You may have noticed a little extra tie-dye on your tap handles as of late, as Atlanta's signature Sweetwater Brewing has made its way down to the South Florida market. The 15 year old brewery has made a push into southeastern markets in the past few years, with an expansion of their brew house to handle more than 250 barrel batches, and an aim to be stocked in nine states by the end of 2013.
Owner and 'big kahuna', Freddy Bensch, is definitely a boss to rival any of the 'cool boss' stereotypes you might have seen. With his seasoned tan, wrap around sunglasses, shorts and flip-flops, it would seem as if he'd be more at home on the boat than in the brewhouse. This demeanor is no act, though. As we sit down to talk, he makes sure that we both have something to whet the throat; a couple of pints of 420 Pale Ale.
Beyond the simple pleasures of outdoor life down here (he is, after all, stoked about flats fishing in the Keys for tarpon), he's a fan of Florida and its people, and sees his product as a way of helping beer drinkers live life better. In his mind, he asks, 'Why drink crappy foreign beer?'
"We're beer guys," Freddy told me. "Brewers first, business later."
"We use better ingredients, we brew with a passion, and we give a shit about our brew quality. It's not about dollars."
With 500k barrels brewable, that's a lot of beer to distribute, and the company is keen on covering the southeast with its brews.
"Being an unpasteurized beer, we want to sell as much close to home as we can," the Georgia businessman said. "Florida is on the cusp of going heavy into the craft market."
The flagship 420 Pale Ale leads the pack, featuring 2 Row, Munich and 40L malts and a hop profile of Centennial and Cascade, it's a fairly traditional west coast styled pale ale. It has a light citrusy nose and a dry slightly bitter finish. Being similar to Sierra Nevada's flagship pale ale, it could take some of that market.
The IPA clocks in at 6.3% abv and has five different hops with a final Simcoe dry hopping. Needless to say this is one for the hop lovers. Pine dominates everything about this one.
But beyond the hoppy staples, there's the malty side, the experimentals, and the off-beats: Seasonals, Stout, ESB, Rye, Georgia Brown... though especially notable is the Dank Tank series, a high gravity offering that is done every year to really push the limits of the brewers.
In the end, it's not just about pushing the envelope of beer, or trying to dominate market share. Their goal is to win over people's taste buds.
"[Our market is] someone who's looking for something better, something tastier, something American. We're supporting the gateway drinker."
Freddy and I share another couple pints of 420. It's obvious this is his favorite one. "We're about having fun. After 21 years in the industry, we're about having fun and doing it as fresh as possible."
"We just want to make the common, everyday life better."
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