Non-alcoholic beer isn’t what it used to be, and Athletic’s IPA proves it

Like a Virgin Graphic with a can of Athletic Brewing Company Run Wild IPA
Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Welcome to Like A Virgin, a column in which we recommend a different zero-ABV drink each week. They’re not “near beers,” they’re not “mocktails”—they’re delicious beverages that anyone and everyone should try at least once. Got an idea for a future Like A Virgin column? Email us at hello@thetakeout.com.

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Ever since Like a Virgin launched in January, I’ve received multiple suggestions to check out Athletic, a fully booze-free craft brewery from Stratford, Connecticut. Since it launched in 2017, Athletic’s beers have been surrounded by the sort of buzz that sounded too hyperbolic to be real; as I’ve written about before, folks like me who got sober before 2017 tend to have major trust issues when it comes non-alcoholic beer. So despite its good reviews, I mostly ignored Athletic’s existence. If you have harbored similar skepticism, it’s time to let go of every single doubt, because the spectacular things you’ve heard about Athletic Brewing Company are true. If anything, the praise has not gone far enough.

When reviewing NA beverages, I usually like to cover a company’s full range of offerings, but when it comes to Athletic, that approach is impossible. This is a brewery that warrants Beer of the Week treatment, with eight styles of beer regularly on offer, as well as a line of hoppy seltzers and special seasonal releases (like the upcoming Rainbow Wall, a limited-edition blood orange IPA for Pride Month). Athletic is what I have dreamed about and was sure would never exist: a real craft brewery, just without the booze.

I will direct your attention to only one of Athletic’s beers: its best-selling Run Wild IPA. (I will absolutely be spotlighting more Athletic offerings in the future, but if you have your own thoughts or recommendations that just can’t wait, I’d love to hear about them in the comments!) Since IPAs can range from “pleasantly hoppy” to “ shockingly unpalatable” they can be a very divisive style, and yet I’m struggling to find a single thing to dislike about Run Wild. It hits the palate with a crisp bitterness and a tinge of grass and citrusy hops, then quickly shifts to grapefruit notes that linger on the tongue.

Run Wild is not watery, it is not lesser-than, it is not “fake beer”—it is, in a word, extraordinary, just like every other Athletic brew I’ve tasted so far. It is cold, hard proof that the presence of alcohol isn’t necessary for a beer to be stellar. I am grateful of Athletic Brewing Company’s existence, I am grateful for all the readers who nudged me in its direction, and I am grateful that I’ve got a 12-pack of real, honest-to-goodness craft beers in my fridge waiting to be enjoyed. I can’t wait to share them all with you.

Allison Robicelli is a JBFA-nominated food & humor writer, former professional chef, author of four (quite good) books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Need cooking advice? Tweet me @Robicellis.

DISCUSSION

panthercougar
panthercougar

I feel that the overwhelmingly hoppy flavor of American IPAs would make them one of the easiest beer styles to replicate in non-alcoholic fashion. The trickiest part would be to try and recreate the mouthfeel, as IPAs tend to be higher alcohol, and therefore have a higher malt bill and feel thicker (for lack of a better word) than lighter beers. That is the biggest knock I have on Founder’s All Day IPA which is a lower alcohol variety.

When my wife was pregnant with our first child she drank Labatt Blue NA from time to time. I tried it once or twice, and it was my only experience with NA beer. That particular variety was underwhelming, but of course a beer like Labbatt Blue isn’t exactly the most flavorful brew to begin with. And yes, I know NA beers still have a negligible amount of alcohol, but I highly doubt it is enough to harm a fetus.