A classic American success story, SweetWater Brewing Company was born out of two guys' desire to follow their passion and turn it into a business. Back in the '90s, University of Colorado, Boulder roommates Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney realized they were both more interested in beer than books, and after graduating, decided to make a go of it in the burgeoning world of craft brewery. After working for several years to understand the art of brewing and fermentation, Bensch and McNerney officially opened SweetWater Brewing Company in February 1997 with the mission of bringing hoppy, aggressive West Coast style brews to Atlanta with the motto: "Don’t Float the Mainstream."
More than a decade and a half later, SweetWater has grown tremendously and several years ago moved to a 25,000 square foot brewery in the heart of Midtown Atlanta where they're dreaming up concoctions like Danktoberfest and The Gimp of their limited-release Dank Tank series and the Happy Ending of their seasonal Catch N' Release collection—an exotic collection of strong beers we sampled for this tasting.
Released in early October 2012 as part of the limited-availability Dank Tank series, Danktoberfest clocks in at a serious 8.5% ABV, which was actually the lowest of the three SweetWater brews we tasted. Pouring a hazy, golden amber color with a reddish tinge and subtle carbonation, this Märzen/Oktoberfest-style beer opens up with a nose of unsweetened caramel and toffee and the faintest whiffs of licorice. Opening up with a slightly strong, but not-too-hoppy flavor, the Danktoberfest mellows out mid-taste and develops more smooth and sweet flavors in the after-taste.
A full-bodied Old Ale, The Gimp pours with an aggressive and rich dark mahogany color with fine carbonation and minimal lacing that invites you in for a nose-full of seriously boozey scents balanced by fresh notes of caramel and toffee. But this sweetness doesn't necessarily convert to the taste, with its dry mouthful of semi-sweet flavors of plums, prunes and raisins. It's a strong beer, but one that's highly drinkable considering its staggering ABV.
A tongue-in-cheek beer in almost every sense (including its "Fish Tales" promotional video), the Happy Ending Imperial Stout is a dry-hopped strong beer with surprising finish and plenty of flavor. Pouring very dark brown, almost like motor oil in color, this stout sits under a thick, pillowy head, signaling one serious beer. Scents of what might be best described an unsweetened, artificial chocolate lead the way to classic porter flavors of roasted and toasted grains with the faintest hints of diesel fuel.