Bob Townsend's Beer Pick: SweetWater 20th Anniversary Ale

This week’s Beer Pick is a tribute to SweetWater’s 20th Anniversary , which will be celebrated on Sunday at the brewery, with a sold-out party, and a crowd expected to number 5,000.

Two decades on, SweetWater doesn’t always get the respect it deserves, especially among beer geeks, who sometimes value novelty over quality.

But it’s hard to argue with the success of the home-grown Atlanta business, which ranks at No. 18 among the Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies, and is currently the biggest brewery in the Southeast.

Yesterday afternoon, still stinging from the Falcon’s Super Bowl loss ( and staring at 420 taps still wrapped in Sam Adams Patriot Extra Pale Ale colors ), SweetWater founder and “Big Kahuna” Freddy Bensch bellied up to the bar in the tasting room and talked a bit about 20 years of brewing.

Don’t’ Float the Mainstream

“I always had a Plan B, if SweetWater didn’t work out,” Bensch said. “Which was to be a fishing guide on a boat on the river. But I’ve never really looked at the business like that. We’ve always focused on what was in front of us.”

Three Guys and Four Dogs

“We started the brewery with three guys and four dogs. And the dogs were the best part. One day my Black Lab, Badger, disappeared. Later, I found him where a hose had broken on a tank and he was just lapping it up. I took him outside and he went over to a bush, fell over, and peed straight up in the air. He didn’t go to work the next day.”

How Did This Happen?

“I think I’ve only had one aha moment. I walked into the brewery one night at about 2 a.m. and there was nobody else here. It was just so quiet, you could hear the fermentation tanks bubbling, and there was a lot of stuff to look at. It was like, how did all this happen?”

The SweetWater Culture

“This is really the only thing I’ve done in my whole life. When you have that opportunity, you want it to be an extension of who you are. And you want to surround yourself with people who are like-minded. In that case, the culture kind of creates itself. There’s a lot of self-respect and respect for the beer and being the best we can.”

The Next 20 Years?

It’s probably the same as the last 20 years. Focus on our people and the quality of the beer, and doing the right thing for our society and where we live and everywhere else. We hired our first international sales manager. We’ll be going into that heavy. And we’ll just keep going.

Beer Pick

SweetWater 20th Anniversary Ale

SweetWater Brewing Co., Atlanta

Limited edition 750 mL bottles available at metro beverage stores.


Brewed to celebrate SweetWater’s 20th Anniversary, this 9% hybrid Imperial IPA employs many of the brewery’s latest tricks, including additions of its resiny “Hop Hash” in a “Fresh Citra Lupulin Blend,” and its house Brettanomyces strain.

A malt bill of Pilsner, Maris Otter, wheat, flaked oats and Midnight Wheat combine with Bravo, Mosaic and Citra hops to create a bubbly golden beer that’s dangerously easy to drink. The bold hop presence comes through in herbal and citrus aromas that continue on the palate with a fruity bit of funk and a pleasantly tart finish.

Pair with

Present 20th Anniversary Ale in an ice bucket, serve in fluted glasses, and celebrate its diversity with a platter of assorted cheeses, charcuterie and accompaniments.

More AJC Beer Town 

Read The A List: The faces, places, dishes and drinks defining the Atlanta dining scene right now

Read more stories like this by  liking Atlanta Restaurant Scene on Facebook , following @ATLDiningNews on Twitter  and  @ajcdining on Instagram .

About the Author