Beer Review 0138: SweetWater Happy Ending Imperial Stout

SweetWater Brewing Company, located in Atlanta, Georgia, features beer made by two men who went to college to study Fermentation Science. Both Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney are doing exactly what they went to school for.

But the two roommates started out at the University of Colorado, and while there, fell in love with all things beer. And while in school, they took jobs at a local microbrew washing kegs in exchange for free beer.

Bensch and McNerney decided to finish school, and then re-enroll at the American Brewers Guild in California.

At the time of the 1996 Summer Olympics, held in Atlanta, they decided the city needed a brewery that would produce beer in the California style. Thus SweetWater, named after local Sweetwater Creek, was born.

Happy Ending is SweetWater’s Imperial Stout, and is offered as a seasonal release in their “catch & release” series. This beer is available every December-March, and is malted with 2 Row, Roasted Barley, Black, 70/80, and Chocolate grains. The hops used are Centennial and Willamette, and this one is dry-hopped with Cascade and Simcoe.

Buyer beware: this is a relatively cheap Imperial Stout in twelve ounce bottles, but I noticed a special 22 ounce bomber bottle in my local shop recently. It featured a wax cap, and was priced at $6.99. I thought maybe it was barrel aged, or a special release, but it was not — so if you’re going to purchase this beer, you might want to stick with the smaller bottles or else be price gouged.

The pour produced a small head, creamy in texture and lasting. I could tell when pouring the beer that this one was free of particles or sediment, and this isn’t jet black like your typical Imperial Stout; instead, it is more of a deep, dark brown. You can’t see through it, but it’s not as dark as you might expect. And right from the pour, the lacing started, and as I sipped, it continued all the way down the glass in a nice, even sheet.

Aromatically, Happy Ending had a nice display of hop to malt balance. The malts were the first to hit the nose, featuring dark chocolate, some stiff black coffee and a general roasted note, which was countered by some nice floral hop aromas and a bitter note of pine. There’s a general sweetness with some caramel, and there were hints of dark fruit, with a slight touch of grape.

On the taste, there was a surprising amount of dark fruit up front — raisins and prunes. In the middle of the sip, it fleshes out to to a roasted dark chocolate, before transitioning to a bittersweet finish that has a sharp acidic coffee note and semi-sweet dark chocolate. As the beer warmed, I noted that it became more and more smokey, which tended to add to the bitterness. The mouthfeel was gritty thanks to above average carbonation. I wouldn’t call it lively, but it was on the higher end of average.

This is a nicely made Imperial Stout with a dark fruit surprise, however the mouthfeel brings down the overall experience. While not a very complex stout, the flavors here are very enjoyable, and the 9% ABV (alcohol by volume) is expertly hidden. It will bring a smile to your face, indeed.

SweetWater Happy Ending Imperial Stout, 88 points. Price: $1.99 US for one twelve ounce bottle.

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