Beer Town: SweetWater celebrates 26 years of innovation, with more to come

SweetWater brewer Nick Nock (left) and and Tilray Brands president of U.S. Beer Ty Gilmore keep it lively at SweetWater Brewing. 
(Bob Townsend for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

Credit: Bob Townsend

SweetWater brewer Nick Nock (left) and and Tilray Brands president of U.S. Beer Ty Gilmore keep it lively at SweetWater Brewing. (Bob Townsend for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Over the past few years, Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing has undergone some major changes.

In late 2020, Aphria Inc., a global cannabis company headquartered in Canada, acquired SweetWater. And soon after, the company opened a second SweetWater brewery in Fort Collins, Colorado.

In 2021, Aphria merged with Tilray to create a combined global cannabis-focused consumer packaged goods company. Currently, Tilray Brands include SweetWater, Alpine, Green Flash and Montauk Brewing, as part of its beverage-alcohol segment. In addition, the company is investing across the spirits and snack-food categories to parlay into THC-based products.

Though Georgia has yet to legalize cannabis, SweetWater’s portfolio of beers, including its 420 Strain G13 IPA is made with hemp flavors, and the company closely aligns with a cannabis lifestyle with its branding and events such as the annual SweetWater 420 Fest.

Recently, I sat down at the brewery in Atlanta with Tilray president of U.S. Beer, Ty Gilmore, to talk about the future of SweetWater.

Gilmore noted that about 80% of the company’s brands are currently brewed in Atlanta, with 20% brewed in Fort Collins.

“When you create more efficiencies through scale it allows you to increase your margins,” he said. “But the important piece for me is, how do we invest in our people, and into our brands, and into the community?”

According to Gilmore, SweetWater is currently the 10th largest craft brewery in the U.S., and with the recent addition of Montauk, that may take it up a notch or two.

“We have a really great story around SweetWater, and we’re celebrating 26 years,” Gilmore said. “So I firmly believe we’re going to revitalize and reclaim our other brands. Montauk is the fastest-growing craft brewery in New York, with distributors in Long Island and New York City. Alpine with Duet and Nelson beers are highly rated, and we have the new Infinite Haze IPA.”

SweetWater's new Gone Trippin' is an assertively hopped West Coast-style IPA. 
(Bob Townsend for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Bob Townsend

icon to expand image

Credit: Bob Townsend

In the big picture, Gilmore has plans for SweetWater to become the fastest growing U.S. beer company by December 2024.

“We’re going to be disruptive,” he said. “We’re going to be thoughtful. We’re going to do the basics really well. We’re going to invest in our core brands, and we’re going to take back Atlanta and Georgia.”

Asked if that meant SweetWater might get into distilled spirits, Gilmore smiled and said, “Everything is on the table.”

And what about the Woodlands — the facility that has housed SweetWater’s barrel-aging and sour beer program? Could it be converted to a distillery operation?

“It’s a huge asset that we’re not doing anything with, so everything is on the table,” Gilmore repeated.

Later, we were joined by SweetWater brewer, Nick Nock, who was celebrating the release of two new beers.

Nock’s new lager, simply called SweetWater Lager, is brewed with Noble hops, and 100% pilsner malt.

“It’s crisp, clean, with some earthy, floral and citrus aromas and flavors,” he said. “Lagers are really making a comeback. It takes more time, but it’s something we really enjoy doing.”

The other new release, Gone Trippin’, is a hoppy West Coast-style IPA that Nock joked was like going back in time.

“It’s a beer that used to be big back in the day,” he said. “It’s got some bitterness to it, just like the good Lord intended.”

Nock, who has the singular honor of being the first person hired at SweetWater, some 26 years ago, certainly has as much perspective on the company as anyone.

“It’s exciting times,” he said. “With Ty at the helm, we’re going to do some cool stuff.”

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