Well folks, seems like a lot of Georgia breweries have been celebrating anniversaries of late. Just the other day, I posted my thoughts on Terrapin 10 Special Anniversary Ale, and now I’m about to regale you with a tale of Sweetwater 15. Having moved to Georgia from Rhode Island in 2001, I can make claim to have been around for the birth of Athens’ Terrapin; such is not the case with the Sweetwater Brewery of Atlanta. Sweetwater was launched in 1997, and escaped my beery radar until I first traveled to Georgia in 2000.
The glass-painted bottle for Sweetwater 15 calls it, more entirely, Sweetwater 15 Years of Heady Beers. I bought this beer in early 2012 when it was first released, for a very reasonable $6.99 the 22 ounce bomber bottle. This is, I think, a barleywine in style. On the label, Sweetwater says they took “our original ESB recipe, and gave it a big ‘ol bump.” They also say “In true Sweetwater style, there is no style…”.
Still, fortify an ESB enough and you get barleywine, if you ask me. The alcohol content here is certainly right for that at 10% by volume. So is the IBU count at 70. Munich, two-row, black, and 3 kinds of Crystal malt are used to brew Sweetwater 15, along with Willamette, Chinook, Cascade, Golding, and Centennial hops.
Sweetwater Brewing was founded by two college roommates, Kevin Mcnerny and Freddy Bensch. Since the company’s founding, Mcnerny has been the brewnaster although Freddy certainly has had input over the years. In 2008, Mcnerny left the company to brew for the Five Seasons Brewpub in Sandy Springs, Georgia. Bensch became head brewer at that point, and if you ask me, the beers have become even better since then. For Sweetwater 15, Mcnerny came back to do a collaborative effort.
Sweetwater 15 pours to a murky light brown color with a moderate creamy head formation and a surprisingly mild nose of fresh bread and citrus peels. A fine film of Brussels lace sticks to the sides of my glass and follows the liquid all the way down to the bottom. Taking a sip, I get the fresh bread the nose promised, chewy caramel, toffee, toasted nuts, candied and citrus fruit. Resiny hops emerge towards the finish and the beer finishes with herbal hop aroma and a long lingering bitterness. That bitterness really takes off as the beer warms in your glass. A decided alcohol warmth is apparent, too.
A tasty Barleywine, I think, but to be frank not one I would say befits a 15th anniversary brew. It’s no Bigfoot, Old Foghorn or Old Crustacean, for sure. I know Sweetwater wasn’t looking to peg any one style but hedonistically I feel the same about this one. Enjoyable, but not memorable. I’ll look for Sweetwater 20 to be a better beer.
And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.
*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.