Beer Review 0360: SweetWater 16th Anniversary Red Wheat Wine

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2013 marks SweetWater Brewing Company’s (Atlanta, Georgia) 16th anniversary of brewing beer. Founded by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerney in 1997, the Atlanta brewery seeks to brew west coast style beer on the east side.

Bensch and McNerney were roommates while attending the University of Colorado, and after graduating, they both decided that their love for beer weighed just a bit more than what they actually went to school for. Both men continued their education at the American Brewers Guild in California, and the subject there: Fermentation Science.

Since 1997, SweetWater have become one of the most successful southeast breweries. Currently, SweetWater offers a solid year-round lineup, seasonals, and limited release “Dank Tank” bottles; these beers are sold in bomber size format and are reserved for experimental offerings.

To celebrate the 16th anniversary, SweetWater have brewed a Red Wheat Wine. Coming in at 11% ABV (alcohol by volume), 45% of the malt used is wheat. The beer is hopped with Amarillo, Willamette, Nelson Sauvin, and US Goldings hops.

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This anniversary ale poured with a small, creamy head that had tight bubbles and a lasting quality. The beer itself was reddish-brown in color, had a clear body and was free of particles and sediment. Lacing was good, leaving behind thin weepy sheets, much more than I expected from an 11% beer.

The nose was quite interesting; for a Wheat Wine, this smelled much like an Old Ale, with sweet notes of caramel and molasses that combined with woodsy oak components. No oak aging here, as far as I know. The alcohol is completely hidden; dig deeper and you’ll find notes of dark fruit, specifically raisin and prune, and some spicy cinnamon. I even got a touch of bubble gum, although I think that was more from all of the scents mixing rather than any specific yeast.

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On the taste, the expected big alcohol hit is right up front, combined with an especially sweet caramel and burnt sugar. The alcohol does smooth out, ushering in flavors of sweet, lollipop-like caramel, some dark fruits, and perhaps a bit of tobacco. Finishing, there’s a hit of grain, some rye spiciness, and oak, which mingle with cinnamon. Medium-bodied, the mouthfeel is unfortunately thin, with a foamy texture when swirled around the tongue.

While this beer does have some good flavors, the lack of body really hurts. 16th Anniversary is easy drinking for 11%, despite the initial boozy tone, but the Wheat Wine aspect of this never really plays out and this isn’t really worthy of being an anniversary brew. Not sure I would bite on this one, if given another chance — I could see opportunities for aging but the body limits how long I’d keep it in my cellar.

SweetWater 16th Anniversary Red Wheat Wine, 86 points. Price: $6.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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