The story of non-alcoholic (NA) beer in America actually begins with Prohibition. While some breweries repurposed their refrigeration units and pivoted into the dairy business, many others turned to “near beer” — brews containing 0.5 percent alcohol or less — to stay afloat. Near beer was anything but spectacular, and put a bad taste (pun intended) in American drinkers’ mouths. If this was what beer without booze tasted like, people wanted no part of it.
However, in the decades following Prohibition, a handful of non-alcoholic beers continued to hit the market. While some of them had some staying power, the beverage category never quite shook the stigma of “sub-par product.” Things changed in the mid-2010s, though, as the craft beer boom spread across the country. With the boom came a flock of brewers seeking to redefine the NA beer space. The pioneers of this movement? Bill Shufelt and John Walker of Athletic Brewing Company.
Shufelt had always been a fan of the craft food and beverage world, but had reached a point in life where he was looking to enjoy social situations without having to actually indulge in alcohol consumption. He turned to an online brewing forum where he found Walker, who had been brewing alcoholic beer professionally for years. Since the pair met in 2017, they’ve expanded from brewing non-alcoholic beer test batches in Gatorade jugs in a garage to operating four full-scale breweries. Now, Athletic Brewing Company is by no means the first non-alcoholic beer brand, but it was the first to successfully cross the flavors and aesthetics of the craft beer segment consistently, and at a scale.
Today on the “Taplines” podcast,” Dave Infante is joined by Athletic Brewing Company’s cofounders, Bill Shufelt and John Walker, to discuss the brand’s history and rise to success. Tune in for more.