Non-alcoholic beer company Athletic Brewing (AB) bought Ballast Point’s Trade Street facility back in March as a West Coast expansion from their Connecticut brewery roots. WC caught up with co-founders John Walker & Bill Shufelt:
WC: First, you have a “proprietary process” for making non-alcoholic beer. What can you tell us about it?
AB: It’s pretty much like normal craft beer. While most non-alcoholic beers have a single, industrialized dealcoholization step, our process is more similar to true craft beer production. Our process involves a series of 10+ changes to the brewing process, monitoring and controlling natural variables. We brew fully fermented beer to under 0.5% ABV. In this fashion, we retain the delicate esters and compounds of fermentation and let the ingredients fully express themselves.
WC: After you acquired the Ballast Point space, what adjustments to the infrastructure and equipment were required for your needs?
AB: We have been upgrading some of the main utilities and are in the process of sprucing up the office space. In the production room, we decommissioned the existing bottling lines and some of the smaller vessels and commissioned a brand new Krones high speed canning line from Germany. We are also in the process of expanding the cellar and brewhouse in order to increase capacity and efficiency.
WC: How do you approach creating recognizable beer flavors and styles?
AB: I think there are several layers to achieving high quality and recognizable beers. In addition to using our tried and true favorite drinks as muses, I think it starts with working with high quality, consistent ingredients. After we have the perfect ingredients comes the fun part, where we combine the left side of the brain that focuses on technique and precision with the creativity of the right side of the brain, and then finally tying in our senses — aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel — to perfect the recipe.
WC: What’s your current and projected capacity?
AB: Our current capacity is around 40k barrels per year and this will more than double once the cellar expansion is complete in late August.
WC: What are the unique challenges in brewing N.A. beer that ‘normal’ brewers don’t face?
AB: I think the single biggest challenge is in food safety. N.A. beer does not have the ethanol that acts as a preservative, so in addition to managing typical beer spoilage organisms or re-fermentation, we are charged with ensuring there are no food-borne pathogens. In addition to our highly talented production team, we have a very significant analytical lab and quality assurance team, along with a food safety and regulatory lead.
WC: Where in San Diego can our readers find your product?
AB: In San Diego we are distributed by Craft Beer Guild San Diego and can be found all over San Diego. We also have a beer locator feature on our website AthleticBrewing.com.
WC: “Two for the Trails” is your conservation-focused initiative to donate two percent of sales to selected local trail groups. Do you have any San Diego partners?
AB: We have started conversations with the Pacific Coast Trail Association and will be helping clean up Lake Murray Trail in La Mesa this weekend with the group “We Clean Trails – San Diego.” We are also actively looking to find local partners and are open to any and all suggestions; feel free to email suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.