German beer makers hoping alcohol-free brew topples sports drinks

Posted Feb. 12, 2011, at 5:46 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 14, 2011, at 2:34 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — Move over, Gatorade, there’s a new sports drink in town, and it comes with a head in a frosty mug.

Erdinger Alkohol Frei is at once the kind of cool brew suitable for quenching a post-lawn-mowing thirst and good for recovering after a world-class biathlon finish.

Popular in Europe, the 110-year-old Erdinger Brewery is one of the major sponsors of the IBU World Cup Biathlon in northern Maine this week, and the company’s U.S. rep is hoping the beer will catch on in this country.

But beer after a race?

“It’s a nonalcoholic, regenerative drink,” Glenn McDonald, U.S. manager for Erdinger, said from the 10th Mountain Lodge this week. “It’s isotonic, vitamin-rich and all-natural, [and] over in Europe serious athletes will have an Alkohol Frei to replenish their nutrients after a race.”

Among those elite athletes is Magdalena Nuener, who has been a constant presence on the podium in Fort Kent this week.

While Nuener did say she uses a recovery drink of her own concoction post-race, she added that the idea of Erdinger Alkohol Frei as a restorative is not all bad.

In fact, she and fellow German teammate Andrea Henkel hoisted a giant glass of the brew after they posted second- and first-place finishes, respectively, on Saturday.

“I like it in the summer after I train when it’s hot and I take it into the garden and drink it,” Nuener said Saturday afternoon after her second-place finish in the women’s 10-kilometer pursuit. “In the winter, it’s too cold, but I do take it as a drink at a party,” she added with a laugh.

According to McDonald, the beer is extremely popular in Europe where it is the No. 1 beverage of choice for athletes in Europe.

The company markets the beer as a sports and fitness drink, and according to its website, the beer’s isotonic effect “is particularly well suited to regenerating the body after sport as it quickly replaces the liquids and minerals the body has lost.”

Nuener said she prefers it to some of the more sugary sports drinks on the market.

“Erdinger is really better because it’s organic and all natural,” she said. “Plus it comes from Bavaria, which is home for me.”

McDonald said the brewery uses a special double fermentation method to produce its beers — it also brews several dark, white and wheat beers — which results in a unique flavor.

“It’s one of the few breweries using that method,” he said. “You get a product that is all natural and not pasteurized.”

McDonald was at the 10th Mountain Lodge this weekend and was at the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle at last week’s World Cup action, making sure his product got into as many new hands as possible. He said people trying it for the first time were liking it.

Erdinger is currently available in southern Maine, and McDonald said he is working on securing a northern Maine distributor.

In addition to the biathletes, McDonald said, athletes in a recent Iron Man Triathlon in Hawaii were using Erdinger Alkohol Frei post-race, but stressed the drink was not just for elite athletes.

“You really don’t have just one type of athlete who drinks this,” he said. “It works for everyone from recreational athletes to the elite skiers we are seeing here at the World Cup.”

As for Nuener, she said the brew from her home country is often just what she needs to hit the spot.

“As athletes we drink a lot of water,” she said. “But sometimes you just want something with a good smell, good taste and is sparkly.”

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