If a non-alcoholic brand could boast a cult following, it would be Athletic Brewing Company.
Founded in Stratford, Conn., by Bill Shufelt and John Walker in 2017, Athletic was one of the first national craft breweries to launch in the non-alcoholic space. It quickly outgrew its modest beginnings to become one of the leading NA beer brands in the space, with its spot-on IPAs, stouts, and lagers capturing drinkers locally and nationwide through online retail — even reaching international markets in Canada, Australia, and Europe.
“We wanted to make moderation more accessible and cool,” Shufelt says. “Sobriety or moderation has been kind of shameful and anonymous in the past, and we want to make it cool. That’s what we stand for; we’re a very positive brand.”
Athletic’s launch was, at its roots, an “overly optimistic” reach to find common ground with other health-conscious drinkers, Shufelt says. His entry to the craft brew scene came from a love of the flavors and formulas that create beers he enjoyed, minus the groggy hangovers.
“I didn’t really value alcohol’s contributions [to my life],” he says. “We set out to solve that at Athletic Brewing. It’s a great beer for anyone who isn’t drinking at that moment or any time. We want both the experience and the taste without any compromise.”
Earlier this summer, the brand celebrated one of its biggest milestones since its inception: Inc. Magazine named Athletic one of the fastest-growing private companies. In fact, it was ranked at an impressive No. 26 on the publication’s Inc. 5000 list. Sales hit nearly $37 million last year and the company has raised $75 million from investors. Athletic has also won over 60 awards for its knockout NA brews, the success of which Shufelt attributes to his co-founder, Walker.
“Our other co-founder, John, is a highly-awarded brewmaster and has taken that [expertise] to non-alcoholic beer,” he says. “John and the team are making incredible products, and truly living up to that goal we first set out with.”
This year, the brand brought back its Oktoberfest release — a testament to how fast the company has grown, Shufelt says. In addition to countless seasonal offerings and light variations, Athletic Brewing offers four core beers: Run Wild IPA, Upside Down Golden Ale, Free Wave, and All Out Stout.
On Athletic’s website, each beer’s review page is speckled with notes of thanks and praise. As he’s watched Athletic Brewing grow over the past four years, Shufelt says he’s loved connecting with people who feel the same way about booze-free beers. And the sales show the same enthusiasm. As Athletic has expanded to Whole Foods and other retailers, suppliers have had difficulty keeping stock on shelves.
“It was like a Ticketmaster concert for many of our customers,” he says. “We’d release a new double IPA, and it would sell out in 30 seconds.”
Company culture-wise, Athletic is based on five core values: innovation, community, quality, inclusion, and integrity. Charitable programs boost the nearby community; Shufelt says the company has donated just over $2.5 million to nonprofits this year alone. And for every product purchased from Athletic, 2 percent of proceeds go back into the environment through the Two for the Trails initiative.
While Shufelt originally envisioned their NA beer as simply an alternative to the typical drinking experience, Athletic Brewing has become so much more. And with a 13,000 percent increase in revenue over the past three years, the groundbreaking brand shows no signs of slowing down.