Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A guy quits his corporate job to start a craft brewery. At first, distributors ignore his calls. He takes hundreds of meetings with potential investors, and whips up endless batches of homebrew to fine-tune his recipe. His friends tell him he’s crazy, that the odds are against him, that he should walk away. Who’s gonna drink that stuff? they say.
The craft brewery origin myth is so cliche by now that it’s a bit mind-numbing. But stay with me, because this one has a twist. At Athletic Brewing, the story is mostly the same, but the beers -- IPAs, lagers, and stouts in handsome boutique labels -- are different. They’re non-alcoholic, and they’re flying off the shelves.
“I was getting a delivery [of Athletic] and someone bought a 12-pack right out of guy’s van, essentially,” said Dan Lamonaca, owner of Brooklyn’s well-curated Beer Karma bottle shop. (They mostly sell alcoholic craft beers.) “I was like, ‘well, I'll take a second case if you have one in your car.’ Ever since then, I’ve just had to keep it in stock.”
Baffling, right? I know. “In the craft beer world a decade ago, ‘imperial’ literally ruled, as breweries churned out triple IPAs and 10% versions of every style under the sun,” wrote beer journalist and author Kate Bernot in 2018. (Imperials being bolder, higher-ABV brews in a given style, be it stout or pilsner.) These days, however, everyone does session IPAs, and some upstarts are going even further with low alcohol-by-volume beers specifically targeted at athletes.
High-ABV is out. Active lifestyles are in. Is non-alcoholic craft beer’s American moment nigh? If Athletic’s runaway success is any indication, there’s another craft revolution coming. And this revolution will be sober.