I get excited when I find new businesses serving the non-alcoholic drinks space, and NA Beer Club is one such company. I invited co-founder Mark Ruf to come on One Club Sober to chat about running a monthly non-alcoholic beer subscription business.
Mark shares that he is not completely sober and still drinks the occasional alcoholic beer, which is a lifestyle choice I identify with.
Tell us more about yourself, Mark!
My name is Mark Ruf, I live in Central Ohio. My background is mostly in technology and marketing, building and promoting apps and websites, etc. for various businesses and organizations.
Surprisingly to some, I don’t live a completely sober lifestyle. I still drink the occasional leaded beer but firmly believe that non-alcoholic beer has its place in the life of a leaded drinker as well.
I try to be an advocate for the idea that NA beer isn’t just for sober people, but I’ll share more about that below.
What is the story behind NA Beer Club?
Back in about 2014, my father had been diagnosed with a genetic heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy and had to make quite a few lifestyle changes. He lived a very healthy and active lifestyle but also enjoyed the occasional beer.
He made those lifestyle changes look pretty easy, but it seemed that the most challenging one for him was giving up drinking alcohol.
It wasn’t giving up drinking beer that was difficult, it was giving up everything associated with drinking beer – a night out with the family for dinner and drinks, meeting up with old friends at the bar, happy hours with clients and coworkers, etc.
A lot of the bonding-time my father and I had growing up during my teenage years typically involved the two of us sitting in an Irish pub, talking about life and meeting new people.
I know that sounds weird saying that out loud, but it wasn’t. It was never about the booze. It was about finding a space where we could take a break from life, relax and chat about life, almost as if we were observing life from the outside looking in.
The pub was our sanctuary where we could reflect and partake in the sharing of a common beverage as an act of communion (never before the age of 21 of course).
After the diagnosis, it was never the same. Sure, soda waters and iced teas have their place, but sharing a beer together is something entirely different that couldn’t be replicated.
Fortunately, he found that non-alcoholic beer helped bring back that experience. But at the time, non-alcoholic beers just weren’t that good to be frank. There were a few new alcohol-free brews popping up here and there, but on the off-chance that we found a place that even carried a non-alcoholic beer, it was rare to find one that wasn’t a dusty bottle of O’Doul’s.
But non-alcoholic beer became a fun experience for us, especially when we go to a bar or restaurant and see a non-alcoholic beer on the menu that we hadn’t tried.
One year, my brother and I decided to sign our dad up for an NA beer-of-the-month club so he could sample all sorts of new and unique non-alcoholic beers, but there weren’t any. My brother suggested we start our own which I thought was a cool idea, but never pulled the trigger on.
It wasn’t until about a year later, maybe 2017 or so, when we finally created a website just to get started on the project we always talked about. We spun up a site, created a few blog posts, and that was pretty much it. We didn’t have anything to sell as we had no idea how to start a subscription service.
So we let the website sit for a while until the holidays rolled around. My inbox quickly filled up with emails asking if we were taking online orders. I had to tell a lot of people that we weren’t ready, but it was validation that we had a good idea.
Coincidentally, non-alcoholic breweries started popping up around the country and the craft NA beer scene started to grow. We spent the next 6 months working to get something off the ground.
We eventually launched, took orders and packed boxes in my basement each month. It was hard work, but fun, and started to slowly grow the business. Now we’ve graduated out of my basement and are able to serve many more customers, helping them discover the world of non-alcoholic beers.
What makes NA Beer Club different or special?
NA Beer Club is about discovering the world of NA beer. We don’t necessarily cater to those who are hardcore non-alcoholic beer drinkers.
NA Beer Club is for those who may have heard of non-alcoholic beer, tried one once a long time ago and didn’t like it, or just never had the chance to give it a shot. Our beer subscription lets them see what all the buzz is about.
We don’t want to exclude those who aren’t completely sober, and we definitely don’t push the belief that it’s non-alcoholic beer or no beer at all. We want to spread the message that non-alcoholic beer can be a great supplement to your beer drinking activities and it doesn’t have to be the next-best alternative.
NA Beer Club is not about selling you beer – as in, we don’t just want to be a resource for purchasing non-alcoholic beer. Instead, a NA Beer Club subscription is an experience. Every month is a new and unique surprise featuring new beers without repeats, making it fun and exciting for our recipients.
We don’t do a ton of promotion for NA Beer Club. I think that’s great because we’ve been able to grow the business on word-of-mouth and organic exposure alone, which shows we must be doing something good.
What is the goal with NA Beer Club? Anything exciting in the pipelines?
We want to be the place that people go to discover the next-best non-alcoholic craft beer. Our monthly subscription is a great way for people to sample the new and exciting beers, however, we want to be a resource for learning about and promoting new beers for people to discover.
We do a lot of blogging about everything related to non-alcoholic beer, for people to learn more and discover their new favorite. We also are building a repository of NA beers for people to browse and learn about the various options out there. They can find NA beers that are similar to the familiar leaded beers they know and love, or browse the different styles and brands of NA beer to find their next favorite.
Share your favorite NA beers!
I could give you a list of my favorite non-alcoholic beers, but I personally feel that it would just be one guy’s opinion on what fits his palate which may not be the same for others. I will tell you, though, that I am drawn to the non-alcoholic beers who have put in a lot of effort into establishing themselves as a brand.
Some brands that stick out to me are ones like AL’s Classic, Best Day, RationAle, Untitled Art, Kit NA, Two Roots, and more, where you see the packaging and the can and can’t help but think “That’s a beer I want to try“.
It’s not just the liquid inside the can that’s a work of art trying to make a statement, but the brand as a whole has something to say. You feel as if you understand what the beer is about without any words, just the label on the outside of the can. It is similar to wine labels and bottles, I love seeing non-alcoholic beers that are the whole package.
Visit NA Beer Club to learn more about their monthly non-alcoholic beer subscription.
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