15 Years of Not Floating the Mainstream
Despite a massive 88,000-square foot expansion that will quintuple its brewing capacity and significantly increase the reach of its “Heady Beers,” SweetWater Brewing Co. in Atlanta, GA, hasn’t lost an ounce of its sense of community or its down-to-earth “vibe.”
As a testament to the laid back culture of the 27th largest craft brewery in the United States, Freddy Bensch, the “Big Kahuna” of SweetWater, stood behind the bar in the brewery’s new event space and asked me what I would like in my pint glass last Friday. Mind you, this was three days after the birth of his child, the night before his brewery’s 15th anniversary party and an hour before his annual investors’ meeting.
I chose the Exodus Porter, a beer that had been available only in SweetWater’s taproom and in its variety 12-pack Tackle Box until recently. It is a surprisingly hoppy porter that finishes with notes of chocolate. My experience was made even better as I was joined by Atlanta Journal-Constitution beer columnist and Southern Brew News editor Bob Townsend and SweetWater’s own Minister of Propaganda, Steve Farace.
The following morning, I created All About Beer Magazine‘s cask with the help of head brewer Nick Nock for SweetWater’s third annual Brew Your Cask Off festival (to be held in mid-March). The cask was filled from the Exodus brite tank with a handful of simple ingredients added. A few ounces of Goldings hops, followed by a pinch and a half of cinnamon, a few pinches of nutmeg, dextrose and SweetWater’s house yeast will hopefully take festival attendees to a cold night’s fire with a novel in their hands.
By the time I kick-rolled my cask to rest with the others at the back of brewery, it was time for SweetWater’s 15th anniversary party to begin. Employees manned draft stations scattered throughout the brewery—both inside and outside (at bars, with jockey boxes and even at a truck). It wasn’t difficult to find the brewery’s year-round brews at the party, but finding its rare and vintage ales proved to be a treasure hunt. Fortunately, I happened upon SweetWater’s BSP Quad, its sixth Dank Tank Series beer released in 2010, in front of the brewery’s new bottling line, and the beer lived up to its preceding acronym: “Belgian, Strong, Pause… for a moment and let’s consider the Possibilities.”
I also found the 15th Anniversary Ale, which was created specifically for the occasion when Bensch brought back co-founder Kevin McNerney, who now brews at 5 Seasons Brewing Co., to help make the beer. The result was an 11 percent ABV version of SweetWater’s original ESB and the most asked-for beer at the party.
But between sips, “Can I have another beer?” were not the words leaving most SweetWater fans’ lips that day. Instead, “Congratulations,” and clinks of 15th anniversary glasses echoed throughout the brewery’s impressive and spacious new home.