Athletic Brewing celebrating a dry-ish January with its non-alcoholic beers

Workers make beer at Athletic Brewing Company's San Diego brewery.
(Athletic Brewing Company)

Also this week, Belching Beaver’s marketing director Haley Smith is the new president of the San Diego Brewers Guild


Due to “dry January,” when some abstain from alcohol for a month, Athletic Brewing starts each year with a 20 percent to 30 percent bump in sales. This is true even though Athletic’s offerings are not, strictly speaking, alcohol-free.

“Our product is a fully-fermented product that happens to have less than a half-percent of alcohol,” said Chris Furnari, communications manager for the brewery.

While you can find zero percent beers from Heineken and Budweiser, that’s not Athletic’s goal. At its Connecticut headquarters and its West Coast plant in San Diego, brewers monitor the fermentation process to ensure the alcohol never rises above 0.5 percent.

“We cannot make a fully zero-zero beer,” added Cody Rice, manager of Athletic’s San Diego facility.

But for weight-watchers or those concerned about limiting — if not quite eliminating — their booze intake, Athletic’s portfolio of beers may be an answered prayer. It certainly was for Bill Shufelt.

As a hedge fund manager, Shufelt often spent evenings with clients, regularly indulging in a drink or two. He was concerned about what this meant for his health, concerns that grew while he trained for a 2012 ultra-marathon. This led him to sample the few available low-alcohol beers.

“He found out just how bleak the landscape was for non-alcoholic beers,” Rice said.

With a friend, John Walker, Shufelt experimented with homebrew recipes. More than 100 test batches later, they had devised a brew they felt could please craft beer fans thirsting for a nearly alcohol-free drink.

In 2017, Athletic was founded in Connecticut In 2020, it acquired an 80,000-square-foot warehouse in Miramar, the former home of Ballast Point’s barrel-aging facility. Today, the company employs more than 220 people, about one-third based in San Diego.

January is one of Athletic’s biggest months, but sales are healthy year-round. In 2021, the most recent year for which we have data, Athletic was the 27th largest craft brewery in the U.S.

Rowe is a freelance writer.