Sweetwater Festive Ale
About the beer...
Nice and dark, slightly amber hued with a head slightly darker than Coke poured from a glass bottle. The aroma is a little smoky with definite evidence of the typical Sweetwater hops concoction. Medium bodied and dry, somewhere near a porter but not quite as smooth textured as the porters I prefer. It's got a spiciness to it from cinnamon and mace, as read from the bottle label, but friends that have tried former versions say it's toned down a little from previous years. Bitterness from the hops lingers a little, definitely more than their pale ales like the Sweetwater 420. Flavor is slightly sweet from a caramel malt with a dark roastiness (chocolate malt?). Leaves a lingering barley flavor on the palate, quite pleasant but I also like to eat barley. If I had a bar, I'd offer bowls of barley much like old bars served pretzels. I'd guess that the alcohol content is around 7-8% from a totally non-scientific analysis.
I like the beer but I feel like the Sweetwater brand needs to be a little more bold with their product line. There was talk this summer of ending the ESB, formerly known as the Sweetwater Ale, which is probably my second favorite of their beers, just behind Sweet Georgia Brown. Their 420 is good, a beer that supposedly pulls in about 60-70% of their business. I think the 420 is a great, everyday beer, especially for cheap beer drinkers that are trying to wean themselves away from shitty beer. But it seems like they're a little scared to take a risk and put out a truly cutting-edge beer. Perhaps the southeast market is too fickle for such a venture or perhaps sales of the 420 are good enough. I didn't do much, but I helped make their batch of Imperial Stout this past summer, a beer to celebrate Georgia changing their content laws but I never found a place that carried it thanks to the fact that they limited distrbution to kegs. I felt like it was a move in the right direction, but perhaps at least a limited bottled distribution would have been called for, especially in a special 750-mL edition.