Remember that time when you were at a summer bbq, and you were reaching into the cooler. It was that moment when your partner asked if you could drive home? Do you remember how your heart dropped just a little bit?
Then as you were digging around looking for a diet soda or a seltzer just to have something to hold onto you started to feel sad as you pushed the hippest, new local IPA out the way? How even though you said, “Yes,” because you love your partner you also just kind of wondered if maybe now was a good time to bring up the thing from that time that they owed you one?
That would have been a good day for a well-crafted, non-alcoholic beer like…well, until recently there was no way to answer that. The old standbys have been around for ages, and while they came in a beer bottle it never really tasted or felt the same did it?
Enter Athletic Brewing Company. Originally based in Stamford, Connecticut, the brewery opened a second facility in the Miramar (or Beer-A-Mar) area of San Diego just before the pandemic hit in 2020.
They make four core beers-Run Wild IPA, Upside Dawn Golden Ale, All-out Stout and Cerveza Athletica along with numerous one-off specialty brews just like many other craft brewers. Right now their pilot program is working on non-alcoholic Maple Brown Ale and a West Coast IPA.
The brand has been given the craft beer treatment with well-designed labels, brand ambassadors, support for local trails through their Two for the Trails program supporting the San Diego Mountain Biking Association and plenty of photographs of good-looking people drinking their NA beer in beautiful locales.
Other breweries have taken notice. More than 19 different breweries have an NA offering at my local liquor store including both craft and big beer brands.
It’s a trend, but is it any good? I picked up a six-pack of Run Wild IPA. I figured that would be the hardest NA beer to replicate. I asked Athletic’s Territory Sales Manager, Ryan Brown, how they brewed a beer using water, hops, barley and yeast without alcohol (NA beers have less than 0.5% alcohol by volume), and he laughed before telling me that all he could say was they had a 12-15 step proprietary process that took hundreds of test batches to figure out.
I cracked open the can and a bit of foam fizzed up over the lip. So far so good. I took a sniff. A lightly hopped scent wafted into my nostrils. I took a sip. It tasted like beer, but did it taste like an IPA? That’s a bold statement they’ve put out there after all.
My first reaction was that it wasn’t quite as full-flavored as a Modern Times Booming Rollers or Belching Beaver Phantom Bride IPA, but what is? However, it was definitely the best non-alcoholic beer I’d ever had.
The true test came a few days later. The sun was out, and I had just gotten home from an early hike. It was the kind of moment that screamed for a cold beer while I propped my feet up on a patio chair listening to the hummingbirds’ chatter, but it was early and I still had a lot to do. I didn’t really want to start drinking. I grabbed another Run Wild IPA.
In the moment, you couldn’t have convinced me I wasn’t drinking a “sessionable” IPA without showing me the words “non-alcoholic” on the can. I sipped and enjoyed it. Then I opened another and started planning the rest of my day.
Cheers! North County Podcast:
Want to know more about Athletic Brewing? Do you listen to podcasts? Are you interested in interesting things being done by interesting people in North County San Diego?
Be sure to check out the most recent episode of the Cheers! North County podcast with Ryan Brown, SoCal Territory Sales Manager for Athletic Brewing Co. We talk about the rise of non-alcoholic beer, his passion for Athletic Brewing and giving back.
Stream it now on The Coast News online or search for it on your favorite podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thanks for listening, and for following Cheers! North County on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.