Can a non-alcoholic beer stand up to regular craft brew?
At the time Jeff Wueste quit drinking booze more than three decades ago, beer lovers didn’t have a ton of options from which to choose.
Beer was basically beer until the rise of microbreweries in the 1990s, and by that time, Wueste had switched to non-alcoholic brews. He decided O’Doul’s worked for him, and that’s what he drank.
So when a shipment of beer from Athletic Brewing Company showed up on my doorstep, I figured Wueste could serve as my guinea pig. I gave him some of the beer to test, and asked him to share his thoughts.
But before we get to that, some background.
Bill Shufelt used to drink beer, but decided he could live without the side effects the alcohol gave him – dehydration, sleeplessness and hangovers. And while the beer scene had exploded with an array of offerings from hoppy IPAs to fruit-spiked wheats and sours, he noticed that the non-alcoholic market had stagnated for years. Shufelt saw a void, and teamed with Santa Fe craft brewer John Walker. Their mission? To take an artisanal approach to whipping up non-boozy brews, and put more variety in the NA beer world.
Athletic Brewing Co. was born.
“Athletic beers are for weeknights when you want to be ready for work the next morning, for the athlete who is training for the 10k, the half or more; for the parent who has children in tow; or when you want to have good times with friends and family but feel good doing so and the next day,” he says in a press release that arrived with two six-packs.
If you live in Stratford, Conn., you can drop by the brewery to pick up containers of any of the brewery’s current lineup of nine types of non-alcoholic beer. The menu includes Free Way Double Hop IPA, All Out Stout, Graham Cracker Brown Ale, Summer Splash IPA, Closer by the Mile NEIPA, and Coconut Brown. The mail-order offerings are limited to three – Run Wild IPA, Upside Dawn Golden Ale, and Cerveza Atletica.
The company shipped me the Run Wild and the Upside Dawn. I was curious what Wueste would think.
Wueste, an endurance paddler, liked both varieties he tasted. So did his girlfriend, Sheila Reiter, an endurance cyclist and paddler who usually prefers wine or margaritas over beer.
“This one’s a little lighter,” Wueste said of the Upside Dawn, packaged in a bright yellow can. “It tastes grapefruity. I like it.”
Those are exciting words, compared to his description of his usual O’Doul’s, which goes like this: “A very standard, basic beer. There’s really no flavor to O’Doul’s.”
The Run Wild was hoppier and slightly bitter, without the hint of citrus. It had just 70 calories per can.
Wueste says that Athletic’s beer provides a way for him to socialize with his friends, and get a little taste of the changes that have taken place in the beer world since he cut alcohol out of his diet. He plans to buy some.
“Mainly I like to sit with my peeps, and when everybody else is going to have a drink, it makes me feel like I’m having a drink with them,” he says.
Athletic Brewing Co.’s beer is available at Austin retailers including Specs Wine, Liquor & Beer, Total Wine & More, Trader Joe’s, Wiggy’s, Quickie Pickie, Whole Foods and Twin Liquors. You can also buy it online for $12.99 a six-pack, plus shipping.
Through the company’s Two for the Trails program, 2 percent of overall sales is donated to an Athletic cause, on a rotating basis. Right now, the proceeds benefit the Appalachian Trail.