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Don’t float the mainstream: A visit to SweetWater Brewing Company in Atlanta

October 08, 2012 By: mike Category: Breweries, Craft beer, Travelin'

Memphis, you’re in for a treat. Sometime in the next year or so, hopefully sooner than later, SweetWater Brewing Company plans to start distributing its beers in the Buff City.

SweetWater’s brewery in Atlanta has been undergoing a major expansion this year and will be able to distribute a half million barrels of beer annually once complete. In Tennessee, SweetWater is already available in Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga. Memphis is next, or last, depending on how you look at it. But SweetWater’s beers, from the Georgia Brown to 420 Extra Pale Ale to IPA, are well worth the wait.

I had a chance to visit the brewery recently, enjoying samples of SweetWater’s offerings and taking a tour of its  massive craft brewing facility.

SweetWater - exteriorSweetWater was founded by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney, former roommates at the University of Colorado, who wanted to open a West Coast-style brewery in Atlanta. SweetWater opened in 1997 and moved to its current location in 2004.

SweetWater - lineTours at SweetWater are quite popular, as you can see from the line. The tours are free, but $10 gets you a souvenir SweetWater pint glass, plus six tickets for 5.5-oz samples of SweetWater’s brews.

SweetWater - beer boardSweetWater’s year-round beers are Blue, IPA, 420 Extra Pale Ale, Exodus Porter and Georgia Brown. The Brown and IPA are among my favorites. The IPA, which is like a grapefruit explosion, is particularly good.

SweetWater - beer tapsSweetWater got its name from the Sweetwater Creek, which is in a state park just west of the original brewery. The company’s motto is “Don’t Float the Mainstream.”

SweetWater - crowdTours can get particularly crowded, so be sure to grab a good spot. About 2,000 people visit the brewery each week.

SweetWater - tourWith its expansion, SweetWater is growing from a capacity of 100,000 barrels of beer a year to 500,000 barrels, a 400,000 barrel increase. In 2010, for example, SweetWater sold 77,000 barrels.

SweetWater - Dank TankDank Tank is a series of small-batch beers released just a few times a year. The latest is SweetWater’s Ich Bin Ein Lager.

SweetWater - fermentersSweetWater’s Catch N’ Release Brews are seasonal beers and include Motor Boat, Road Trip, Happy Ending and Festive Ale.

SweetWater - packaging - 2SweetWater beers are currently available in Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina.

SweetWater - insideThe brewery is expanding from 26,000 square feet to 114,000 square feet.

SweetWater - packagingSweetWater’s 420 makes up 16% of total sales for the Atlanta brewery.

SweetWater - 420 sixersFor the latest news on SweetWater in Tennessee, follow @sweetwatertenn on Twitter. SweetWater’s main handle is @sweetwaterbrew.

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