If you’ve visited the southeastern states and went on a beer run, chances are you have seen (or at least heard of) SweetWater Brewing. Their labels are adorned with fish and aquatic scenes to meld playfully with the SweetWater name. They’ve developed quite the reputation for deliciously balanced beers in their home territory. Up until recently, they were only able to produce enough to keep up with the demand in their existing market. Their latest multi-million dollar expansion has allowed them to expand their production as well as their distribution boundaries.
With almost 20 years in the business, SweetWater is no stranger to craft beer. Along with their annual releases, they produce an ever-evolving seasonal lineup as well as their Dank Tank series which features one-off, rare beers that are brewed and released in small batches. These beers are usually bizarre, different and unique concoctions from the depths of the brewer's creative minds.
With this launch, Chicago will be the furthest North the brewery has ever reached. Teaming up with Lakeshore Beverage, they are eager to hit the Chicago market and share their full lineup. We had a chance to get an early look at some of their more popular beers.
420 Extra Pale Ale, their flagship ale, pours clean with a wonderful golden amber color. Smells of slight resin, grapefruit, with a little bit of bubblegum. Taste has a balance of sweet malts, caramel, and a bit of honey. Where most extra pale ales seem to just be bolder or hoppier, the 420 reaches more into the flavor profile of the pale ale style and emphasizes the notes that otherwise might have been subtle.
SweetWater Blue is a light-bodied wheat ale brewed with blueberries. It's not a straight up fruit beer. The beer is slightly sweet with a touch of blueberries, and has a slight biscuit note to it. It actually reminds me a lot of blueberry pancakes, but weighs more on the beer side than a short stack with sugar and maple syrup. It's fantastic and is touted as their breakfast beer. Honestly, if I was sitting down to a kegs and eggs outfit, I'd want this beer alongside my spread. Sitting at 4.6%, this beer is easily sessionable and great for a summer day.
IPAs are generally constructed relatively the same and with almost , they almost seem like old hat. SweetWater IPA can be set up there with some of your favorite. It's chewy and hoppy but not overly bitter. The taste has a fair amount of melon and grapefruit and it works well with the intake of the dry hopped aroma upon taking a sip. This beer is left unfiltered in order to retain all of the flavor as possible.
Pilsners can seem very run-of-the-mill, especially if they aren't done with care. When I saw the bottle of Take Two Pils, I was a little hesitant to crack it open in fear of derailing my delightful trip down SweetWater Brewing Lane. The smell is actually very reminiscent of cannabis. It's weird and not what I would have expected but it's right there with a dank, malt-driven, well hopped pilsner. This could be good. The taste is crisp, the body is light, and the sweet malts are balanced with the dank hops. It's refreshing and a refreshing departure from some of the lesser pilsners out there. I must admit, I didn't think I would like this, but I am pleasantly surprised. A true pilsner is tough to really get right. The first pilsners were brewed with the soft waters found off the coast of Bohemia, which depleted of minerals, left the substance of the beer up to the malts and other ingredients used to make the brew. I couldn't tell you at this point if this was brewed using the old world fashion of using soft water, but it tastes mighty close to it. The character of the beer plays up nicely and harkens back to the old world pilsners from across the pond.
SweetWater will start holding launch events around Chicago starting Monday, March 23rd. You can get a schedule of events and locations at facebook.com/sweetwaterbrew.