Beer Review 0255: SweetWater Motor Boat ESB

SweetWater Brewing Company is located in Atlanta, Georgia, but its roots actually began in Boulder, Colorado. There, two roommates — Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney — found out they liked beer more than they liked their classes at the University of Colorado. But they didn’t drop out; instead, they took on part-time jobs at local breweries, cleaning out kegs.

Upon graduation, both Bensch and McNerney went to the American Brewers Guild in California to learn Fermentation Science.

In the summer of 1996, when Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympic Games, both our rising brewers were in town and decided the city needed a good craft brewery. They wanted to brew beer west coast style here in the east, so they got a few loans, and took a trip down the SweetWater creek, located close to where the brewery is churning out beer today.

SweetWater’s Motor Boat is an ESB, which stands for Extra Special (or Strong) Bitter — it is a seasonal offering, part of what they dub their “catch and release” series. The beer comes in at 5.6% ABV (alcohol by volume), and is hopped with Cascade, Sterling, and US Golding, and is dry-hopped with even more Cascade. The malts used are: 2 Row, Carapils, Vienna Malt, 70/80, 13/17, and 40L. Motor Boat won silver medals at both the 2008 and 2009 Great American Beer Festival.

Release into glass produced a large, creamy head that lasted atop a beautiful orange beer, that had lighter golden highlights when held to the light. The beer was clear in body, and contained no particles or sediment, obviously filtered. The lacing was excellent and started just as soon as the head began to fade, and lasted all throughout while I sampled, leaving behind a thick, creamy coating on the glass. Motor Boat is a looker; I gave it a perfect score in appearance.

On the nose, this beer was fairly hoppy with grassy alphas being the star, but the complexity here was very nice: there were notes of fleshy tropical fruits, a nice dose of grapefruit and some general citrus. The malts were there but light in the form of some caramel and sweet bread. Overall, my nose got the impression that this was a sweet, hoppy beer, and the aroma invited me in for a sip.

Tasting, Motor Boat starts out slow with some soft tropical fruit flavors, and a subtle caramel note; the middle of the taste opens up with grassy hops that mix and mingle with bready malt. The finish comes on clean at first; then it turns grassy and ushers in a light bitterness that doesn’t hang around too long. I thought Motor Boat was medium bodied with a thin mouthfeel that was foamy when agitated.

I found this brew to be quite enjoyable and highly drinkable. The hop flavors hit me as being a bit off-beat but they were refreshing and different. This is a great example of a hoppy beer that isn’t an absolute palate wrecker. I could see myself enjoying a few of these over the course of an evening, and I would buy it again, for sure. If you want a pleasant beer, you’ve got it here.

SweetWater Motor Boat ESB, 91 points. Price: $1.49 for one twelve ounce bottle.

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