As I mentioned in my previous Brewsday Tuesday column
, Sweetwater Brewing
of Atlanta will begin distributing in Louisiana next week. The three beers that will be available immediately are the brewery’s flagship 420 Extra Pale Ale, their IPA and their Sweetwater Blue. (I really, really hope they start sending us the LowRYEder IPA soon, because I love that beer.)
Since the IPA will be hoppy, and the Blue will be fruity/sweet, and those flavor profiles both have a tendency to coat the tongue or overwhelm the palate, I’ll start with the 420 Extra Pale.
First brewed in 1997, the 420 is hopped with Cascade and Centennial hops. You can definitely smell the citrus aroma of these West Coast hops along with a whiff of a bready malt note. The color is dark gold and there was about a half-inch of fluffy head when poured (which quickly dissipated, but that could be the cleanliness of my tasting glass). The flavor continues the fruitness and maltiness, and the balance between the hops and malt is very well executed. You definitely can tell there are hops in there, but they don’t overwhelm the beer. The finish is dry with a bit of a floral/caramel aftertaste.
Beer professionals and novices alike don’t like the term “drinkable.” I know it’s a vague word, but for me, it captures a nebulous but important quality. When I say a beer is drinkable, I mean I can picture myself hanging out in a friend’s courtyard drinking a 12-pack of it during a New Orleans Saints game. In other words: it’s enjoyable, not too intense and light enough to drink quickly before it gets too warm, but has enough body, flavor, and character for a beer nerd to appreciate. The 420 is a very drinkable beer at 5.4% ABV and a smooth, balanced flavor.
The Sweetwater Blue is a blueberry wheat beer. This style tends to be lower in alcohol (the Blue comes in at 4.9%) and pitched for warm weather drinking. I am generally not a fan of fruit beers — not to say that there aren’t some good ones, especially in the world of sour and tart beer — but generally I don’t even like the banana notes in a Hefe Weizen yeast, let alone a beer actually brewed with fruit.
With the Sweetwater Blue, you definitely get a blueberry aroma right away. The beer is a rich straw color, and the taste of the blueberry is thankfully not as strong as is the aroma, which lets the flavors of the wheat take center stage. It’s definitely light and refreshing, so it may very well be your cup of tea
I have very fond memories of drinking the Sweetwater IPA while on vacation in the Florida panhandle. The aroma is amazing, citrusy with lemon and grapefruit. They used five different kinds of hops — Chinook, Cascade and Columbus in the brewing, finishing with Simcoe and US Golding. It pours golden orange into the glass, with good head retention and lacing. The hoppiness carries into the flavor, adding a pine/resin note along with the breadiness of the malt and the citrus and tropical fruit notes. It’s certainly heavier, more hop-forward and more intense than the 420, as it should be — but it is also quite a well-balanced IPA. It’s not a crazy hop bomb or palate wrecker (though its marketing gives the impression it might be) but showcases the fruity nature of hops with a decent malt backbone to carry it. Aside from some dry bitterness in the finish. it’s incredibly easy to drink for an IPA. Hardcore hopheads might be disappointed, but I enjoyed it very much.
The three beers will be released next week with events in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and on the Northshore. You can keep up with events on the Sweetwater Louisiana rollout Facebook page
. Keep your eyes open for Sweetwater in bars and stores and let me know what you think!
— Nora McGunnigle is a freelance writer, blogger, craft beer aficionado, event planner, and regular columnist for Gambit and Southern Brew News. You can follow her blog at www.nolabeerblog.com and read her column every Tuesday on Blog of New Orleans. Please let her know what you think or suggest topics for future columns in the comment section.