Brewing for athletes

A new generation of non-alcoholic beer is on the rise

Tim Cigelske
Jul 2, 2019 · 4 min read
My new favorite non-alcoholic beer from Athletic Brewery

In 2018, the German beer Erdinger’s website featured something you might not expect from a brewery: A 20-day personal training plan to get fit.

The Bavarian beer calls itself “the sports and fitness drink” and explains its nutritional advantages, including B9 vitamins and “isotonic properties.”

Whether at work, before driving or after sports, there are certain occasions where it is wiser to avoid alcohol. For those who don’t want to miss out on the delicious taste of wheat beer, though, the solution is Erdinger Weissbier ‘non-alcoholic’.

Erdinger began targeting athletes in 2001 with advertising featuring triathletes. Its popularity grew after being distributed for free at the finish area of European sporting events.

“It’s a really good drink directly after training or after competition,” said silver-medal winning German biathlete Simon Schempp, who was quoted in the New York Times highlighting the German team’s signature recovery elixir.

The Times’ reports that Germans often drink non-alcoholic beer in place of sports drinks after exercise, and that Johannes Scherr, the doctor for the German Olympic ski team, said nearly all of his athletes drink non-alcoholic beer during training. The brewery Krombacher supplied about 1,000 gallons of nonalcoholic beer to the athletes’ village for German athletes.

Turns out, these athletes were ahead of their time. In the United States, low-ABV, sessions and non-alcoholic beer are on the rise, from ’s Slightly Mighty to the “sober curious” who give up beer for Dry January, Dry July or Sober September.

Studies that show that taking even a brief break from alcohol has benefits like improved sleep and weight loss.

When I’ve recently posted about this topic on my facebook page, I get responses from others who are cutting back on beer. Here are a few:

“I took an entire year off from alcohol. It was definitely an eye-opening experience from a mental standpoint. From a running/physical standpoint, I dropped a bunch of weight, felt stronger, and recovered faster. Now, I’m back to enjoying the occasional good beer or mixed drink, but I find I appreciate it much more now!”

“I will do a 30-day wagon run prior to an important run, but savor every drop once I’ve finished.”

“I find that taking a two-week break usually is accompanied by losing several pounds and sleeping better.”

“I’d be lying if I said the NA crafts are as good as a normal beer (maybe because I’m from Wisconsin), but they do fill a void and taste real good when you don’t feel like wrestling ABV,” wrote my friend , who is training for upcoming trail marathons and ultra marathons. He said he’s been “enthusiastically exploring” NA craft beer and enjoys Wellbeing’s Hellraiser when he’s not drinking New Glarus’ Moon Man session pale ale or a craft lager with low alcohol.

Personally, I’ve been writing about craft beer for more than a decade. A year ago, I cut back drastically on my drinking and I liked the effects of less calorie and alcohol intake.

I think people like me who experienced the craft beer boom in our 20s and early 30s are starting to reach a point where we don’t want or need double IPAs and boozy stouts — at least not every night.

But we still enjoy the ritual and relaxation effects of opening up a drink. So that’s where better-tasting non-alcoholic and light beers come in.

Drinking non-alcoholic beer may still be blasphemy to some beer drinkers, but the industry is getting serious and improving taste for the palette of craft beer drinkers. (a former colleague of mine at DRAFT Magazine) featured her first non-alcoholic beer in her Beer Of The Week column, a kolsch with just 17 calories.

“Perhaps I’ve been unfair to non-alcoholic beer,” she writes. “My review of the mass-market versions left a bad taste in my mouth (quite literally), but I’ve since tried a few smaller breweries’ versions and found them superior. In fact, I’d actively searched for NA beers I can recommend, a goal I haven’t stopped working toward.”

Recently, I spoke with Athletic Brewing founder Bill Shufelt, who created a beer company for endurance athlete as well as anyone who wants the taste of a quality craft beer without the alcohol.

Their Run Wild IPA has won the gold medal at the 2018 International Beer Challenge, as well as the USA’s Best Non-alcoholic Beer in the World Beer Awards. I talked with Bill about the growth of low and no-ABV beers and the future for this type of brewery.

As Bill explained Athletic Brewing isn’t just for athletes — it could be for social drinkers who want to cut back, parents who don’t want to be hungover when their toddler wakes them up at 6 am, a “pacer” beer between high ABV beers or anyone else seeking balance in their buzz.

For the last month I’ve been drinking Athletic Brewery’s Upside Dawn, Run Wild and now their seasonal Double Hop IPA — my favorite so far. I still drink regular beer with alcohol, but mixing in nights of non-alcoholic beer strikes the right balance for me.

Have you tried the new wave of non-alcoholic craft beer? Do you have a favorite? Let me know here or in the beer runner Facebook group.

The Beer Runner

The intersection of craft beer and a healthy, active…

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