If you enjoy a decent nonalcoholic beer from time to time, you can thank Bill Shufelt. Back in 2012, wanting to train for an ultramarathon, Bill went sober, and surveying the sea of so-so nonalcoholic brews available from Big Brewing, decided to fill that market gap. At Punch, Jordan Michelman writes on the rise of nonalcoholic beer that actually tastes good.
But Shufelt was onto something. He linked up with an experienced brewer named John Walker, and together they tested and tinkered, brewing batch after batch in an attempt to create nonalcoholic beer from scratch—no boiling or osmosis or dealcoholization required. It took them years to get the recipe right, and its exact steps remain a closely guarded secret. But in 2018, Shufelt and Walker canned the first commercial shipment from their new nonalcoholic beer brand, dubbed Athletic Brewing Company—an aspirational bit of naming that speaks to the brand’s ongoing remit within the world of high-performance athletes.
Rarely in American consumer history are we given such a clear-cut case of a mono-brand industry disruption of measurable scale and influence. In less than five years, Athletic—no doubt aided by the fiduciary acumen and connections of its co-founder—has been able to raise $226 million and counting in venture capital, according to Crunch Base, including recent rounds from Keurig Dr Pepper ($50 million in 2022) and celebrity investors including David Chang, J.J. Watt and Toms Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie. (Shufelt disputes those numbers, noting that, to date, the brand has only raised $173.5 million across five rounds.) Athletic is, according to Inc. magazine, the 26th fastest growing company in America—that’s any company, not just beer—with an eye-popping three-year revenue growth metric in the neighborhood of 13,000 percent.