Photos: Courtesy of SweetWater

SweetWater’s New Guide Beer: New Four Percent Lager Gives Back to Nature’s Best Stewards

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 and follow Guide Beer on Instagram @guidebeer. Find out where to pick up the brew in the DMV at

This article is sponsored by Virginia Eagle Distributing Company.

Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham // Photo: Courtesy of the Rosen Group

Brewing Diversity: Supporting DC’s Black Beer Culture

One way to celebrate Black History Month is with beer. Whether you consider yourself a conscious consumer or not, this vital celebration is also an opportunity to support small businesses. You don’t even have to spend money to follow those raising the bar for black beer culture – you can simply follow them on social media, and answer calls for inclusion.

Dr. J. Nikol Jackson-Beckham wears many hats. She’s an academic, a homebrewer and most recently, the first-ever Brewers Association diversity ambassador. She is also the chair of the Communications Studies department at Randolph College in Lynchburg. While she holds many titles, in the beer world, she’s known as “J,” “‘Dr. J” or simply “Doc.”

“I am absolutely an advocate of visibility,” she says. “Shining a light on people who don’t have light shined on them very often is inherently valuable.”

Mike Potter, founder of online magazine Black Brew Culture, estimates that there are 50 black-owned breweries across the nation. Jackson-Beckham agrees with this number, which seems staggeringly low when compared with a Brewers Association’s statistic indicating more than 7,000 craft breweries in the U.S.

She recognizes positive trends and sees craft brewing in general “as a kind of center of small business and entrepreneurship.”

“When we look at trends of brewery locations and where they’re going, there’s opportunity for people of color and black people in particular,” Jackson-Beckham continues.

Port City Brewing Company’s brewer Leon Harris delivers excellence in beer production. Every time you enjoy one of the Alexandria-based brewery’s drafts, there’s a chance he had his hands in the creation of that batch.

Harris got his start as assistant brewer at District ChopHouse downtown and Shirlington’s now-shuttered Capital City Brewing Company before opening – and literally building – Heroic Aleworks in Woodbridge. He was cutting concrete and installing fermenters that held 465 gallons of liquid, and jokes that his blood, sweat and tears were in the place. Next, he became brewer at Caboose Brewing Company’s flagship location in Vienna before joining the Port City production team.

“I would love to see more black people in the [beer] industry,” he says. “I think it’s a thriving industry. It’s a welcoming and accepting industry in every sense of the word.”

He’d also love to see “more black-owned businesses that cater to the community, cater to veterans like myself or cater to trying to better those around them.”

Service Bar in Shaw is another black-owned establishment improving beer culture in the DC area. A few months ago, the cocktail bar partnered with Capitol Riverfront brewery Bluejacket to create Hurricane Alley – a sour ale with passion fruit and sweet cherries. The brew mimics the flavor of fruity cocktails like the Hurricane but is imminently more drinkable at 4 percent alcohol by volume.

DC Brau Assistant Manager Myesha Cheatham’s beer journey began by chance.

“I fell into the beer world by accident,” she says. “I used to be a teacher, but I got a homebrewing kit and thought, ‘Oh, I should work in a brewery!’”

Like all good educators, she progressed via communication and critical thinking.

“I’m lucky that at DC Brau, I have people who are willing to share knowledge. Just not being afraid to ask questions has been very helpful.”

Cheatham has worked at high-volume places like MGM National Harbor, the Willard InterContinental’s Round Robin Bar and the Café Du Parc, and at some of them, she’s had to do her own beer training.

“I brought some awesome beer-related ideas to [the table], like ‘This is how we change a keg’ and ‘This is what to do with an old keg’ and ‘We need to plug our lines every night to make sure we don’t have fruit flies in the beer.’”

The knowledge she’s gained as a protector of black beer culture has enabled her to be a positive force in driving it locally. She offers up examples of people to follow online.

“Social media is taking off and they’re a lot of people on Twitter, as well as bloggers like Ale Sharpton, Beer Kutlure and Afro.Beer.Chick, who are bringing black beer culture to the mainstream.”

Follow Cheatham’s recommendations on Twitter @alesharpton, @beerkulture and @afrobeerchick. Check out Potter’s magazine at and follow Jackson-Beckham on Twitter @jnikolbeckham.

Learn more about these breweries and bars below.

DC Brau: 3178 Bladensburg Rd. Suite B, NE, DC;
Port City: 3950 Wheeler Ave. Alexandria, VA;
Service Bar: 926-928 U St. NW, DC;

Photo: Denizens Brewing Co.'s Facebook page

Denizens Brewing Co. Highlights Forgotten Causes A Year After Trump’s Inauguration

Denizens Brewing Co. has one message for the Trump administration: we’re still here.

Denizens General Manager Stephanie Nale says she saw many people come together and congregate at the brewery when Donald Trump was inaugurated, marking a time that saw great division among different groups. To reignite that unity, the brewery wanted to host a celebration and gather people together again, but also to celebrate the causes that Denizens feels the Trump administration has ignored – whether that be women, immigrants or climate change, to name a few.

To remind the administration that these groups and their supports are not going anywhere, Denizens will be hosting the four-day event “We’re Still Here.” From Thursday, January 18 through Sunday, January 21, the brewery will put a spotlight on a different organization each day with a focus on DMV chapters, and donate 10 percent of that day’s profit to that organization.

Thursday’s featured organization will be Ayuda, a DMV-based, immigration-focused organization; Friday will be Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington; Saturday will be ACLU, an organization that protects and defends rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution; and Sunday will be the Climate Reality Project.

“These organizations [are] some we’ve supported before, and some of them we are just continuously standing behind and we want to give them a chance to shine within our own community,” Nale says.

Each day of the event will have information about the cause-of-the-day spread throughout the taproom, whether it’s people from that organization talking to patrons or literature available to read. In addition, Denizens will be releasing a new beer in celebration of the weekend.

Denizens prides itself on being a place where everybody is welcome, and Nale says she hopes this event will unite people together again, as they were a year ago, and spark healthy conversations where people can feel free to voice their thoughts.

“We do definitely have our own opinions” Nale says. “We don’t force [them] upon anybody; we really try to make that clear. But we’re also not going to be afraid to say, ‘Hey, these are the things we do believe in.’ So just come and join us, and hopefully we can start a conversation.”

Visit Denizens Brewing Co. from January 18-21 to take part in their “We’re Still Here” event. Entry is free.

Denizens Brewing Co.: 1115 East-West Hwy. Silver Spring, MD; 301-557-9818;