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In every city I visit, I’m drawn toward the local brewery—for me, sipping the neighborhood favorites and chatting with the folks there is orienting and grounding. I get a good sense for the city, discover new recommendations for restaurants and sightseeing, and usually end up with at least one new friend in the process.

But I’ve found myself a little stuck this summer; hanging out at my third place a little too late into the evenings and drinking too many of the my go-to brews. I’ve been wanting to add more non-alcoholic (NA) drink options to my rotation so that I can still feel indulgent and celebratory without the drawbacks of alcohol. Last year I reviewed Curious Elixirs, which I was pleasantly surprised by, but I still missed the taste of beer and the culture that surrounds it. So Athletic Brewing, an award-winning craft brewery making non-alcoholic beer, caught my attention.

The idea for a beer that supports a better tomorrow came to Bill Shufelt in 2014, while working long hours on Wall Street. He recruited John Walker, an experienced brewer, and they crafted over a hundred batches on homebrew equipment to perfect the product. And in 2018, Athletic Brewing officially launched and has grown to have breweries in both Connecticut and California. Athletic Brewing is now available online and in over 50,000 stores in 50 US states, making it one of the most accessible craft non-alcoholic beer options available. 

Athletic Brewing is also a Certified B Corp, and through its “Two For The Trails” program, donates up to two million dollars each year towards trail restoration and environmental stewardship. Athletic’s employees also get great benefits like 401k matching, fully paid health, vision, and dental care, and get extra paid time off for volunteering in their communities. How cool is that?

This summer, I’m trying Athletic Brewing as a replacement and alongside my favorite beers, as I’ve been working on cutting down my alcohol intake. (I’m a sober curious kinda gal). For this review, I tried six of the brand’s award-winning beers—let’s dive into my experience and tasting notes.

First Impressions Of Athletic Brewing

When I received my Athletic beers, which come only in aluminum cans, I was struck by the packaging. Athletic’s branding is playful, colorful, and could be tossed alongside any other brew in a picnic cooler without drawing attention. Since our society is built up so strongly around alcohol, it’s nice to have an option that isn’t blatantly O’Doul’s for social situations. 10/10, packaging is perfect.

“Since our society is built up so strongly around alcohol, it’s nice to have an option that isn’t blatantly O’Doul’s for social situations. 10/10, packaging is perfect.

The online ordering system is easy to use, and each beer has plenty of descriptors so you can make the right decision for you. Subscribe-and-save options, as well as bundled packs, are also available to make the price more accessible (more on that later—this isn’t cheap beer).

It also has to be said, before I dive into the taste—Athletic beers are non-alcoholic but not zero-alcohol. The proprietary brewing process results in less than 0.5% alcohol, which is the same standard as commercially produced kombucha. There’s even many other common groceries that contain more alcohol than this! If you’re abstaining entirely, keep this in mind.

Does Athletic Beer Taste Good?

If you’ve ever swapped in a mainstream low- or zero-alcohol beer during a dry month like I have, you’ll know the result is usually lackluster. Sure, you still get the experience of opening a bottle and the sensation of sipping something cold and wheaty, but I’ve always found the experience to feel more like a consolation prize than a reward.

Yet every Athletic Brewing beer is a delight. They’re aromatic, bubbly, and the colors are in hues of vibrant golds and coppers—unlike some other NA options which are visibly bland. And since Athletic makes IPAs, goldens, witbiers, and more, we actually have options so it’s not always the same beer style or flavor profile. 

Here are the six I’ve tried and my tasting notes on each one.

“Every Athletic beer is a delight. They’re aromatic, bubbly, and the colors are in hues of vibrant golds and coppers—unlike some other NA options which are visibly bland.”

Free Wave Hazy IPA
If you like Fat Tire from New Belguim brewing, this is the drink for you. This IPA is warming and comforting, and has an almost amber color to it. It’s craft (non-alcoholic) beer at its finest, and I’ll definitely be getting this again. I might even tell my local brewery to stock it.

Geralt’s Gold Hoppy Helles
This beer surprised me! Since I don’t usually drink this style, it was more difficult to distinguish from its non-alcoholic counterparts (IPA girlie over here). This helles is wheat-forward with a peach nose, and has a delightful lingering taste that has notes of copper. It also reminds me to watch The Witcher on Netflix. 😂

Rainbow Wall IPA
This was the haziest of all the beers I tasted, and I enjoyed the bright barley flavor profile with notes of tangerine and mango. The smell is subtle, but the flavor packs a punch. If you like Stone IPA, you’ll like this one. *Note this one was a seasonal brew for Pride Month so it’s not always available. I hope it comes back!

Run Wild IPA
My first impression of the smell on this IPA was that I’d pair it with pizza! Run wild is a little sharp and hoppy, and I’d compare it to a Lagunitas or a much more flavorful Budweiser. This would make a really tasty summer shandy if you mixed with lemonade. 

Upside Dawn Golden
This golden is gluten-removed but doesn’t taste like it (they did a good job of maintaining the flavor, which isn’t always easy with gluten-reduced). I found this to be the easiest drink, and it has a slight malt flavor that keeps it interesting. I recommend this for lake days and daytime hangs, especially if you’re replacing something like Corona or Heineken.

Wit’s Peak Witbier
Like with Geralt’s Gold, I appreciated this beer even more since it is not a style I usually drink. It’s got a hefeweizen taste and look to it, with slight notes of mango and peach without being sweet. I highly recommend this one as cold and fresh as you can get it. (See my note about carbonation below.)

My very favorites were the Free Wave Hazy IPA, Rainbow Wall IPA, and surprisingly the Wit’s Peak Witbier. The only one I might not reach for again would be the Upside Dawn Golden—it’s not my go-to style of beer, although I do recommend for an easy NA option for summer events. 

My consistent note is to make sure you drink them super cold and freshly opened since the beers can lose their bubbles faster than alcoholic ones. 

The carbonation in beer comes from the fermentation of the yeast, which creates produces carbon dioxide and alcohol. Other nonalcoholic beers either cook off or filter out the alcohol after the beer is brewed, and then need to be recarbonated afterwards. 

Athletic uses neither of these approaches—their patent-pending brewing method controls several variables so the beer is fermented to the 0.5% nonalcoholic standards with minimal processing. So, while I definitely want more long-lasting carbonation, I’m still excited about this approach.

“Make sure you drink Athletic beers super cold and freshly opened since these NA beers can lose their bubbles faster than alcoholic ones.”

Is Athletic Beer Worth The Price?

If you’re used to the Bud Light’s and Yuengling’s of the world, you’re not going to love the prices of these beers. However, any craft beer enthusiast won’t scoff (too much) at the $14.99 price tag on the six packs online. You can even snag six packs at your local retailer for around $9.99–$11.99 which is extra convenient.

But there are a couple ways to save. For my first order, I built a bundle of six six-packs and spent $85.65 after taxes and a 15% bundle discount. That’s $14.27 on average per six-pack (still pricey), but $2.38 per beer. Show me a happy hour that can match that price for a craft beer! 

Athletic Brewing does offer a membership program called The Athletic Club, which is simply a subscription service where you can save 5%, 10%, or 15% on your recurring orders. One note I have on this setup is you can’t snag certain specific seasonal brews in a recurring subscription if there’s one that catches your eye. This month (July 2023), for example, there is a limited release the brand collaborated with Netflix on called Geralt’s Gold, but I’d love to be able to swap in the Raspberry Sour to give it a try—maybe I just have to wait for August.

And perhaps most importantly, I really want the brand to offer a 12-can variety pack like other craft beer brands have in stores. I love trying new flavors, but committing to multiple six packs is a little overwhelming. Four flavors, three beers each, would be the perfect way to add in a variety of nonalcoholic beers for my summer gatherings. (You can get a variety pack of the sparkling hop-infused water, though!) If you want to test out these brews, call your nearest retailer and see if they offer singles; sometimes you can build your own six pack and test out a few flavors.

Other than those small drawbacks, a subscription to tasty NA beer delivered on my schedule? I’m signing up as soon as I run low on this batch and have more room in my refrigerator. I’m especially keen to try the brand’s sparkling hop-infused water.

“Every time I make the swap to Athletic Brewing, I know I’m going to have a better tomorrow in every sense.”

Every time I make the swap to Athletic Brewing, I know I’m going to have a better tomorrow in every sense. As the brand says beautifully on their website, they’re making this vision a reality:

“Mornings we can’t wait to wake up to. Days we never want to end. How about greener pastures we can actually access, and clearer skies wherever we roam. Happier trails – for us, and Mother Nature. And sunnier dispositions as far as the eye can see. A better version of our day, ourselves, our communities, and our world.”

If you’re swapping to nonalcoholic beverages, wanting to offer an option for folks who aren’t drinking, or even just looking for a tasty summer sip—Athletic Brewing is the way to go. Cheers!

Key Takeaways:

  • Athletic Brewing is a B Corp that makes award-winning non-alcoholic craft beers (.5% or less alcohol) that taste great and offer folks a beer alternative without as much stigma.
    Thanks to the brand’s patent-pending brewing process, the carbonation occurs naturally in brewing. However, I’ve found it does go flat a bit faster than alcoholic beers so recommend drinking super cold and fresh.
  • I especially love the style of NA beers that I don’t usually drink (like the Helles and the Witbier), since the flavors are more unique to me than my go-to IPAs.
  • Athletic beer will cost you more than cheap mainstream beers, but the flavor, quality, and overall ethics of the company are worth it if you’re looking to lower your alcohol intake without missing out on craft beer. Expect to pay between $13-$14 for each six-pack.

Emily McGowan is the Editorial Director at The Good Trade. Born and raised in Indiana, she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her in her colorful Los Angeles apartment journaling, caring for her rabbits and cat, or gaming. Say hi on Instagram!