Continuing with coverage of the annual beer slowdown, we come to a bit of a sticky wicket. While non-alcoholic beer still contains a trivial amount of alcohol, it’s still technically beer, right? Well, I figure this is still in the spirit of the exercise, and since there’ve been a few NA brewers stepping up the game of late, I figured it would be interesting to sample it. Think of it as a particularly vexing googly (ok, sorry for all the cricket references which I admit I don’t fully understand, but I just watched Lagaan so we’re just going to have to live like this from now on).
Anywho, Athletic Brewing Co. seems to be a leader in the newfangled space of NA beer that features actual flavor. Wild idea. Let’s take a look at a few of their offerings.
Athletic Tucker’s West Coast IPA – Pretty straightforward West Coast style IPA with a nice citrus punch that was originally an experimental one-off brew that was popular enough to bring back. Pours a bright yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells great, lots of bright citrus hops, tropical fruit, certainly feels like an IPA. Taste hits standard IPA notes, a hint of sweetness up front, bright, tropical citrus hops, and the nice bracing bitterness you get out of west coast IPAs. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, crisp, and a pleasant dryness that makes this quite quaffable. The dryness could be a bit too much in the wrong circumstances, but it worked well enough for me. This went down awful quick. Overall, this is pretty damn good for an NA beer, and indeed, it probably compares favorably to lots of, er, less famous small breweries out there. B or maybe even a B+
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/20/23.
Athletic The Ocean Under the Moon – This is an experimental pilot program stout that claims to be inspired by barrel-aged beers and is aged on french vanilla oak chips, which sounds right up my alley… but didn’t quite play out that way… Pours a very dark brown color with a solid finger of tan head. Smells extremely roasty, maybe hints of dark chocolate, and coffee. Taste hits that roast hard, I don’t mind a bit of bitter roast, but this borders on acrid… “borders on”, it’s not terrible or anything, but it does overwhelm pretty much everything else. The promise of french vanilla oak is mostly left unfulfilled, though perhaps some of that acrid character comes from oak tannins… Mouthfeel is light to medium bodied, well carbonated, dry, and despite the intense bitter roast, it’s pretty easy going. A sipper, but not terrible or anything. Overall, it’s fine, but I was really hoping for more of an oaky richness. C+
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/20/23.
Athletic Lodge Life – This one bills itself as a campfire brew crafted with cinnamon, vanilla and cacao nibs, made with smoked malt, it seems to be going for a sorta s’mores type situation. Pours a dark brown color with a finger of light tan head. Smells of roast and smoke, maybe the faintest hint of cinnamon, but I’m really stretching the nose here. Taste isn’t quite as strong as the nose would have you believe, but the roast and smoke are the primary drivers here too, a little bitterness in the finish too. No cinnamon or vanilla to speak of in the taste, maybe chocolate is there but it fades into the roast and smoke. Mouthfeel is light bodied, well carbonated, and thinner than I’d want for something like this. Overall, I was hoping for stronger cinnamon and/or vanilla notes out of this. It’s perfectly cromulent for what it is, but I’d rather it be a bit more sturdy… B-
Beer Nerd Details: 0.5% ABV canned (12 ounces). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/21/23.
In theory these are somewhat mixed results, but compared to my previous experiences with NA beer, these are at the very least fascinating, and generally more tasty than anything I’ve had before. I will definitely be playing around with more NA beer whenever it comes time for a slowdown (even if it is a bit of a cheat!) This will just about cover it for this year’s beer slowdown coverage – stay tuned for a triumphant return to beer reviews (up next: a beer I drank last Halloween… so yes, I’m a bit behind).