Pop quiz: Which Extra Pale Ale is the second largest seller in the United States? If you guessed 420 Extra Pale Ale by Sweetwater, give yourself a pat on the back.
With a limited line of craft brews, you’d never guess that Sweetwater Brewing Company has become the little brewery that could. Over the last several months, their phenomenal popularity has helped them break into more and more markets across the U.S. – and they’ve finally come to Philly.
On Tuesday, Explore Philly joined Sweetwater representatives at the Devil’s Den in South Philly to give their delicious craft a warm welcome to our City of Brotherly Love.
The beer pairing luncheon kicked off with a sampling of Hop Hash, a double IPA infused with, um, hop hash. What is hop hash you ask?
If you’re familiar with hops, you might recognize that they are part of the cannabis family (no biology lesson here, so let’s just take that explanation at face value, shall we?). Hops in their natural state are a green bud. They smell sweet and flowery when fresh.
To meet the demands of the beer industry, however, hops manufacturers use that bud to create happy little (also green) pellets. The pellets are used by most beer makers in their brew (in lieu of fresh hops).
On a visit to the hop-maker, the founders of Sweetwater, Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNemy, discovered the worst every faux-pas of brewing. They felt the best part of the hops was going to waste; its hash.
The byproduct of the hop-pellet making process, a thick, sticky, pasty hash, was being discarded by the manufacturers. This, they said, could not be. They agreed to purchase the bails of questionable looking brown stuff right away.
Sweetwater is the only brewery with exclusive rights to the use of the hop hash. You’ll see the reference in most of their marketing labels. Bet that explanation made you hungry?
Our lunch began with a genius pairing of butternut squash soup and 420 Extra Pale Ale. The rich, buttery smoothness of the soup complimented the acidity of the beer perfectly, leaving a lingering sweetness on the tongue.
In the second course, mussels were topped with honey crisp apples & pork belly. A creamy broth completed the dish. We tasted the dish with the Sweetwater IPA. The bite of the apples added a good twist to the typically hoppy IPA.
IPAs are famous for their love / hate relationship with most people. The bipolarity on this beer is unlike any other. However, Sweetwater asked us to try something different.
When tasting an IPA, they recommended to start with a sniff & a small sip of the beer. This warms up the receptors in the mouth, letting the hoppiness cut into the tastebuds.
Next, take another smell of the beer, followed by a gulp (yes, gulp!) to fully appreciate the characteristics of the brew. With the second gulp, the grapefruit tartness of the beer may have even subsided since your mouth now knows what to expect while drinking your IPA.
The pairing concluded with a vanilla bean cheesecake topped with blueberry compote. The Georgia Brown beer is a special case where the hops in the beer is 100% hash. The beer is thickly dense with a pleasant sweetness. It represents the true essence of hops, while maintaining a smooth finish.
For more information on where you can find Sweetwater, visit the company’s website. Keep an eye out for their recently released bourbon barrel aged stout, as well. As the weather turns colder, drinking Sweetwater will be the perfect way to warm up your bones.