Freddy Bensch brings his craft brew to Washington’s thirsty masses.
By Alyson Casey
The motto for SweetWater Brewing Company is “Don’t Float the Mainstream!” That mantra is indeed embodied in the brewer’s owner, Freddy Bensch, who recently rolled out his newest beers at six bars downtown during a whirlwind visit from his Atlanta headquarters.
Bensch deftly fields questions as he bounces around the room at R.F.D. on 7th St. NW while ensuring that everyone has a beer. At the prospect of getting a few of his friends to attend the evening’s launch, he asks if our interview can continue in a cab. “This will be a great interview,” he says with a smile as we head to Churchkey to meet up with close friend Greg Engert, Churchkey’s beer director.
The cab ride is short but Bensch is animated as he talks about his passion for the beer and the process behind brewing it. His eyes light up when he describes the hard work and luck that went into opening his brewery in 1997 and how he never looked back.
Distributed locally by Katcef Brothers, SweetWater expanded to Virginia last month and is already taking the state by storm; It can now be found on tap at various area bars in the District and Northern Virginia and is hitting supermarkets and liquor store shelves in bottle form as well.
As SweetWater expands, Bensch is keenly aware of maintaining a quality product — “bigger is not always better,” he says. That means getting beer in people’s hands within 10 days. Toward that end, SweetWater keeps batches on the smaller side to maintain the level of crispness you can actually taste.
“Virginia is probably as far north as SweetWater will venture in order to maintain optimal freshness,” Bensch says.
After making the rounds at Churchkey, Bensch joins another launch party at Jackpot where a round of shots is awaiting his arrival. With a smile that says, “it pays to be in the beer biz” he follows his shot with the SweetWater “420 Extra Pale Ale,” one of his favorites.
Another favorite is one of the seasonal “Catch and Release” brews, the “Happy Ending” Imperial Stout with distinctive chocolate notes. This lovely but loaded beer (9 percent ABV) is only available from late December through early March.
The “Happy Ending” was on tap at a recent SweetWater party where it made a hit with beer aficionados, judging from the frothy smiles about. SweetWater seemingly has a beer for everyone and the “SweetWater Blue” is one of the more intriguing. This wheat beer is fermented with blueberries imparting a “slightly fruity flavor with blue on the nose,” Bensch says.
As he continues on through the night, introducing more D.C. denizens to his brew, it’s clear that for Bensch, the business of beer is “only looking sweeter.”