Atlanta's SweetWater Brewing Company
began distributing in Illinois back in March of this year. Amidst the interest of having a new brewery's beer to sample came controversy when the flagship store of the Binny's liquor store chain refused to stock SweetWater's winter seasonal, Happy Ending. The issue featured images of a box of facial tissue and a geisha so it was obvious what kind of happy ending was being promoted. While I don't mean to suggest that the issue of sexism in the craft beer industry is unimportant, this episode ended up being a tempest in a teapot. In the end, just the one store refused to stock the bottles.
Still, this episode is all I've heard about SweetWater since their beers started being stocked by our neighbors to the south. Were they just not that good? Or perhaps the brewery was just one more being stuffed into already crowded shelves and coolers. Whatever the reason, SweetWater's beers just didn't seem to be generating much publicity.
Prior to the tasting at hand I'd sampled a brew of theirs while in Alabama a few years ago. I believe it was a 420 but I cannot recall. But now I can easily find their brews on treks to Chicagoland. On a recent visit I picked up a six-pack of SweetWater's Take Two Pils
, one of brewery's annual beers.
Take Two pours a brilliant straw color and is quite clear. I expect pilsners to be quite effervescent and this beer exceeded those expectations. My glass was adorned with a huge, firm white head that had staying power. On the inside there was no shortage of bubbles going upwards.
Going into this without knowing much about SweetWater, I was a bit anxious to know if Take Two was going to be an IPL or more akin to a traditional pilsner. The aroma had a wonderfully fresh, pungent hoppiness to it. It leaned towards traditional Noble hops with a very grassy smell that also had a touch of spiciness. But just as I had concluded this would be a tried and true take on the style, I tasted a little bit of citrus in there too. Beneath the hops was a nice, delicate bit of cracker maltiness.
The taste had a similar balance of flavors. The body was fairly light with a clean malt flavor that was like cracker or biscuit with very little sweetness. In contrast there was a goodly amount of hoppiness here with grassy and herbal flavors predominating. But it wasn't just a festival of your typical Noble hop flavors. Sure, there was some pepper but also black tea and a woody flavor too that was like cedar. Presumably I was tasting just what Styrian Golding hops can do. In addition there was a fair amount of bitterness here. SweetWater claims Take Two has 35 I.B.U.s worth but it comes across as being a more bitter beer because of the light body. All of those bubbles in and on the beer also came through in the taste with a nice bubbly mouthfeel.
For the finish the malty flavors faded and the hops took on more spiciness but also a touch of the floral. The crisp hoppiness and the carbonation gave the finish an accute dryness. My glass was lined with Schaumhaftvermoegen
galore. There was webbing everywhere connecting several thick splotches of foam. A very pretty conclusion.
I get anxious when a brewery that makes mostly ales, and plenty of hoppy pale ones at that, ventures forth with a pils. Some seem downright perfunctory – a nod and a wink to life beyond the IPA. Any fears I had that SweetWater were in this category were quickly swept away. I was lured in by the fresh hoppy aroma which featured mostly traditional scents. But what got me hooked was the flavorful herbal complexity against a clean, restrained maltiness. Take Two had the perfect hop-malt balance in a pilsner to my taste. There was enough of the cracker for some body and to be a platform for the medley of fresh herbal hop goodness.
Junk food pairing: Pair Take Two with some plain tortilla chips and a milder salsa. Too much heat or sharp chili flavor will detract from the Jenga-like balance of flavors here.
Labels: Beer, Pilsner, SweetWater Brewing Company