Lots of holidays come and go and now we’re all focusing on Thanksgiving. But today is Canadian Beer Day and with that it’s a good time to pay tribute to Bill Shufelt, who started the non-alcoholic craft beer company Athletic Brewing in 2017 in Connecticut. Their brews — available as Run Wild IPA, Upside Dawn Golden and many more — is available across the country at grocery stores, LCBO and many leading Canadian races, including the Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and the TCS Waterfront Marathon, where iRun and Athletic have put together a race team in Toronto.
Athletic Brewing recently hosted a workout where editor Ben Kaplan spoke to Bill about craft beer, lifestyle choices, and the importance of following your gut.
What do you think of your reception so far in Canada?
It feels borderless. We have a lot of ambassadors in Canada and we’re excited about more distribution up here, but it’s not surprising: I’ve spent a ton of time in Canada over the years.
Just from BC and skiing out west and my grandfather has a cottage in New Brunswick, so we’ve always considered Canada our home away from home and it always feels really great being back here.
I read about you in the New Yorker, and then it was like your beer was suddenly everywhere. How did you anticipate the non-alcoholic craft beer trend?
Nothing came from focus groups. It all came authentically from my life and our teammates’ lives. And as we add more teammates our community grows authentically from our interests; but when we started the product it was from a need in my life. I had an emerging, modern, healthy lifestyle and I demanded a healthier beer.
How long ago was that?
I fell in love with fitness probably twelve years ago and as my workouts got more intense I was looking for a power performance lifestyle. In the early days, you have to imagine that I had no marketing budget and I just simply brought the beer out to races I was running.
Like how Phil Knight started with sneakers.
Just handing out beers at finish lines. It’s not like I was using Google to find places where people were running, it was entirely authentic, just wherever I went, and just like that, I handed out hundreds of beers.
Now you’re one of North America’s fastest growing companies. What’s that mean to you, seeing your premise proved true?
We knew the market was there. It was so obvious of a need and when I shared the idea with people, the non-alcoholic beer market was .3% of the beer market. But in my own discussions, upwards of 50% of people I shared the idea with were excited. I knew there was a real need in the world.
How many beers are in the line currently?
We market three to five beers in a given store, but in the life of Athletic we’ve developed well over 50 beers.
I certainly have grown to appreciate your product.
I don’t know anything about anything — I just love great beer and love working out and this is exactly what we want to be doing.
The Health Guidelines make it pretty clear that alcohol isn’t good for anyone, let alone athletes.
We’re not out to make health judgments as a company, but as people make their own decisions, we want them to have tons of options. We want to make it easy for people. Our biggest goal is go get our beer out everywhere.
Today is Canada Beer Day and I’m ten sleeps away from my marathon, drinking your beer every night. What’s your message to Canadian racers?
Thanks for loving our product and thanks for welcoming us. It makes me proud that I knew there was a real need in the world and we had to deliver on it, and Canadians responded. Cheers.