SweetWater Brewing Company, one of the South's biggest craft brewers, will enter the Houston market on Monday. What took so long to bring the favorite of SEC tailgates and beer fans across the South to the Lone Star State?
"We can finally make enough beer, honestly," Steve Farace, SweetWater vice president of marketing, tells CultureMap. "We’ve been building up our brewery over the last four or five years. We did a huge expansion, invested about $25 million . . . Now we can finally make enough beer to really step on the gas from an expansion standpoint."
"It’s really not about how big we can get. It’s how much fun we can have while doing it right and growing smart with the right people in place."
That expansion has taken SweetWater to almost 200,000 barrels per year, which is good for 19th in the annual Brewers Association rankings of the country's 50 highest selling craft breweries. By comparison, local favorite Saint Arnold is 48th.
"We make a lot of beer," Farace concedes. "It’s cool, but, honestly, it’s really not about how big we can get. It’s how much fun we can have while doing it right and growing smart with the right people in place and doing all the things for the long term."
For now, Houstonians can sample four of SweetWater's brews on draft or in bottles and cans: 420 Extra Pale Ale, SweetWater IPA, SweetWater Blue and Take Two Pils. Farace suggests craft beer fans start with the 420 before moving on the IPA. "It’s fairly sessionable. It has a good hop character, but it’s not going to overwhelm your senses," he says.
Those looking for something lighter should consider the blue, which is a wheat ale with a mild sweetness from blueberries.
Farace admits that he still has some "liquid research" to do in order to get a sense of what's being produced locally, but a Tuesday night visit to packed Hay Merchant provided evidence that SweetWater is making the right move. The brand plans to introduce itself to Houstonians at a variety of events that include tap takeovers Monday night at both Houston-area Flying Saucer locations, Hay Merchant and Cottonwood.
"The guys from Saint Arnold have definitely paved the way," Farace says about Houston's booming craft beer scene. "Hopefully, these styles from SweetWater are something that can nestle right in."