The first time my cousin came down to visit we took her to a local Pizzeria, Fellini’s, for lunch and she tried Sweetwater beer for the first time. I think she fell in love that day! Every time I go up for a visit (if I’m driving) I try to bring her at least a case. See, they only distribute to about 5 states right now and Virginia is not one of them (yet).
When we found out she and her husband were going to come down for a visit we were trying to think of what we could do that they would really enjoy and hubby found out that Sweetwater gives tours! A match made in heaven. We did a little digging around on their website (http://www.sweetwaterbrew.com) and found out that they give tours every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 5:30. We figured that would be a great “filler” between World of Coke and going out to eat dinner at Pacci.
In case you’ve never heard of Sweetwater, here is their back story: Sweetwater’s roots began back in Boulder Colorado in the early nineties when Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNemey were college roommates at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
During their time out west, they discovered that they had more of a hankering for beer than for books. They started out washing kegs on the loading docks of a local brewery for free beer. Not a bad job when you’re in college. With all the free beer, their grades went up, their cars got fixed, friends were plentiful and the sun shined a little brighter. Once they were finished with school, it was either time to find a real job, or get serious in the brewing business. Easy choice, right? Kevin and Freddy headed off to the University of California at Davis aka Brewing School for degrees in fermentation. After that they were off and running brewing beers for other breweries around the west coast, learning their craft while keeping the dream alive of one day owning their own place.
In the summer of 1996 the energy and action of the Olympics brought Freddy to Atlanta. He found that Atlanta was in sore need of a west coast style brewery and knew that he and Kevin were just the guys to bring it here. They were ready to turn to local brewing scene on its ear with the hoppy, aggressive ales that they had brewing for years.
The boys scraped together (with the generous help of friends, family and loans) just enough money to get started and the first brewery was located off Fulton Industrial Boulevard (which is on our end of town – I used to work on Fulton Industrial YEARS ago when I worked for G H Bass). As they were building their very own and first brewery, Freddy used to cool off by kayaking down Sweetwater Creek in Sweetwater Creek State Park (where a friend of ours is one of the park rangers) which was just west of where the brewery was located. The name of the brewery became obvious and their motto “Don’t Float the Mainstream” became their guide.
After a few years of growth they moved to their current larger facilities off Interstate 85 on Ottley Drive. Their website says that their tours commence about every 20 minutes and you need at least 8 people for them to do a tour. #3 and her boyfriend were supposed to meet us (they got caught in traffic) so we were hoping a few more people might show up so we’d have enough people to do the tour. It was a Wednesday evening so we figured not many people would be out, plus it was raining and nasty. We shouldn’t have worried.
When we pulled up there were guys out on the street directing traffic. Are you serious??? I seriously underestimated this places popularity. It seems that these Sweetwater Tours are THE place to be on Wednesday – Saturday evenings. I mean, seriously…where in the world could you drink cheaper? Hubby and I don’t really drink beer. I wanted to taste it but wasn’t really interested in drinking it for pleasure and hubby hasn’t drank AT ALL in years, but he DID take a few tastes here. You have two choices on these tours. You can take the tour for FREE and they provide you with a little 4 or 6 oz cup and you get 6 tickets to sample any six brews you want… for FREE. So for FREE you still get like 24 to 30 oz of beer. Just to get the word out.
Your other choice is to buy their glass for $8 and get 6 or 8 (I can’t remember) tickets for a full serving of their brews of your choice. Now is that not the cheapest way to get your drunk on? Then every 20 minutes or so one of their guides walks around with a sign that says the tour is starting and they take you in the back and let you see where they ferment and bottle and store and ship their brews. They have a few staples that they keep all the time and then they have special brews that come out at certain times of the year and they are always experimenting with new ones. I like their Sweetwater Blue which has a hint of Blueberry to the taste.
Their year round varieties are The Sweetwater Blue, IPA (India Pale Ale) 420 (Extra Pale Ale), Sch’weat and Georgia Brown, which they say is meant to be a “session” beer and is smoother than a Bill Clinton apology. Gotta love those guys. They have a 12 pack variety box that has a few each of like 4 or so varieties and they call it their “Tackle Box”.
Their rotating (or as they call Catch n Release) brews are called Happy Ending, Road Trip, Motor Boat, Festive Ale and Exodus Porter. They also have their Dank Tank Series which are Dank Tank and Crank Tank Rye’d Ale. They say these are rarely released beers from the dark side of their brewer’s souls. They are also usually in very short supply so you have to grab them while you can. Their newest is called Border Hop-per and whatever they originally had on the bottle was censored and they had to redo the bottles. Apparently some people don’t have a sense of humor.
The tours start at 6 and we got there right at 5:30 and the place was already hopping (pun was really NOT intended, but good, huh?). Must have been a couple of hundred people there. Seemed like it anyway. My husband loved our guide. Every time we’d stop on the tour in front another variety he’d say “This one is my favorite!” I think he just didn’t want to discriminate. Or maybe he just really loves beer! Guess that makes working at a brewery seem more like a life choice than a job.
Cheryl and I have already offered to be their mouthpiece in Virginia if they ever get there. I can do the talking and Cheryl can do the tasting. Between the two of us we make a good tag team. If you’re ever in Atlanta and its Wednesday through Saturday (Saturday tours start at 2:30) and you’re looking for a little something extra to do and you like beer…take a tour of Sweetwater. It’s the Sweet life. I guarantee ya! Just make sure you come early.