10 Athletic Brewing Co. Non-Alcoholic Beers, Ranked

Long gone are the days of being stuck with seltzer and lime if you're forgoing alcohol. Non-alcoholic wines, spirits, canned mocktails, and beers have become a booming category appealing to people who choose a sober lifestyle or a sober-for-tonight approach. Athletic Brewing Co. has firmly established itself as a top choice for non-alcoholic beer within this category. The idea of the company started a decade ago and has transformed, with a good deal of experimentation, to a growing company offering five flagship brews and a rotating list of seasonal offerings, limited-time varieties, and even small batches of experimental flavors.

Since Athletic Brewing Co. often lands on the lists of the best non-alcoholic beers, we decided to gather an assortment of brews from the company and see how they stack up against each other. We received samples from the company for this review, and our ranking is based on the taste, aroma, and how well both of those aspects match the style of brew it was crafted to be. We also included the IBU, or International Bitterness Unit, to give a reference to the bitterness of each one. 

10. Emerald Cliffs

Emerald Cliffs is an Irish-style dry brew currently available online for a limited time. Athletic notes that this medium-bodied brew has several different complex tasting notes, including wood, chocolate, and coffee. The ingredients are straightforward and include malted barley, wheat, yeast, and hops. A 12-ounce can is 80 calories and has an IBU of 35.

When you crack the can, you can instantly smell the coffee and chocolate promised by the tasting notes. Although the head doesn't last as long as an alcoholic dark Irish beer, it briefly forms a moderately thick, tan layer. The brew itself is very dark and is much closer to black than brown in color. Its flavor matched the strong aroma with a bold coffee and cocoa taste, which melted into a hoppy bitterness as the initial flavor dissipated. The finish had a slightly sour taste, which was not expected. It is difficult not to compare it to an alcoholic dark beer, as the color and aromas are similar.

Emerald Cliffs satisfies the craving for a very dark, intense brew, but it would have ranked a little higher if the overall flavor was less sharp and more velvety. However, it's a mild critique of an otherwise satisfying near beer.

9. Ripe Pursuit

Ripe Pursuit is a summer seasonal brew that is currently available online. It is Athletic Brewing's take on a traditional, naturally lower-in-alcohol drink called a Radler. The Radler is a beer-based drink that originated in Germany and is made with a mixture of beer and fruit juice or lemonade. The beer base is usually light, like a blonde lager. Meanwhile, lemon is a common citrusy addition, but it can also feature other fruits like orange or grapefruit. For Ripe Pursuit, Athletic brewed a light, non-alcoholic beer and paired it with lemon concentrate. A 12-ounce can has 90 calories and an IBU of 10.

The brew is a rich golden yellow, like melted butter, and is very fizzy. Abundant carbonation mingles with sharp lemon flavor, tingling your tongue and pricking at your tastebuds like a crisp seltzer or soda. Despite having sugar in the recipe, it leans much more sour than sweet and causes the back of your mouth to gently pull and salivate, in turn encouraging the next sip. It is very refreshing and would be perfect on a hot day as a more complex and less sweet alternative to lemonade or soda. Ripe Pursuit is also a great choice for someone who doesn't want a strong beer-like flavor, as lemon is the dominant taste, with the hops and barley subtly in the background. The lemon concentrate tastes more like bottled lemon juice than fresh, which is the only reason it didn't rank higher.

8. Athletic Lite

Not only does this light-style brew not have alcohol, but it comes in at only 25 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates. This makes Athletic Liteideal for someone looking for a low-carb beverage to drink during their day. It's one of the five flagship brews for Athletic, which means it's available online and in retail locations year-round. Like the other brews, the ingredients include malted barley, wheat, hops, and yeast, but this near beer also has the unique addition of rice. This drink has an IBU of 20, so there's more bitterness than Athletic's other offerings, but it's still very moderate overall.

The brew is a very pale yellow with a moderate amount of bubbles. It is very crisp and fresh-smelling, but it is hard to pick out a specific flavor note beyond the malty, yeasty aroma one associates with beer. The flavor is similarly light. Overall, it mostly comes across as refreshing and fizzy, with a slightly bitter finish that lingers briefly before dissipating. This is the kind of brew to reach for when you want to crush a can (or two) of something that tastes like beer without the extra calories. We liken it to the non-alcoholic equivalent of a can of cold seltzer on a hot day. Though highly crushable, the light flavor didn't compare to some other brews, which caused Athletic Lite's competitors to nudge ahead in the ranking. 

7. All Out

The second dark variety in this ranking is All Out: an extra dark brew created in the style of a stout. A 12-ounce can has 90 calories and an IBU of 15, which is notably lower than Emerald Cliffs. The ingredients are malted barley, oats, wheat, hops, and yeast. The drink is described as having a toasty finish with delicate notes of coffee and bittersweet chocolate. All Out is currently available at retail locations and online.

Coffee is the first smell we registered after cracking a can. The drink is a deep dark brown, not unlike a cup of coffee. Its flavor also has a strong java taste initially that softens to make room for the chocolatey notes described in the tasting description. Then comes a wave of bitterness to round everything out. The combination of flavors is familiar if you have ever had stout, but All Out is not heavy, which makes it very drinkable. It's both cozy and refreshing at the same time and does not venture into sour, sweet, or syrupy flavors. It's easy to imagine sipping on All Out as an evening beverage or alongside a hearty meal like a stew or pot roast. The intensity of the flavor may not be for everyone, but it was more well-rounded than Emerald Cliffs, which lands this brew a spot in the middle of our ranking. 

6. Soul Sour

Soul Sour is a limited-time fruited sour brew created in honor of Black History Month. Profits from the beverage are donated to organizations looking to advance equal opportunity in the brewing industry. The fruit flavor in Soul Sour comes from blueberry, lemon, and mango. In addition to these three fruits, the other ingredients include malted barley, hops, and yeast. It has an IBU rating of 5 and comes in at 90 calories for a 12-ounce can. Due to the limited production, this brew is available online only.  

The pretty pink color of the beverage, derived from the blueberries, contrasts with the white head for a colorful, beautiful brew. Its aroma is filled with hops and fruit, with the yeasty smell coming through first. While some sour beers struggle to hit the right flavor balance and instead skew closer to vinegar, Soul Sour is light, crisp, refreshing, and not at all sweet. We also didn't detect any astringent or sour notes. Blueberry is the first flavor to hit your tongue, followed by sharp lemon, before fading into a hoppy (but not bitter) finish. The balance of the brew and fruit is spot on and exactly what a good sour-style beverage should be, and often is not.

5. Wit's Peak

Wit's Peak is made in the style of a Belgian white and embraces the same aromatics as its alcoholic counterpart, including coriander and orange. There are 60 calories in a 12-ounce can, and the ingredients include wheat, malted barley, hops, spices, and yeast. This seasonal brew has an IBU of 10 and is available online and at retail locations for a limited time. Athletic is rolling out updated packaging for this brew with brighter colors, but regardless of the label design you purchase, rest assured it's the same product inside.

A juicy orange smell backed by some yeasty and herbal notes is at the forefront of this brew, just as you would expect from a Belgian white. It is a rich golden color with lots of active bubbles. The flavor is surprisingly light but very crisp. Meanwhile, the citrus is not a strong flavor, but it adds to the interesting mixed flavor notes. It is actually hard to pick out any one flavor, as they all work together to create the harmonious final brew. There is an element of bitterness, but it does not linger on the tongue. Overall, it is an easy-to-drink, tasty, and refreshing option, which landed it high on our list. 

4. Upside Dawn

Upside Dawn is one of the five flagship brews at Athletic Brewing. It's available year-round online and in retail locations. This is a golden-style beverage made from malted barley, oats, hops, wheat, and yeast. It has 45 calories per can and an IBU of 25. Upside Dawn is the only brew the company flags regarding the gluten content. The brand notes that the brewing process is such that it was intended to remove gluten from the beer. While this may be helpful information for some who are sensitive to gluten, Upside Dawn is not certified gluten-free and may still contain some gluten from the brewing process. It is described as having an earthy, spicy, and citrusy profile.

Citrus is the first smell to register when you crack a can, with the hops coming in second. It has a pale golden color with very active bubbles rising through the clear liquid. The brew is delightfully fizzy and mild in flavor. Its aroma is stronger than the taste, which finishes clean with some lingering bitterness — but there's nothing overwhelming. Overall, the flavor profile skews cleaner and brighter than complex and deep, which makes sense as a golden-style beverage. It is easy to drink, satisfying, and thirst-quenching. This variety is a crowd-pleaser as there are no negative aspects to it, which makes it easy to see why Upside Dawn is a best seller for Athletic and has won over a dozen awards. 

3. Cerveza Atletica

Cerveza Atletica is a light copper-style brew. It is a flagship variety, making it available year-round online and in retail locations. The ingredients include malted barley, wheat, hops, and yeast. A 12-ounce can has 60 calories and an IBU of 15. Athletic calls this variety a summertime essential and describes it as having a bready aroma with spicy and floral notes from the hops. 

Copper is the perfect word to describe the rich, reddish-brown color of Cerveza Atletica. A modest layer of white head forms on top as this brew as it's poured and it does not disappear as quickly as some of the other varieties. It is a lovely finishing touch. The aroma is crisp and bright but more citrusy and fresh than spicy or floral. With such a light aroma, the deep, full-bodied flavor is a surprise. The flavor is where the described tasting notes come in. Instantly, bready, spicy notes hit your tongue, pushing the lighter flavors aside. The drink has very light bitterness on the finish, which is almost gone by the time your brain registers its existence. It is a well-balanced brew perfect for sipping year-round, especially on hot summer days. The unique and complex flavors mixed with the drinkability secured Cerveza Atletica one of the top spots on our ranking. 

2. Free Wave

Best-selling Free Wave is one of two IPA-style brews in the flagship lineup for Athletic. Free Wave is crafted in the style of a Hazy IPA, which gives it a bolder flavor and an IBU of 50 — which is the highest in the Athletic portfolio that we sampled. Athletic describes the flavor as having notes of tangerine, grapefruit, pine, florals, and herbs. The ingredients include malted barley, wheat, hops, and yeast. A 12-ounce can has 70 calories.

The muted lemony-yellow beer is cloudy and opaque, which is true to the Hazy IPA description. Its aroma is very juicy, with plenty of the promised citrus notes smacking you right away. The fruit is also first on the palate, and coupled with the bright carbonation; it lights up the tastebuds and leaves them tingling. As the initial citrus taste fades, piney notes and hops take over. There is decidedly more bitterness than the other brews, and it does not quickly fade. The hoppy flavor, from a trio of hops used during brewing, plays well with both the fruity notes and the bitterness. It is a delicious and complex brew perfect for someone who prefers a heavily hopped taste. This profile is the drink's best asset as well as a potential drawback, which landed it close to the top of our ranking. 

1. Run Wild

Run Wild is the most highly lauded brew for Athletic. The best-seller has won over 20 awards and has over 1800 online reviews, which average 4.8 out of 5. As a flagship brew, it's available year-round online and in retail locations. Run Wild is an IPA-style beverage made from malted barley, oats, hops, wheat, and yeast. Rather than just one or two types of hops, Athletic uses a blend of five different Northwest hops for this brew, each offering a slightly different flavor profile and balancing with the malt. A 12-ounce can has 65 calories and an IBU of 35.

Run Wild is a clear, bright, IPA-style brew with plenty of bubbles, but it is not overly fizzy on the tongue. There is a hint of citrus to the aroma, along with some yeast and hops, but it is not intense. This brew is all about the blend of hops balanced with an approachable bitterness. The flavor notes Athletic describes are accurate, as there is enough bitterness to the brew to add balance and ground it as an IPA style, but not so much it overwhelms the palate or leaves a heavy aftertaste. Run Wild is a bright, clean-tasting brew that easily mimics the flavors of an alcoholic beer. It is superb and highly drinkable any time of year, which gave it the top spot in a very close race. 

Our methodology

I received 10 different brews from Athletic Brewing Co., including the five flagship brews and an assortment of seasonal and limited-time offerings. After reading tasting notes, ingredients, and descriptions online for each brew, I began to assess each one. The aroma was noted both after opening the can and after pouring it into a glass. I tasted several sips of each to record flavor notes, carbonation, bitterness, and the overall balance of all these elements. Then, I compared my notes against the ones from the company. Awards won by the brews or the number of positive reviews didn't influence my ranking. While it can be challenging to compare these very different styles, I did not rank based simply on my personal preference, though personal taste is impossible to disregard completely.

I started considering myself a beer lover over 20 years ago after expanding my palate and tasting beyond the most common tap offerings. Once I had a few good craft beers, I understood the complexity and vast differences between different styles, countries of origin, and quality of brews. I have sampled beer in cities across the U.S. and Europe, tried big-name brands, visited tiny microbreweries, and helped friends with their homebrew projects. There have also been times in my life when I put alcohol aside and sampled non-alcoholic brews. This cumulative experience has led me to be able to appreciate the vast offerings of both traditional beers and non-alcoholic brews.