In the early 90s, two students at the University of Colorado in Boulder dreamt of one day opening up their own brewery. This dream was fueled by their passion for beer as they worked at a local Boulder brewery cleaning kegs and loading trucks for free beer.
After finishing school, Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney decided to become more serious in the brewing business and attended the American Brewers Guild in California to learn more about the science of fermentation. They took their skills to breweries all over the West, and eventually found themselves in Atlanta, GA during the 1996 Olympics. One of the first things they noticed was that Atlanta needed a brewery of its own and that the ales they had been brewing for years would be perfectly suited to kick off Atlanta’s beer scene.
The guys saved up some money and after a few donations from family and friends, they opened the first SweetWater Brewing Company location on February 17, 1997 at Fulton Industrial Boulevard, on the west side of Atlanta. The name SweetWater comes from the local creek that Freddy paddled frequently and “Don’t Float the Mainstream” became their motto. They sold their first keg to a bar in Ansley Park that was willing to take a chance on them, given that their dog Badger would stop begging for leftovers on the patio.
In 2004, growth forced the guys to expand and move to another location in Midtown Atlanta allowing them to brew up to 100,000 barrels a year in a 26,000 square foot facility and placing them closer to the bars and restaurants that serve their beer.
Today, just after seven years outgrowing their location on Fulton Industrial Boulevard, they have found themselves expanding once again. But this time, they aren’t leaving the comforts of Midtown Atlanta. Their current expansion, expands the facility to 114,000 square feet and a brewing capacity of 500,000 barrels a year. The rooftops will also hold Atlanta’s largest private solar array. This 157 KwH solar array will reduce the need for, “over 300,000 lbs of CO2, 19,000 gallons of gas, 176,000 lbs of coal per year – and the return of investment in this should be within 3 years”. The expansion also includes a new packaging hall, new QA lab, new keg filler, new offices, outdoor deck, new machine shop, and additional event space.
SweetWater Expansion in Action
As the 27th largest craft brewery, they have accumulated quite a bit of hardware from the Great American Beer Festival, the World Beer Cup, and other regional competitions. However, their beers are only available in Georgia and the five states surrounding it. So if you’re ever in the area, be sure to stop by and see what the buzz is about.