It’s a big time for SweetWater, right now, with the 15th anniversary of the annual 420 Festival kicking off a weekend of music on April 19 at Centennial Olympic Park.
And late last week, the Atlanta-based craft brewery finally reopened its renovated and much anticipated taproom. The build-out includes a full-scale restaurant kitchen with a surprisingly large counter-service menu from executive chef Nick Anderson.
Anderson is a Johnson & Wales culinary grad, who was most recently the head chef at City Winery, and previously worked at Canoe, Tomo, Rathbun’s and Ormsby’s, among other places. At SweetWater, he will be in charge of catering and special events, as well as the taproom offerings.
The stunning space is anchored by a huge rectangular bar serving some 36 different beers — ranging from “Big Fish” classics like SweetWater 420 and IPA to small batch and barrel-aged releases from the Hatchery Series and the Woodlands Series.
Guests order beer at the bar and food at the kitchen window, then take a number, and runners deliver orders to tables or seats at the bar. Soaring roll-up doors connect indoor and outdoor seating areas, and windows on one side of the taproom offer up-close views of the brewery operation.
One afternoon last week, Anderson conducted a tour of the kitchen, where he’s making almost everything from scratch, including pickles, house-cut fries, bread and buns. He’s also using SweetWater beer and spent grains from the brewing process in many dishes.
That includes 420 Boiled Peanuts, G13 Caramel Corn, Spent Grain Chicken Tamales, and PEI mussels with Guide Beer broth. Sandwiches, dubbed “Handfuls,” include the hefty Korean BBQ Philly, and the Big Kahuna, a 420 beer-battered fish sandwich. “Forkfuls” feature three big salads and the entree-size Big Green Egg Beer Can Chicken.
“We’re just trying to play with beer as much as we can, and put together some fun stuff we can all enjoy,” Anderson said. “It’s about community. Sitting and drinking beer at a table and having things that you can eat off of my plate and I can eat off your plate. And that way we all create a nosh pit of delicious stuff.
“We’re using hops in the hummus, and spent grain in the tamales and the pimento cheese, and Guide Beer in the mussels. But three to four months from now, when I can really grind into some other things that are used in the brewing process, we’ll have a lot more beer-infused products. And we’ll get a lot more things going in from local farms, too.”
In addition to a bevy of Big Green Eggs, Anderson is using a wood-fired Southern Pride smoker in the kitchen, which he’s employing for sandwiches and other items.
“We’re brining the corned beef for two weeks before we rub it and smoke it,” he said. “For the Korean Philly, we’re doing pork shoulder with a gochujang marinade, and shaving it and serving it with kimchi aioli and ‘cheese wiz.’ The fish sandwich is blue cod with a 420 batter and fennel slaw with our pickle brine.”
Though Anderson helped create menus at several fine dining restaurants, plus a pub, and a music venue, SweetWater represents a different kind of challenge. One he’s looking forward to getting further into.
“I had a big part in things at City Winery,” he said. “At Rathbun’s, I had free rein, and tried to change the menu seasonally and had all kinds of specials. I did a big revamp at Ormsby’s.
“What I’m excited about here, though, is that it might take a month or two to get everything together, but then we’re going to just start playing, and making good food. I think you will be able to come in two days a week for a month, and you’ll still be able to get a different experience.
“But it’s about the beer. The brewers and the team helped build the menu. I put things out and took notes and got feedback from them. So we revamped it, and went for second and third drafts, then put our spin on it as chefs. And I’m very happy with the menu that we finally landed with.”
195 Ottley Drive, Atlanta. 404-691-2537, sweetwaterbrew.com.
Scroll down for more images from a First Look at the renovated SweetWater taproom