Athletic Brewing Company’s Run Wild non-alcoholic IPA is a lot better than an NA brew has any right to be. Dennis O’Brien/Watertown Daily Times

It’s a little after 10 a.m. on a Monday, and I’m playing some board game or another with my boys and trying to put some coffee in my face when the youngest, Ben, decides he wants to go to the playground.

Now I’ve been wary of playgrounds amid the COVID-19 crisis, but few kids traffic around the playground in our apartment complex. So avoiding other kids and their parents still seems pretty possible. It’s also going to be hot today, as it’s been in the north country over the past few weeks … touching 90 and maybe worse.

I have no interest in standing around at the playground or the adjoining basketball court in 90-degree weather.

So, since it’s still early, and the sun hasn’t reached its angriest peak, I figure it’s now or never — go in the morning before it gets too hot.

I get my shoes on. The kids go barefoot because they’ve decided this summer that both socks and shoes and the thousands of years of sartorial development that has created them are meaningless constructions meant to limit the joy of tracking dirty feet through the apartment. But before we go, I grab a beer.

I know. It’s early.

It’s too early, even for me, even on my day off. I’m 40. I’m a dad and I’m not interested in getting drunk on a playground in broad daylight at 10 in the morning. I write about beer; I’m not Don Draper.

But I still want a beer. I want something cold and relaxing while I warn the 5-year-old, John, about hanging from the top level by his ankles and while I keep one hand poised behind 3-year-old Ben while he scrambles up the rock wall.

This is going to shock the 10 people who read this column, but to get my fix, I reached for a non-alcoholic beer.

I know. My idea of NA beer is the tasteless dreck my largely teetotaling dad would break out at a barbecue in his more recent years. O’Doul’s, Buckler, all of them just water with very ugly labels and very little taste.

But there has actually been a development or two in the field of NA brewing, and since I tend to seek out lighter fare as the heat turns up anyway, I decided to check a few out.

This particular Monday morning, I reach for a Run Wild Non-Alcoholic IPA from Athletic Brewing Company, out of Stratford, Conn.

My friend Rob had put me on to Athletic more than a year ago when his wife, Julie, was pregnant with their son Jack. Julie wanted to enjoy the occasional (or not so occasional) beer while keeping the baby’s well-being front and center. So they did some research and came across this small Connecticut brewery built around brewing the kind of beer you could pound during a hike in the Adirondacks or after running a 5K while not sacrificing taste.

I told him I was interested. I told him I might even write about it.

And then I forgot about it.

But I must have googled Athletic once or twice, because ads kept showing up in my social media feeds and I eventually gave in. I ordered six packs of Run Wild and Athletic’s Upside Dawn golden ale and figured I’d give them a run.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the results.

Neither one of these brews is going to climb up to the top of my regular rotation or anything like that, but they’re actually pretty good. There’s a reason why Athletic has seen a boom in demand while Americans are cutting back their alcohol consumption during the COVID pandemic.

I’ve written previously about how Americans are skewing toward lighter beer and even lighter-than-beer options such as hard seltzers and how younger drinkers are trying to stay a bit healthier while enjoying a night out, or in as of late.

And part of the reason Athletic and other new NA breweries are jumping into that fray is the beer actually tastes good.

Nobody is going to mistake Run Wild for a Dogfishhead 120 Minute or a Pliny the Elder or any of the higher-end, higher-octane Imperials, but it could actually pass as a pretty good session IPA. It passes the nose test with a nice kind of piney smell and Citra and Mosaic hops in the front and a smooth finish. It’s honestly a pretty good beer. If you gave me this in a glass or without a label, this is a pretty decent imposter for a Saranac Pale Ale or a Goose Island IPA or something, something pretty middle of the road that quickly disappears from your fridge during a cookout.

By the time we got back to the apartment and I reached for another beer to quench my thirst, I tried the Upside Dawn, which, honestly, wasn’t quite as good. Since it lacks that bit of hoppy bite Run Wild offers, what you get honestly tastes as light as it is, at less than 0.5 percent alcohol.

It has a pleasant enough kind of floral taste up front, so my first impressions of it were pretty good. Nice floral aroma and a nice golden color. But diving a bit deeper into the six pack, the finish is kind of dull and flavorless. It reminded me a bit of Budweiser in the way it just tastes flat in the finish. To some degree, I think if I left one of these sitting out in the sun for a while and took a warm, flat swig of it, it wouldn’t taste a whole lot different.

It’s not that it’s bad. It just suffers by comparison to Run Wild.

I ordered Athletic through the mail, but it turns out to be pretty easy to find locally if you’d rather not have to wait a week for delivery. Bear World, on Route 11 in Watertown, has been known to carry six-packs, as have Bottlecaps Beverage Center on Arsenal Street in Watertown and CS’s Beverage Center in Oswego. Main Street Crafts & Drafts in Sackets Harbor and the Rainbow Shores Hotel in Pulaski have been known to carry them as well. You could do a lot worse on the kind of hot days we’re apparently due for all summer than to have a Run Wild or two on hand to beat the heat.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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