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When Athletic Brewing Co. offered its non-alcoholic Limited Edition Double Hop IPA for sale online last week, it was sold in 32 seconds.
"We have actually been totally overwhelmed and shocked at how strong the nationwide online demand is," said Bill Shufelt, co-founder of Athletic Brewing Co., which produces only non-alcoholic breweries.
The brewery releases small batches, 50 to 100 cases at a time, and it has expanded rapidly. "We have recently doubled our capacity and footprint," Shufelt says of the Connecticut-based company, which also sells its docks on crane and in cans of about 25 breweries and many additional bars in the Northeast
Two years ago, when Shufelt and his founder John Walker got Athletic Brewing Co. off the ground, Shufelt says, his goal was to "give people one cool way to moderate [their drinking] … and to give people who are sober comfort to be sober ", by giving them more options when they are out and about.
But he says they t was hard to get investors' attention. The non-alcoholic beer category in the US had gone down. "There was no appetite at all in the brewery," says Shufelt. "It was very tough." Now he says that he is often contacted by investors and people who are interested in trying their craft bridges. "The conversation has completely changed."
And there is competition – a lot of boaters are now focused on making nonalcoholic beers. For example, Bravus Brewing Co., which was founded in 2015, sells a number of NA breweries – from an earthly India pale beer to a citrus-like amber beer. "We can't do things fast enough," Michael Hayes, the company's customer contact, told the NPR in an email.
He says he thinks that people right now are aware that there are high-quality alternatives to the non-alcoholic wait beer. "Earlier changes in the attitude to drinking alcohol" also contribute to the trend that Hayes says.
For example, a survey by analysts at Bank of America last year found that 22% of the millennia say they drink less – and when asked why, the majority said that increased concerns about health and well-being are driving this behavioral change. Research has increasingly pointed to the risks of consuming more than one drink or two per day. And a book titled Sober Curious, written by Ruby Warrington, has characterized the benefits of better sleep and greater focus in an alcohol-free lifestyle.
Courtesy of Athletic Brewing Co.
Partake Brewing, based in Toronto, was founded by Ted Fleming, who stopped drinking due to a medical condition. On the company's website he explains that he lacked beer, "but more than that I saw that I lacked the social connection that comes from sharing a drink with a colleague after a hard day's work." He writes that the stigma of traditional nonalcoholic beers was well deserved. They were lacking in taste and in diversity. Then he wanted to offer new options.
Jeff Stevens, founder of WellBeing Brewing Co. in Maryland Heights, Mo. – who describes himself as an alcohol-free – tells a similar story on his website. He writes that in a moment of clarity when he stopped drinking, he realized "that spirits and I would never have a successful relationship." But he still liked going to bars and listening to music.
In an email, Stevens told NPR that the boat NA category is so new, people want to try every style – from hoppy dark-amber bread to heavier stouts. WellBeing also offers a new "sports bridge" that is infused with electrolytes.
It is not clear yet, because the NA breweries only scale up how much market share they can expect to win. But Athletic Brewing Co.'s Shufelt points to the expansion of non-alcoholic beer in Europe. In the UK and Germany there has been rapid growth.
"I think many people assume that alcohol is why they have fun drinking beer," Shufelt says. But he adds, sometimes when people take a break, they start to see it differently.
He says he began to reflect on his life around the thirties. He married and took his career more seriously. He became more focused on his health and good nutrition. "I realized that alcohol was so inconsistent with every aspect of my life," he says.
In the beginning he peeled back. Now he doesn't drink alcohol at all.