One of the things that stresses me out most about planning vacations is the weather; once you’ve booked your trip, it’s completely out of your control. In early May, I escaped Manhattan for a long weekend in Atlanta, hoping for a break from the unseasonably cold spring we’ve been seeing in the Northeast. Of course, it ended up being warm and sunny in New York, while a massive storm brought cold, wind, and flood warnings to Georgia.
Luckily, while warm weather is certainly preferred, it is by no means a requirement for enjoying some local brews. So, despite the weather, I was able to enjoy an afternoon at Sweetwater Brewing Company, one of the largest breweries in the country that you might not be familiar with if you're not from the Southeast.
Sweetwater is located just outside of downtown Atlanta, and as I learned on the brewery tour, they are just a mile away from Cheshire Bridge Road, which contains one of the highest concentrations of strip clubs (featuring names such as “Tattletales” and, my personal favorite, “Inserection”) in the United States. Perhaps more importantly, I learned that Sweetwater is the 24th-largest brewery in the United States, based on volume. However, they only distribute to six states, focusing on supplying fresh beer and meeting local demand (which there is plenty of), rather than shipping outside the Southeast. In addition to year-round brews, they also produce a number of limited release bottles, including “Donkey Punch!” and “Fresh Sticky Nugs."
One of the things I found strange about the brewery was that it is only open for two hours at a time (5:30-7:30pm W-F, and 2:30-4:30pm on the weekend). While the samples aren’t free, the deal they offer is tough to beat. For just $10, you get a Sweetwater pint glass with six drink tickets, each of which gets you an 8-12 ounce pour of one of their beers. This is the type of deal that makes me wonder why I still live in Manhattan.
In fact, I was so excited that I didn’t even mind waiting in line outside for five minutes while I held a Ziploc bag over my head in a feeble attempt to protect myself from the torrential downpour. My brother, who I was visiting, told me that when the weather is nice they open up the patio and have a live band with outdoor beer taps. This would have been ideal, but I was content to enjoy the inside of the brewery for the afternoon.
The six drink tickets allowed me to sample most of the beers they had on tap. I started out with their Blue, a blueberry ale. I’m not usually a big fan of fruit beers, but I very much enjoyed it. It was very refreshing at just 4.8% ABV, and the blueberry was not at all overwhelming. I moved on to their flagship beer, the 420 Extra Pale Ale. It was fairly mild with a light malty sweetness and subtle, earthy hops. While it’s easy to see how its approachability has helped its wide appeal, I found it a bit disappointing. It was a decent Pale Ale, but I couldn’t seem to find the “Extra."
As disappointed as I was in the 420, I was excited by their standard IPA. It poured clear copper with a bit of off-white head, and I was lucky to have a generous sample from my server. The aroma was loaded with hops: lots of citrus (grapefruit?) with some floral notes and a hint of earthiness. At 6.4% ABV, it had a solid malt backbone capable of standing up to the hops without shadowing them. The bitterness was not as intense as I expected given the aroma, but could be a turn-off for those with a lower tolerance for hoppy beers. Overall, it was a very solid IPA with a great hop profile that I would be happy to drink all day long.
Many people do not associate Georgia with great craft beer, but Sweetwater is doing all they can to change that. If you’re ever visiting Atlanta, the brewery should be near the top of your list of places to visit. Their lineup is great, as is their tasting special, which almost gives you more beer than you can finish in two hours. As my brother said, “I don’t always use all six of my drink tickets, but when I do, I usually pass out when I get home.” I’m sure that my recent trip to the brewery won’t be my last, and maybe next time, I’ll have better luck with the weather and get to enjoy the full Sweetwater experience.