Beer & Running: Beer Brewed Just For Runners

The name "Sufferfest" is a tongue-in-cheek reference of how runners refer to a hard workout or a grueling race. Photo: Ed Grant

A look at how upstart beer brands are targeting thirsty runners.

If you’re over 21, finishing a run and having a cold beer seem to go hand-in-hand nowadays.

From having a cold post-run beer at a running store fun run to brewery-sponsored races to the rise of beer mile races and even a running store that doubles as a bar (Shoes & Brews in Longmont, Colo.), beer and running seem to be inexorably linked.

Now several brewing companies are making beer especially for runners and other fitness-minded people. San Francisco-based Sufferfest Beer Company was launched recently by trail runners (and ex-Strava employees) Caitlin Looney and Alyssa Berman-Waugh. The upstart brand has two light and tasty runner-themed beers out so far—Epic Pilsner and Taper IPA. (Although technically not gluten-free, each of the beers have gone through a chemical process that breaks down gluten from wheat or barley and are referred to as beers “crafted to remove gluten,” according to the FDA.)

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The beers are available in pint cans and sold at liquor stores and select restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. The brand also ships product to 34 states.

“Sufferfest Beer caters to people who love beer and who care about what they put in their bodies,” says Looney, who suffers from gluten intolerance. “It’s not just for runners or cyclists or triathletes, it’s about us being authentic to who we are.”

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Meanwhile, Ninkasi Brewing, from running-crazy Eugene, Ore., is taking advantage of its sponsorship of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials held in its own backyard in early July to craft and refine a rich, full-flavored IPA called Beer Run.

Ninkasi, started in 2006 by avid runner Jamie Floyd, brewed a test batch of the new beer in early March and then took it to 25 cities around the U.S.—including many known for great running communities such as Eugene, Boulder, Colo., Bellingham, Wash., Mill Valley, Calif., as well as bigger locales like New York City, Seattle and Las Vegas—to get input from runners. (Two-time U.S. Olympic middle-distance runner Andrew Wheating, a Ninkasi-sponsored athlete who ran for the University of Oregon in Eugene and continues to train there, kicked off the inaugural event there in early March.)

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The brewer used that feedback—largely gathered at happy hour fun runs—to tweak the beer before starting to brew the final production batches in mid-April. Beer Run debuts on May 1 and will be available in 12- and 22-ounce bottles, as well as on tap at select bars and restaurants, through the summer—and especially during the July 1-10 Olympic Trials in Eugene. Ninkasi will be served in the beer garden at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field track complex and at its Eugene brewing facility  a few miles away.

“This is our first beer that’s totally geared toward runners,” says Emily Halnon, Ninkasi’s marketing director. “It’s probably a little overdue, given that we’ve been around for 10 years in Track Town USA. We found there was a real need for a beer that celebrates running. Runners like a big, flavorful beer after they run, so we said, ‘Let’s brew that for them.’”

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Developing beer for runners is not exactly a new theme, though. For example, prior to the 1984 Olympics, Anheuser-Busch developed a “low-alcohol” beer geared toward joggers and various fitness fanatics. Sales peaked at 300,000 barrels in the first year, but declined until 1990 when it was replaced by O’Doul’s non-alcohol beer. And in recent years, brands like Michelob Ultra have produced low-carb, low-calorie beer marketed toward active consumers.

With the recent boom of beer and running, these new runner-oriented beers—and others like them—could be here to stay.  On one level it’s all about marketing, but really it just comes down to merging things you love and sharing it with the community of runners, says Gina Lucrezi, who helped organize the Ninkasi Beer Run event at Boulder’s Flatirons Running store.

“Who doesn’t like a good beer after a run?” she says. “You’ve gotta rehydrate, right?”

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