Freddy Bensch first rolled through Atlanta in the summer of 1996 to find the city at a vibrant peak while hosting the Olympic Games. With a freshly inked environmental sciences degree in his pocket, Bensch embarked upon a cross-country road trip, leaving University of Colorado Boulder with his friend Kevin McNerney and dog Badger. When their truck broke down in Atlanta, the crew decided to stay and play.
Enamored with Atlanta’s glittery city appeal and Southern downhome charm, their stay kept getting extended. The one thing lacking? A great craft beer scene. Bensch and McNerney had worked in breweries while in college in Colorado and saw an opportunity to introduce Atlanta to the tasty West Coast-style ales they loved. One small business loan later, and SweetWater Brewing Company was born.
Craft enthusiasts are likely familiar with SweetWater’s 420 Extra Pale Ale – the first batch was brewed 22 years ago on April 20 – and their heady, hoppy portfolio of IPAs. This year, the Atlanta-based brewery introduced a lighter lager to the mix: Guide Beer. At 4 percent, it’s a crisp and refreshing cooler-filler, with all the robust flavors you’d expect from a craft.
But it’s more than just a great liquid: Guide Beer has a greater mission. Of Guide Beer’s profits, 11 percent will be given back to nature guides in need, whether they’ve suffered devastation from a hurricane, a broken limb, an illness or anything that keeps them from working. Why guides?
“SweetWater has always been about creating a company and brand that exudes the same core values we hold as individuals, and that includes a deep love of all things outdoors,” Bensch says. “Whether it was water conservation, habitat protection or just straight-up stocking streams, this was who we were and this was what we were going to support. Guide Beer has become a natural extension of this philosophy: a light, easy drinking lager specifically designed for days in the outdoors that also gives back to the best stewards of the great outdoors – guides.”
Bensch says he and McNerney developed a great sense of gratitude for the guides they befriended along the way.
“Always taking a sliver of information or heightened respect from each experience, we came to understand that these guys and gals are the true stewards of nature. Guides are the keys that unlock outdoor experiences for the greater masses.”
He points out that the past several years have seen devastation to the guide community from Hurricanes Irma, Florence and Michael.
“It hit me that we as a company need to step up and formally give back to guides who’ve impacted so much of who we are as a company and frankly, who I am as a person and outdoorsman,” he says. “That’s what Guide Beer is: in honor and support of those who show us the way.”
In order to make Guide Beer an authentic representation of the folks it’s meant to honor, SweetWater worked with guides from all over the nation to develop it.
“We reached out to some of the nation’s most well-known and revered guides and started asking them, ‘What kind of beer do you like to drink after a long day out guiding?’” says Guide Beer Brand Director Tucker Berta Sarkisian. “The answer was nearly unanimous: a crisp, light, easy drinking, low-ABV beer. We continued to work with the guides to develop the liquid and the concept around it – getting their input on everything from cans versus bottles to artwork to a philanthropic program that would be authentic to SweetWater and this new beer.”
What guides told SweetWater they wanted aligned with industry stats: a shift toward a lighter profile among craft drinkers and proven success in the top 10 drinkable styles. It also brings to the table new consumers: craft enthusiasts looking for a crisp 4 percenter, plus a new base of lighter profile beer consumers who may be new to SweetWater but appreciate the outdoors and aspirational nature of the guide lifestyle. Men’s Journal recently named Guide Beer one of the “Five Best Lagers for Day Drinking.”
“Our hope all along was that Guide Beer would spark conversation and inspire people to get outside and enjoy all that nature has to offer,” Sarkisian says. “And we’re seeing that, from consumers talking about the maps on the cans and the locations they’ve visited or want to visit to planning an excursion with a guide.”
Check out videos from guides, booking links and more at www.guidebeer.com and follow Guide Beer on Instagram @guidebeer. Find out where to pick up the brew in the DMV at www.sweetwaterbrew.com/find-sweetwater.
This article is sponsored by Virginia Eagle Distributing Company.