ingredients and methods signal a well-above-average commitment to sustainability.
Athletic Brewing Company is highly disruptive, innovative, knowledgeable, and generous in how much they give, earning them an A+ in this Athletic Brewing review for brand value.
Our review team ordered and sampled several of Athletic Brewing Company’s beers, including:
As mentioned in the “quality” section above, our beers arrived undamaged in attractively labeled boxes and cans.
There isn’t much else to say, other than to comment on the drinking experience, which was superb.
The full-bodied and flavorful IPAs sent that trademark tingle from ear to ear on the first sip, and the hazy was very refreshing with the gentle notes of citrus.
For those less inclined to crank up the hoppy bitterness to ten, the Upside Dawn Golden Ale provided a perfect middle ground, still delivering a medium amount of malty bitterness while avoiding the flat, stale taste of lighter (and/or poorly made) goldens or blonde ales.
These truly would be indiscernible from alcoholic craft beers to all but the most seasoned beer experts—we kept having to remind ourselves that we weren’t full-on drinking during the workday or while watching our kids and running errands (check state regs on the driving issue, by the way).
This part isn’t officially graded, as we also incorporate taste and end product into the review already, but if it were, it’s a 10/10 for our experience, including both the products themselves and our interactions with the customer service team.
In addition to shopping directly from their website, you can use the Athletic Brewing Company store locator page to find their products at hundreds of grocery stores, liquor stores, bars, and more across the nation.
Most Athletic Brewing Company beers fit within a range of 25-90 calories, with Athletic Light on the lower end and the dark beers, sours, and IPAs on the higher end.
Athletic Brewing Company beers range between 0.2%-0.3% alcohol content, making sure to remain under the 0.5% cutoff for NA beer.
Athletic Brewing Company beers have been shown by tests to contain vital micronutrients like potassium and magnesium, electrolytes, and fewer calories than alcoholic beers, making them relatively healthier.
Athletic Brewing Company beers vary in carb content between 5 grams and upwards of 24 grams, but with no added sugar.
As long as you are approved by your healthcare provider to consume trace amounts of alcohol on a regular basis, drinking NA beer every day should not pose a significant health risk.
Everybody’s recovery journey is different, but some have warned against NA beer in the recovery scenario because, while not harmful in itself, it can trigger the urge to drink alcoholic beer.
Most tests are calibrated to a low enough threshold to detect the small amount of alcohol in NA beers, so it is still best to refrain for a day or more before your next test.
It depends on the system.
Alcohol is detectable in the blood for as long as six hours, in the breath, urine, and saliva for 12-24 hours, and in the hair for up to 90 days, according to American Addiction Centers.
Athletic Brewing Company is the first brand we’ve reviewed to earn an overall grade of A+ because of their well-rounded performance across all of our major review criteria.
Given their ownership of the entire manufacturing process, their use of sustainable and organic ingredients, and their core staff’s knowledge of brewing in general, there was no room for deduction in the quality department.
They make key insights about the company and the products easily accessible to all site visitors, and the site itself provides a fluid and informative experience for shoppers and casual browsers alike.
The return policy needs work, but our direct experiences with customer service staff were indicative of a top-tier brand that wants to actively engage with and help their audience.
Finally, Athletic Brewing has definitely jolted the NA beer industry awake with their large collection of high quality beers, and thanks to their contributions to Two for the Trails, you have another reason to feel good about your purchase (besides no alcohol and slashed calories).
The gauntlet has been thrown down, everyone—let’s see how long Athletic Brewing reigns alone at the top.
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