By: Kat Bein By: Kat Bein | January 30, 2023 | Food & Drink
Are you one of the 15 to 35 percent of American adults who tried to give up alcohol for Dry January? No doubt your social media feeds are flooded with folks proudly flaunting their ability to stick with the plan—or laughing off their inability to stay away from alcoholic sips, caving into a glass of wine or a beer with friends days into the new year.
Whether you made it 10 days, 20 days, the full 31 days or didn’t even try, data shows many among us are looking to bring a bit more moderation into our lives.
The good folks at Athletic Brewing see that trend reflected in their numbers too, and its latest marketing technique “Give Dry A Try” is designed to encourage folks to lighten up at whatever level feels right for them—and that means you!
See also: 10 Tasty Non-Alcoholic Spirits To Boost Your Mocktails and Drink to Your Health
Athletic Brewing is a leader in the non alcoholic beer scene, a favorite among those who don’t drink and those who just drink a little less, for one reason or another.
“It all comes back to the liquid,” says Athletic Brewing’s communications manager, Chris Furnari. “Our founders started from the viewpoint that if really great-tasting, nonalcoholic craft beer could have been made using the existing methods, somebody would have been doing it already, and nobody was. So they stripped everything down, went all the way back to basics and said, ‘how can we totally re-imagine the brewing process to create a nonalcoholic beer that is in line with all these delicious, full strength alcoholic craft beers, but without the alcohol?’”
Co-founders Bill Shufelt and John Walker experimented with more than 100 test batches in 2017, fine tuning a unique process among the non-alcoholic beer world. Rather than remove alcohol from the finished product, Athletic brews its beer in the same equipment as traditional breweries but tweaked the formula enough to get a finished product with just .5 percent ABV.
Today, Athletic Brewing supplies happy people with more than 70 recipes of NA brew, and the truth is, most of their repeat customers still drink full-strength beer.
We caught up with Furnari via Zoom to hear more about the concept of giving dry a try, and why a little bit of moderation can sometimes be the key to a much longer shift in perspective.
Thanks for taking the time to chat! I have to say, whenever I ask my friends about nonalcoholic beer, Athletic is the first name that gets mentioned. You’ve certainly made an impression!
For a very long time, nonalcoholic beer was seen as this penalty box beverage. If you were drinking it, it was perceived that maybe you had a problem with alcohol, maybe you were a designated driver, maybe you were pregnant. There were very specific reasons why you would consume nonalcoholic beer, and none of those reasons were somebody choosing not to drink because they didn't want to drink.
The reality is, 50 percent of Americans really don't drink at all, and the next 10 percent have less than one drink per week. There had not been a product for those people until Athletic came around, and when they went out to dinner or were hanging out with friends in social situations, they had analog versions of a macro lager in nonalcoholic form or soda.
Data shows Millennials and Gen Z are drinking less than generations before. Suddenly we have Dry January, Sober October and all these cultural terms that go along with choosing not to over-indulge. Do you have an opinion on where that's coming from?
We certainly see all that data. Most of the insights you're referring to come in the form of consumer surveys. It's a little bit difficult to pinpoint if the Gen Z cohort is really drinking less or are just saying they drink less.
I think the real takeaway here is that there is an overarching desire to be more mindful and reduce alcohol consumption. It doesn't mean people are quitting altogether or that there is some push against alcohol. In fact, 80 percent of our customers still drink alcohol. They're drinking Athletic throughout the week and choosing their full strength beer occasions for Friday and Saturday nights.
I've seen a lot of reporting on Gen Z where they've commented that they don't want to go out. They'd rather stay in unless there's a real, celebratory occasion. They're still drinking, they're just picking their spots.
In Dry January, we typically see a 20 to 30 percent increase in sales because of that interest in doing the full 31 day challenge. Our message this year was just Give Dry A Try. We know that 31 days can be daunting, and it's pretty intimidating if you're someone who likes to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer on the weekends. Our challenge says, “put a six pack in your fridge, and you'll be surprised how often you want to reach for an Athletic beer.”
How long have you been giving dry a try?
We have a lot of teammates who come from within the beer industry and existed in that culture of tap takeovers and beer nights. I've seen some of my teammates really embrace the nonalcoholic lifestyle now that they've joined. It’s certainly nothing we force on people or anything.
I will say my overall alcohol consumption has been reduced significantly since I joined the company. I also have a 14 month old son, so that plays into it.
I can imagine!
New parents are a big demographic for us. I might have had a six pack or a 12 pack in a week span, maybe have a beer every night with dinner. I've shifted now, and I'm doing all the things that I talk about. I've blocked out Sunday through Thursday as my nonalcoholic beer nights. On Friday and Saturday nights, I usually start with one of our beers and then I'll have a full strength beer, then I either shut it down or maybe I'll have another one of ours. It just depends, but overall, I'm drinking 80 to 90 percent less than I did before, and the moments that I do drink, there's a reason. It's a celebratory social occasion, like the Super Bowl or something.
If someone were interested in giving dry a try, what would you suggest they check out?
Last year, we made over 70 unique recipes. I'm really proud of the brewing team for having such a wide range of styles. We recently released a beer called The Ocean Under the Moon, which is a dark beer aged on wood chips. It’s our take on barrel-aged beer.
We have everything from the really esoteric end of the spectrum, sour beers and the like, all the way to IPAs, goldens. Our Athletic Light is 25 calories and five grams of carbs. The brewing team is incredible at innovating and coming up with something for everyone, and if you don't like beer and you want a hop-infused sparkling water, we have Daypack.
A few years ago, the brewing team had some extra ingredients, and they developed this hop-infused carbonated beverage, then started playing around with adding some flavors. It comes in blood orange, mango, black cherry or lemon lime. Last year, we had four different pilot flavors, so now we have eight in our portfolio, and in March we'll be expanding distribution a bit wider. In the office, Daypack always goes the fastest.
So the idea is, if people Give Dry A Try, they might just keep it going.
We typically see a 20 to 30 percent sales bump in January, and it's not a scenario where new consumers try for one month and never come back. We see these people purchase throughout the year. They make nonalcoholic beer and Athletic a part of their lifestyle.
If you want to give dry a try in March or July, there's nothing stopping you. I think you'll see some of that messaging from us going forward in addition, to our Fit For All Times messaging, which really captures the spirit of what we're trying to convey. You can drink our beers anytime, anywhere. You're never going to feel any regret the next morning, and there's so many different occasions where our beer can go.
I know there are a lot of skeptics out there, but we make really delicious beer. Our beers have won awards against full-strength beers in the past. Highly acclaimed beer judges around the world have had trouble picking out which one is the full strength and which one is the nonalcoholic.
The other interesting thing is, depending on which data source you're looking at, anywhere from 25 to say 35 percent of Americans say they're participating in Dry January, and 47 percent of those people only want to moderate their consumption. That was the real impetus for us to focus our effort around Give Dry A Try. We knew a large proportion of people participating didn't actually want to give up alcohol for 31 days. Half the people just want to cut back.
I think that's an important message for people to hear almost in any case, right? You don't have to be all in on something in order to be successful.
Yeah. Everybody starts their journey at a different point, no matter what it is you're doing. I was scrolling on TikTok the other day, and I came across some guy who was like, “day three of learning how to DJ.” It was terrible, right? Then you click over to his page and see Day six. He's on there chronicling his journey of learning how to DJ, and the difference between day three and day six was a huge gap.
That has nothing to do with beer, but it has sort of everything to do with trying something new. It may be unfamiliar at the start, but you get to day 200, and then the sound on day one of learning to DJ sounds completely different than 200, and your lifestyle on day one of drinking nonalcoholic beer looks way different than on day 200.
Interested in Giving Dry A Try? Visit Athletic Brewing’s official website to discover its wide range of flavors and brew styles, shop its full catalog online, or find a distributor near you. You can even sign up for a monthly subscription and get 50 percent off your first month.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Photography by: Courtesy of Athletic Brewing