The Man Who Invented Beer: Sweetwater IPA


In The Man Who Invented Beer, every Wednesday, Adam Cowden breaks down the latest in craft beer, with the occasional history lesson for flavor.

I love Walgreens. It has basically everything you could ever need or want, and if you live in a decently-sized American city, chances are there’s one within walking distance of your house. It’s an absolute godsend in those “Oh crap! We’re out of beer and no one can drive!” moments, and these days you don’t even have to settle for Big Flats. Amongst the small selection of “craft” beers in my local Walgreens, I spotted the ubiquitous Sweetwater IPA, a beer I’d heard much about but never experienced firsthand. Until NOW!

What’s the story?

Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney were roommates at University of Colorado, Boulder back in the early 90s. They, like many of their college compatriots, discovered that they had “more of a hankering for beer than for books,” and took a job washing kegs on the loading dock of a local brewery. According to the official story, the free beer caused their grades to go up. (Impossible? No. Doubtful? Yes.) After college, they had the choice of getting a real job or studying Fermentation Science at the American Brewers Guild in California, and made the easy choice to not join the real world. While brewing for West Coast breweries for several years, the two acquired a taste for hoppy, West Coast-style beers. After being drawn to Atlanta for the Olympics in 1996, the two decided the city was the perfect location to open the brewery they had been dreaming about. In 1997, they opened their brewery and named it after the nearby Sweetwater Creek. Today, the company produces six year-round brews and is known for its IPAs and intensely hopped beers.

Why should I drink it?

Sweetwater produces beers named 420 and Exodus Porter, and throws an annual party the weekend of April 20th. They also have an entire series of limited-release beers called “Dank Tank,” with descriptions that begin like this: “Living large with his seven-year squeeze, Capt. Danky was suddenly blindsided as he discovered General Betrayus under the sheets with his ho.” Their website’s events schedule is known as the “Punish the Liver Calendar.” Starting to get the picture?

The brewery may be founded on the principle that “We’re not here for a long time, we’re here for a good time,” but apparently that doesn’t preclude a commitment to the environment. They position themselves as “champions for clean water throughout the Southeast,” and run several “save the river” campaigns designed to preserve nearby rivers. They are also releasing a series in 2013 that will benefit Camp Twin Lakes, a year-round recreational and therapeutic facility for children facing illnesses and disabilities.

What does it taste like?

One of the better IPAs I’ve had. As per the style, pine-y hop bitterness dominates the aftertaste, but the beer isn’t so heavily hopped as to mask any trace of the malt. The beer purportedly undergoes extensive dry hopping (the process of adding hops after the boiling process to enhance the aroma), so the resulting “nose” is very citrusy, though I admit I can’t find the same complexity of fruit flavors that other reviewers lay claim to. Orange, pineapple, and grapefruit flesh? For God’s sake, it doesn’t come in a Tropicana carton…

Sweetwater IPA is unfiltered and unpasteurized, and this made the appearance and mouth-feel more pleasing than some of the filtered IPAs I’ve had. It pours a hazy amber and has a medium body as opposed to the light one I had expected. The residual yeast also lends a pleasing earthy element to the taste. Be warned, though: some folks have a problem with unfiltered beers; the yeast and residual proteins can cause indigestion, stuffiness, and severe headaches for those not used to unfiltered beer or those who have an allergy to yeast or certain proteins. I actually did notice that my stomach was more upset than usual the next day, so watch out for this.

Should I try it?

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not an IPA guy. I adhere to the philosophy that the hops are there to prevent your teeth from rotting out, not to dominate the beer’s flavor. Sure, there’s some interesting differences in flavor among different varieties of hops, but to me the difference is so minute that it’s often hard to distinguish one IPA from another – except in virtue of their varying degrees of bitterness. That being said, I enjoyed Sweetwater IPA more than most other IPAs I’ve tried; it’s bitter but not so bitter as to mask all of the sweetness, and the citrusy flavors near the beginning are nice and refreshing. If you’re into IPAs, this might make a good summer beer.

Rating: 6/10