Bill Shufelt quit his job so he could drink more—now his non-alcoholic craft beer business is booming

Bill Shufelt quit his job so he could drink more. But he wanted to do it responsibly.

Around the time he turned 30, the former hedge-fund worker from Connecticut cut out alcohol so he could focus on more important things, like his family and fitness.

At the same time, Shufelt told Fox Business, he didn’t want to miss out on the social and nostalgic experiences often associated with drinking. So he came up with a plan: Create a company to manufacture non-alcoholic beers that were both good-tasting and clean.

That way, he could drink and feel good about it.

“I saw the impact reducing alcohol had on my own life," he said.

"And I wanted to share that impact with others. We wanted to make a positive impact on millions of adult lives," by offering an alternative to traditional beer for people across the United States.

Along with co-founder John Walker, Shufelt created Athletic Brewing Co. with that in mind.

It wasn’t easy getting the company off the ground. The pair were rejected by countless distributors, tallied up more than 100 investor meetings and whipped up endless batches of homebrew to create the perfect recipe.

It took years to get it right, Shufelt said, but after going beyond traditional market research and business planning, they came up with a unique method of producing non-alcoholic craft beer and landed a group of angel investors excited about the project.

Then they built a 10,000-square-foot brewery.

The beers, manufactured in southern Connecticut, come canned in packages of six with boutique labels and bright colors for about $13. They tout quirky names like “Upside Dawn” and “Stump Jump.”

Offering IPAs, lager and stouts, the drinks "taste like true craft beers,” Shufelt said, “and have been awarded in competitions alongside full-strength alcoholic beers." Plus, "our flagships are organic and contain 50 to 70 calories.” The average craft has 300 calories.

Athletic sells online and brews on tap and in cans at about 25 breweries, as well as in select bars and restaurants. It also distributes to more than 2,000 stores nationwide.

Shufelt thinks there’s a market for the drinks. After all, a 2018 survey found that more than 20 percent of millennials are drinking less alcohol in order to be health-conscious. And the entrepreneur is targeting them.

“We want Athletic beers to be a positive choice that our customers are proud of," he said, "whether you want to feel good for a workout, be mindful when spending time with family or be responsible at a work event.”

He says the response has been great: “There is a true community around non-alcoholic craft beer — enthusiastic adults from all walks of life,” Shufelt said. “From the outset, we have found the educational hurdles to be much lower than we expected, and instead, we're finding a population of ready adults who were disappointed with a previously neglected category.”

David Piece is one of those adults: “I'm on a long quest to find a beverage that tastes like beer but doesn't end with me super drunk on a Monday,” he said on Twitter, “and Athletic Brewing seems like it might be the perfect thing.”

Allie Lundberg is another: “Bless @AthleticBrewing for being at the Park Ridge Oktoberfest!” she tweeted. “This 8-month pregnant lady enjoyed feeling like she could partake in the festivities!”

The company’s biggest issue now is capacity. In just 18 months of being operational, they’re getting orders quicker than they can fill them.

“Upside Dawn” won a silver medal in the 2018 New York International Beer Competition. When Double Hop IPA went online earlier this year, it sold out in just 32 seconds. And the company, overall, with 16 employees, is on track to increase revenue tenfold year over year, Shufelt said.

Athletic has seen increased interest from professional sports stadiums, too, including from MetLife Stadium, which brought it on for the 2019 season. It’s also hosting the first non-alcoholic Oktoberfest at its brewery this fall, where it will debut three new crafts.

The beers "are for any occasion and any time,” Shufelt said. And the journey, so far, “has been overwhelming and awesome.”