‘Out of the penalty box’: Stratford brewery crafts a global name
A Stratford brewery was named tops in the North America in the International Beer Challenge just two years after launching, with one of its brews cited by IBC as the best in the world in 2020.
Athletic Brewing’s Free Way IPA was named “supreme champion” globally of hundreds of beers entered in the competition, with Brazil’s Cervejaria Wäls edging Athletic Brewing and three other regional leaders as the world’s supreme overall brewer this year.
The competition included awards for non-alcoholic beers or those with low alcohol content, a major focus for Athletic Brewing after its 2018 launch under John Walker and Bill Shufelt, who earlier in his career worked at the investment fund Point72 Asset Management in Stamford run by Steve Cohen, the new owner of the New York Mets.
“Not only are we changing people’s impressions of non-alcoholic beer, but we are opening up new occasions for beer, and most importantly taking non-alcoholic beers out of the penalty box,” Shufelt said in an Athletic Brewing press release on Wednesday.
From its brewing facility at 350 Long Beach Blvd. in Stratford, Athletic Brewing has achieved wide distribution in Connecticut, including at grocery chains like Big Y, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods Market. Its Stratford tap room remains closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, though Athletic Brewing offers curbside pickup there Friday through Sunday.
Earlier this year, Athletic Brewing acquired a former Ballast Point brewing facility in San Diego with 125,000 square feet of space to give it additional capacity, on the heels of securing $17.5 million in fresh capital.
The International Beer Challenge accolades now give Athletic Brewing global renown, with the competition including commercial giants like AB InBev and Heineken USA and labels from other shores mostly unknown to Americans. In addition to its Free Way IPA, Athletic Brewing scored silver medals in the competition for its Downwinder Gose and Run Wild IPA brews.
Athletic Brewing recently released Aftershift, a new brew crafted in collaboration with celebrity chef Chris Cosentino infused with the flavor of bay leaves and lemon verbena.
In September, Shufelt relayed to the entrepreneurship website What I Found an anecdote of the first pallet of Athletic Brewing cases loaded onto a truck in Stratford for distribution, reflecting on how far the company has come since.
“I hit a ridge at the loading dock, and launched the entire pallet of cans all over the truck,” Shufelt recollected. “All I could do was laugh. Our team kicked into gear, ... sorted out the damaged cases and replaced with new cases, and it was off. The lesson — bad or challenging things will happen every day. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself for a second, a minute, (an) hour. But ultimately, (it’s) your perception of an obstacle that rules the day.”
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman