Bill Shufelt ’05 founded the non-alcoholic beer company Athletic Brewing Co. in 2017 to modernize the adult beverage industry and promote a healthier lifestyle.
After opening his first brewing facility in Connecticut in 2018 and entering a store trial with regional Whole Foods stores, Schufelt’s product gained immense popularity, particularly in states with craft brew cultures like Vermont. Some of the company’s IPA, malt and stout beers have medaled at the U.S. Open Beer Championship for the past three years.
Shufelt said his love for craft beer was born during his time spent in Vermont, a state with a prevalent beer culture and numerous craft breweries. He credits the local breweries Otter Creek Brewery, Long Trail Brewing Co. and Magic Hat Brewing Co. for his interest in craft beer.
Shufelt added that many Vermont breweries are pioneers in the craft brew industry and are easily accessible from Middlebury’s campus.
Despite his interest in craft brewing, Shufelt left Middlebury with an economics degree and a plan to pursue a career in finance. After 12 years in the finance world, Shufelt found that both his professional and social obligations involved alcohol more often than he wanted to be drinking. He became dissatisfied with the impact alcohol had on his health but realized that there were no great beverage alternatives for adults.
“The adult beverage industry, especially alcohol, hadn’t adapted to meet the standards of modern health, wellness and mindfulness,” Shufelt told The Campus. “I was just a busy modern adult. I had a day job, I liked to wake up early and workout, spend time with my family and friends, but I didn’t want alcohol in all those situations, but there were no alternatives.”
Since launching his brewing company, Shufelt said he could not imagine returning to finance. Committed to his mission of creating better adult beverage options, Shufelt contacted hundreds of brewers in search of a business partner. He was met with little interest, however, as brewers did not share his vision and believed there was no market for the product. After six months, he found John Walker, a talented brewer who understood Shufelt’s goals.
Brewing methods for non-alcoholic beer have remained the same since the product, known as “near beer,” rose to popularity during Prohibition, Shufelt said. Brewers would burn the alcohol out of beer, in the process compromising both fermentation and taste. Shufelt and Walker opted to try new techniques, in hopes of creating a better product.
“We came up with a process that instead of using one machine, it’s ten or twelve tweaks in the brewing process that all add up to a fully fermented non-alcoholic beer,” said Shufelt.
Thanks to Vermont’s active beer culture, Athletic Brewing Co. has been able to hold a number of events in the state. According to Shufelt, Vermont is one of the company’s highest selling states per capita. In places where beer is ingrained in the culture and social life, non-alcoholic options can profoundly impact those looking to improve their health or join in, he added.
“There are 15 million documented alcoholics in the U.S., so probably many more who are undocumented,” Shufelt said. “It is one of society’s biggest problems, and we thought we could attack that problem in a very positive way.”
While a person with alcoholism might use non-alcoholic beer in recovery, customers choose not to drink for a variety of health reasons. The lack of non-alcoholic beverage options can leave them feeling left out at social events, high-end restaurants and professional occasions. Shufelt highlighted the numerous emails the company receives from customers weekly, thanking them for creating a product that improved their health or allowed them to better participate in social events.
While Shufelt sought to target health concerns related to alcohol consumption, he also wanted to give everyone access to the social life that comes with drinking culture.
Since Athletic Brewing Co.’s creation, Shufelt said he has seen a dramatic increase in the availability of non-alcoholic beers from name brands. According to him, the company’s success has prompted the likes of Heineken, Corona and Guinness to launch non-alcoholic versions of their product.
Athletic Brewing Co. has also been well-received across the state, and particularly in Addison County, where craft brewing is so popular. Shufelt’s products can be purchased at both restaurants and grocery stores in the area, including American Flatbread, Two Brothers Tavern, Hannaford and the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op.