Tour of Sweetwater Tavern, Sterling

We held our monthly meeting for August at the Sweetwater Tavern in Sterling, VA.  This is the first time we took a “field-trip” like this to an actual brewery and it certainly will not be the last.  We all learned so much during the visit that I think many of us, myself included, are still processing what changes we could make to our own brewing to take it to the next level.

Joe Schineller, the brewer at the Sterling facility, was nothing short of simply amazing!  Not only did he patiently put up with 20+ excited members flooding him with questions like machine gun fire, but he covered nearly every aspect of brewing with great detail.  This genuinely helped every member learn and grow into better brewers.  Plus he coddled the group both before and after the walk through, with a discussion of each beer on tap, simply AMAZING appetizers, and made sure we all got seated quickly and in a prime spot together for dinner!  Kudos to Joe and the rest of the Sweetwater staff!  I highly recommend you visit them when you’re in Sterling, VA!

Anyway, back to the brewery… Joe keeps a very clean shop.  Every item is in its proper place and every piece of equipment is SPOTLESS, shiny and clean.  Hell, he even sanitized repeatedly after drawing samples from the tanks.  He has a 2 vessel 15bbl brewhouse (465gal) that is done beautifully in copper cladding and bright stainless steel.  I had a very public brewgasm just looking at all the awesome equipment!

Joe brews a variety of ales and a couple of lagers in the 6 – 18bbl fermenters.  Everything fits in a pretty tight space, but it’s a very basic brewpub configuration intended to serve all it’s beer on premises, so there is no real kegging or bottling need or operation.  He does have a fancy-shmancy growler filler that uses CO2 counter-pressure, and a great big walk-in cold room with 6 big serving tanks.

We tried all his beers and frankly surprisingly liked each one.  Typically, I can be picky and turn my nose up at a few, but all of the beers at Sweetwater are good quality, to style, and rich in flavor and aroma.  The Chilpotle Porter was likely my favorite.  Smoky with a hint of peat, and just a touch of burn in the end.  Very well balanced and really a delicious and interesting find.

We will certainly do the brewery tours as a group again, but Sweetwater really spoiled us and set a bar nearly impossible to beat for all future breweries.  I guess, we’ll see…

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