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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.