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SweetWater Founder Freddy Bensch on Expansions, New Brews, and More

SweetWater Brewing Co. has been making headlines lately, expanding its facilities and distribution as part of a three-phase project scheduled to be completed this fall. Former SweetWater employees Carly Wiggins and Smith Matthews branched out to open their own brewery in Athens, Ga., while ex-employees Justin Stange and Devon Kreps opened one in Florida. Let's see what SweetWater founder Freddy Bensch has to say about it all.

You've been growing your building in recent years—a bigger patio, a solar unit on the roof. What else do you have planned?
Breathing a bit. Then distribution/geography. Hoping to head to Memphis, and then break into Virginia next year.

Are you still on track to complete all three phases of your expansion by fall? Can you describe the three phases and how it's been going?
We are still on track to be finished this fall. Phase one was acquiring the building adjacent to our original brewery and building onto it to add in office space, events space, area to install bottling and packaging hall. Phase two: We added in our bottling line and packaging hall, keg line, quality assurance lab, machine shop, etc. Phase three: The construction and addition of our new tank farm (home to 14 new 1,000-barrel fermentation tanks that have recently been installed) and our new 250-barrel brew house. All in all, this has allowed us to expand our capacity from 100,000 barrels a year to 500,000 barrels per year.

Why is it important to you that the Beltline will come near the brewery?
It will be nice to have additional access points and a way for folks to stay green and safe by biking to the brewery versus driving their cars.

Your distribution has expanded recently as well. Where are you now and how far and big do you want to go?
We are still currently in six states throughout the Southeast including Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, and South Carolina. We recently announced that we were expanding further south into Florida to include Orlando and Tampa in our distribution.

How do you feel about all the different craft breweries that are popping up in Atlanta and around the country? You were one of the first in the city.
The craft beer community is such a supportive community. We think it's great that folks have more quality beer options, and we support the good work they're doing and beers they're brewing.

Carly Wiggins and Smith Matthews seem to have developed a passion for the brewing business from their work at SweetWater—and picked up a few tips and tricks, which they're using to start their own microbrewery in Savannah. Was that a surprise to you?
They always had a passion for craft beer and brewing. We think it's great to see folks move onwards and upwards, especially to keep growing and supporting the craft beer industry. We look forward to getting our hands on some of their brews. We've had some other great folks take from their experience with us (and others) and open their own craft brewery as well. Justin Stange and Devon Kreps recently opened Seventh Sun Brewing in Florida.

Anything else we should know?
We recently launched a brand new brew to our annual line-up called LowRYEder. It's a flame-throwing rye IPA sure to make your booty hop. Also, we were named within the nation's top 25 craft breweries (according to sales by volume) by the Brewers Association. We moved from No. 27 in 2010 to No. 24 in 2011. One of only two from the South, and an honor considering our current distribution footprint only hits six states. It's an exciting time for the industry as more people develop a taste for craft beer!

· All SweetWater Brewing Co. Coverage [-EATL-]
· SweetWater Brewing Plant Expansion Makes Way for Growth [AJC]

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