Founded in 1997, Atlanta’s SweetWater Brewing Company has been satiating the South’s loyal population of craft beer enthusiasts for years now, wooing them with smooth, crisp ales like their flagship 420 Extra Pale Ale and toasty Georgia Brown Ale. These are laid back, summer boat beers at their finest, with labels depicting oars, reels and arching fish. Anyone who’s spent time in our nation’s southland is sure to have spotted a few SweetWater bottles nestled deep in dockside coolers, just waiting for a thirsty fisherman to come along and rescue them from their wormy neighbors.
This week, the award-winning brewery has finally ventured North, joining an ever-growing fleet of American craft brands coming into the New York market for the first time. While we New Yorkers may not be the outdoorsiest of drinkers, we do appreciate a good beer, and SweetWater is more than happy to oblige, bringing with them a full lineup of their innovative brews for our citified imbibing pleasure.
I spoke with SweetWater Publicist Tucker Berta Sarkisian and Field Marketing Manager Bob Berman to get a sense of their company’s mission, their excellent array of hop-forward brews and their plans for taking our city by Southern storm.
Meredith Heil: First off, welcome to the neighborhood! Can you tell me a little bit about Sweetwater’s history and your plans for the New York market?
Bob Berman: SweetWater started about 18 years ago by a couple of buddies who were brewing beer out on the West Coast. They came to Atlanta for the Olympics in ’96 and decided not to leave. It’s a good story.
As a company our motto is, “Not to float in the mainstream.” We don’t plan on coming into the New York market and doing what everybody else has already done or trying to mimic other successes. What we do is, we simply stay very true to supporting arts, supporting culture, supporting environmental activism. Our marketing dollars are what we use to support community activism and involvement, so we plan to be as ingrained and as embedded into the culture here in Brooklyn as we can.
MH: So what SweetWater beers are you most excited about bringing to the city?
BB: 420 [Extra Pale Ale]–that’s our bread and butter. We love it. I’m also really excited to see how a Pilsner will perform in New York. I feel like that’s one of the craft segments that definitely has the most potential to siphon away some business from the [macro] domestics and convert consumers over to craft. People who might have otherwise never tried a craft beer might have one and realize, “Oh shit, so this is what a Pilsner should taste like! It should actually have some hop flavor to it, and real ingredients instead of rice and high fructose corn syrup!” I’m really interested in that one.
Tucker Berta Sarkisian: I’m excited about our two Hash products, Hop Hash [Imperial IPA] and Hash Brown [Hoppy Brown Ale]. I think it’s cool that our brewers are playing with hop hash, this all too-forgotten byproduct, and people here in Atlanta have really gone nuts over both the beers. So I want to see what the folks in New York, at all these cool places that are so well-known for serving up the best craft brews, make of them.
BB: There’s no doubt in my mind that the Hash brands are going to crush it here in New York–those beers will absolutely kill. Hash Brown’s unlike anything else on the market. There’s just nothing else like it.
MH: Can you guys tell me a little bit more about those two magical beers?
TS: They’re made with hop hash, which, of course, is what we call the leftover resin that comes out after you put hops through a pelletizer. In fact, our lead brewer, Nick Nock–his name is actually N-I-C-K, N-O-C-K–is out in Oregon with our hop farmer right now. They will literally scrape the pelletizers and take this kief-like product back with them to make Hop Hash and Hash Brown. Those are the first two that we’ve launched using by-product, but rumor has it that they are going to continue to play with hop hash and see what they can do with it.
Hop Hash is pretty hop-forward, I would say. I think fans of IPAs tend to really like Hop Hash. Hash Brown, when you smell it, it smells just like you stuck your nose in a fresh bag of hops. But when you taste it, I think it’s surprisingly smooth. When Nick Nock tasted it down in in the beer lab, he said, “You know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of slightly pocket-melted Rolo.” [laughs] And he’s totally right! If you put Rolo in your pocket, and it just melt a little bit, it kind of reminds you of that. They’re both really easy drinking beer.
BB: The best things about those beers, as well as our IPA, is that they don’t take all the enamel off your teeth. I think the greatest asset to our beers is that they can taste sessionable without having to lose any of their ABV. Our customers–which, from our end, are bars–really love the fact that people usually drink more than one. Our beer is not so heavy, hoppy and bitter that you’re one and done.
MH: And are you guys coming into all five boroughs and upstate? What’s your reach like right now?
BB: Oh yeah, we came in hot. We’re everywhere.
MH: I like it. And what kind of roll out events have you got going on this week?
BB: Well, we’ve got about a hundred tap takeovers happening all over the place. Other than that, a big feature of our launch in Brooklyn is the SweetWater-HoneyHole. We’re teaming up with the Wild Honey Pie, who’s doing the music and Eclectik Domestic, who’s doing the food, to offer everybody in Brooklyn a $4.20 food item that’s going to come with a free beer and a free concert as well as all sorts of fun swag giveaways and debauchery. All draft beer only costs $4.20. We’re really, really excited to introduce ourselves to that core Brooklyn audience with something that’s very much affordable to them and entertaining.
MH: How do you see that kind of event fitting in with the SweetWater brand?
BB: Our flagship is the 420, so that’s why everything is at the $4.20 price point. In addition to that, we’ve incorporated each of our four brands into the food menu in really creative ways. So, the pork is braised in 420 beer, our Georgia Brown [Ale] went into the barbecue sauce, our Hash Brown is going into the caramels that are being made and our Hop Hash is going into the cookies. There’s even IPA-infused cabbage.
MH: Sounds delicious.
BB: And the music lineup features a bunch of really awesome local Brooklyn bands. We’re really just trying to throw a party, basically saying, “Hey, we’re new to the neighborhood, why don’t you come have a beer on us?”
MH: I do appreciate the Southern hospitality. Lastly, which of your new brewery neighbors here in New York are you especially excited to rub elbows with?
BB: The guys over at Braven. I met them for the first time before I had even started working for SweetWater, and they were about to launch. We were able to hook up again last week and there’s definitely some creative partnerships in the works with those guys, for sure.
The Sweetwater Honey Hole opens daily at 4:20 p.m. until October 2nd; located at 1 Knickerbocker Avenue.