Trying to navigate the twists, turns, and illogical layout of streets in Atlanta is frustrating and, at times frightening. But, when the goal is a visit to and tour of SweetWater Brewery, the journey is definitely worth the effort. After making said twists and turns, going under the highway, and riding through an industrial area, the iconic SweetWater logo seemed to appear from between parting storm clouds on our visit Saturday, Aug. 18.
The exterior of the brewery is brick and glass with the famous SweetWater trout mural rising three stories above the parking lot. The tap room is incased in glass with an attractive beer garden in front of it replete with a stage and outdoor taps. Inside the tap room is done in attractive earthy tones with wood accents and a glass wall that looks in on the brewery.
It was in the tap room that we met up with our tour guide, Derrick. He generously took time out of his busy day to show us around for a few minutes before the crowd converged on the brewery for the weekly brewery tour and tap room bash. And converge they do, Derrick said that nearly 1,000 people were expected that day, including a busload of Soldiers from Ft. Benning along with their wives and girlfriends.
Derrick poured us each a beer (I chose LowRYEder Rye IPA) and escorted us to the door that leads into the brewery. The first tank that met us was the legendary Dank Tank, temporary home to such ingenious brews as Fresh Sticky Nugs, a fresh hop brew featuring Nugget, Columbus, and Centennial hops. Derrick directed our attention towards the other fermentation tanks explaining that some of the tanks were too tall to fit in the building so they extend outside the roof. Some of the tanks hold 1,000 barrels of beer (that’s a lot of gallons of beer goodness), yes, it is impressive.
The tanks are part of a large expansion that will see SweetWater expanding the reach of their distribution into the Central Florida markets of Orlando and Tampa. The brewery will kick-off the expanded territory by delivering their signature West Coast style, hoppy, aggressive, incredibly fresh and unpasteurized flagship pale ale – SweetWater 420 – on draft at select bars, pubs and restaurants throughout the area.
Freddy Bensch, founder and Big Kahuna of SweetWater Brewing Company said of the expansion in a recent press release, “With the installation of our new 250-barrel brew house and the addition of a slew of fermentation tanks, we will finally be able to make enough beer so that we can sell it a little further south into Florida. I’m personally looking forward to getting down there to see if the fishing is as good as I’ve heard!”
Our tour continued into the bottling area, a confusing maze of bottle lines, bottle-fillers, carton lifters, and keg filling stations. Derrick patiently took us through the process of how bottles are filled, labels applied, and bottles dropped into cases. He also took a moment to tell us that a keg can be filled in less than 90 seconds – that’s 15 gallons of beer moving into a keg at a rate of one gallon every six seconds!
After our tour we were shown into one of the upstairs party tap rooms with a group of soldiers from Ft. Benning. We were offered more beer and proceeded to enjoy several glasses SweetWater brews that are difficult to obtain in our neck of the woods. As we tasted some incredible brews we stood out on the second story balcony over-looking the front of the brewery and were amazed at the length of the line of thirsty beer-lovers waiting to get in. The line stretched from the front door and for at least a block down the street.
The people of central Florida will soon learn why so many people are positively rabid about SweetWater. Tampa beer-lovers can expect to see the brewery’s SweetWater 420 on tap throughout the Bay area by the end of October and Orlando will be tapping in November.
While our visit was short, we enjoyed it very much. Derrick was an excellent and gracious host, the tour was fun and informative, and, most of all, the beer was delicious. It is no wonder that the masses of Atlanta line up every Saturday to get into the tap room at this hidden gem.
- SweetWater Brewing Company in Orlando This November (thedailycity.com)