Sweetwater Brewing has been a staple on the Southern craft beer scene for more than a decade. The 18-year-old brewery was part of the original wave of craft breweries to crest in the South, and has held strong, helping to lead its hometown of Atlanta and the state of Georgia into an era of modern beer laws and acceptance. Over those 18 years, Sweetwater has grown, and now, they’re expanding into the Northeast, infiltrating markets in New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut (they’re already in Jersey). In honor of this expansion, we’ve picked our five favorite Sweetwater beers in hopes of introducing this classic brewery to its new customers.
420 Extra Pale Ale
This is the flagship brew of the Atlanta-based brewery. If you live in the South, or have traveled through Atlanta, you’ve probably already had this beer. A lot. It is ubiquitous throughout the Southern craft beer landscape, sort of like the region’s own Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. If you’re new to Sweetwater, start here. Is an “Extra Pale Ale” actually just an IPA? Maybe. But 420 has been around for a long time, so Sweetwater can call it whatever they want. And it’s certainly more balanced than most IPAs or even pales that flooded the market back in the day, so what’s it to you?
Hop Hash Double IPA
By most accounts, this is Sweetwater’s best IPA, and maybe their best beer period. It’s definitely on the forefront of the “hop hash” trend, where brewers are using the resiny lupulin from the hops to create really dank, pungeant brews. IBUs are off the charts at 100, and it’s certainly hop forward, but it’s fruity as hell with plenty of juicy sweetness to reign in the bitter notes.
Happy Ending Imperial Stout
This dry hopped, 9% ABV, monster of a stout is part of Sweetwater’s seasonal “Catch and Release” series. The beer comes complete with loads of chocolate, cherries and caramel, all of which is underscored by a boozy warmth. This beer has fans. Put an alarm on your iPhone calendar—Happy Ending hits shelves in late December.
Another “Catch and Release” seasonal, the Festive Ale hits most of the hallmarks of a good winter/Christmas beer with a strong malt backbone highlighted by a bit of cinnamon. It’s not as rich as some of the other Christmas beers on the market, but that’s okay. It just means you can knock back more than one while watching Bill Murray in Scrooged. What? Am I the only one who adheres to that particular tradition?
They started this annual series of one-off beers a few years ago in honor of the brewery’s 15th anniversary. The beer changes every year (that first year was a beefed up ESB, last year was a saison), but one thing remains constant: Sweetwater uses this anniversary ale as an excuse to get weird. This year, the Anniversary Ale is a Belgian Tripel full of spicy hops and candy sugar. The great thing about these Anniversary one-offs, is they tend to get better with age, so if you see a beer from a previous year on a trading board, snag it.