For me, it all started with SweetWater.
In 2007, when South Carolina first dropped its law against selling “high gravity” beers – “high grav” meaning those with an ABV of more than 5% – the state was flooded with craft breweries. I tried a few here and there that I enjoyed, but nothing that really grabbed me from the start. That was, until I had my first SweetWater 420.
Maybe I was partial because they were from Georgia, but I loved 420 from the start – the hoppiness, the crispness, just everything about it. It wasn’t a standout beer then and still isn’t now, but it’s SweetWater’s flagship brew and its best seller. It’s still my go-to brew and one of my favorites.
On Feb. 18, SweetWater celebrated its 15th anniversary with a huge party at its new brewery in downtown Atlanta. It gave them a chance to show off their new 114,000-square-foot facility while tapping a few rare brews. I love visiting Atlanta and SweetWater, so when one of my favorite breweries wants to throw a big party, you can count me in.
My fiancee, Whitney, and I met up for brunch Saturday morning with our friend Josh and ended up getting to the brewery about two hours before the event started. Fortunately, Josh and a few of his friends tapped their stashes for a bottle share, so we hung out in the parking lot with some SweetWater employees and shared a few bottles, including:
- Green Flash Brewing Double Stout, a light, coffee-forward 8.8% stout;
- Ska Brewing Company Modus Hoperandi, a sticky 6.8% hop bomb;
- Cigar City Guava Groove, a really tart and effervescent 6% saison;
- Lexington Brewing Co. Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, a delicious 8% barrel aged strong ale that, to me, tasted like a melted Werther’s Original.
There were also a few excellent standbys – Bell’s Hopslam and Hell Hath No Fury, New Holland Dragon’s Milk, Founders 2010 Breakfast Stout and Brooklyn 2007 Monster Ale.
Thanks to the kindness of one of our new friends, we were able to get inside the brewery for free and shortly before the huge crowd standing outside. The new brewery is huge and gorgeous, with a new bottling (and canning!) line that isn’t even up and running yet. Onc The original brewery and taphouse is connected to the new larger taproom and event space via a proper merchandise store.
Throughout the day, different kegs of older and tweaked beers were tapped throughout the brewery. While I didn’t get the chance to try everything, I did manage to enjoy a few new and old offerings:
- The 15th Anniversary Ale, a beefed-up version of SweetWater’s original ESB. This version, a 10% barleywine, had lighter in color for a barleywine and had a slight but mellow sweetness throughout, with a bit of hop bite;
- Dank Tank BSP Quad, an older DT offering. It’s an 11% Belgian quad and tastes just how you’d expect: rich, dark fruits, very flavorful but not too heavy;
- Dank Tank Creeper, a new DT beer that will be bottled and shipped later this year. It’s listed as an 11% Belgian trippel but tasted more like a flat sour to me. It was overly tart and very flat. I wasn’t really impressed by it, but hopefully it’ll be better bottled;
- Dank Tank Ghoulash, one of my favorites. Dark, roasted and hoppy as hell, it’s an 8.5% black IPA that has a perfect balance of malt and hops.
Unfortunately, we missed out on the DT Big Ol’ Belgian Blue Balls, the aged Festive Ales and the cask and aged versions of some of the beers. But considering we got in for free and had unlimited pours, I was happy with how the day turned out.
It’s crazy just how much SweetWater since I had my first 420 years ago. They’re quickly becoming one of the largest breweries in the Southeast and their beers keep getting better and better. Their standards – 420, IPA, Blue, etc. – are great base examples of what the styles should be like, and their Dank Tank series shows that they can go out on a limb, but still produce solid and likable brews.
Here’s to 15 great years of great beers, SweetWater. Cheers.