SweetWater Brewing names CEO; founder still chairman

Fast-growing SweetWater Brewing Company has named its first formal chief executive officer, while its founding “Big Kahuna” will remain chairman.

The 18-year-old company, known for craft beers like SweetWater 420 and Georgia Brown, said Kim Jones has been promoted to CEO. Founder Freddy Bensch, 44, keeps his role as chairman of the board.

The Atlanta-based brewery has not previously had a formal CEO title, preferring to keep leadership labels “informal,” spokesperson Tucker Berta Sarkisian said.

“The brewery has never really used formal titles, but we are a growing company, and assigning Kim the title of CEO best describes her role,” said Sarkisian, whose own e-mail signature describes her as the company’s “talking head.”

SweetWater’s distribution network grew from 11 states in 2014 to 16 states this year, including expansions into Chicago and Pittsburgh. The company created 44 new jobs over the past year and now has 146 employees.

Based on 2014 beer sales volume, the Brewers’ Association ranks SweetWater as the 18th out of 50 top brewing companies in the nation.

Bensch, the brains behind the company, has long been referred to as SweetWater’s Big Kahuna. Bensch will continue to work with brainstorming new products for the brewery and marketing strategies for its beer, as well as on overall strategy.

Jones, 40, has been SweetWater’s chief financial officer since 2013 and previously worked at Spanx and Coca-Cola.

“As CEO, I intend to complement (Bensch’s) vision by ensuring solid business operations and building a strong infrastructure for growth,” Jones said in a statement.

SweetWater also said Bill Waters, Molson Coors Brewing Company’s chief strategy officer, will take over Jones’ previous role as CFO.

In the statement, Bensch said: “The title is now official, but Kim has long been my right-hand in running SweetWater’s business. Now that Bill is on board, we have one of the most experienced senior leadership teams in the industry.”