Sweetwater’s dank spin-off on a classic

Hemp beers (and let’s be honest, they’re almost all IPAs) have been around for a solid minute. Today, we examine Sweetwater’s entry into this trend, which is dominated mostly by brewpubs at the moment.

For their foray into hemp beer, Sweetwater has chosen to take its venerable 420 Extra Pale Ale and shake it up with the application of Columbus and Simcoe hops, and proprietary terpenes that they wed to hemp flavor. Once you pop the top on a bottle of this beer, you will immediately be brought back to your college days. Maybe for better, maybe for worse.

Simcoe is infamously known as the cat-pee hop. Other colorful descriptions include “Holy cow, that’s some skunk weed!” Thankfully, the terpenes and the hemp mellow out the Simcoe hops, which pair nicely with Columbus hops. Both Columbus and Simcoe feature in Terrapin’s Hopsecutioner, so the profile on this beer will be familiar to fans of that other famous Georgia IPA.

This is not just 420 plus cannabis (and for the record, there’s no THC herein). This is an entirely different beer built on the 420 chassis. Regular 420 has a well-known malty characteristic, based on a combination of 2-row, Munich, Wheat, and Midnight Wheat malts which give it a body and head retention more characteristic of a Munich lager than a pale ale. The Strain (or G13) has a much lighter body, dropping the Munich and Midnight Wheat malts, and adding flaked oats. This gives it a richer, creamier mouth feel and accentuates the hemp flavor, while masking the cat-pee note so characteristic of Simcoe.

This beer rewards a vigorous pour; the whole point of this beer is the aroma, and to get that aroma you have to break out the CO2. The smell fills the room, and then you wonder if the beer tastes like bong water. But be not afraid, for I bring you glad tidings of great joy: it tastes like a straight-ahead, dead simple IPA. Clean, bright, refreshing, and resiny. In fact, the flavor profile is not far off of that newest IPA style, the Brut IPA.

As the glass warms, the flavor opens up a little, but in the end, what you have is a very straightforward IPA flavor with a strong odor of cannabis. If that’s your bag, Sweetwater 420 Strain G13 should be in your fridge. Pairs well with nachos, cheese curls, snack cakes, pizza, lasagna, breadsticks, potato chips, giant marshmallows; you get the picture.


Alex Ignatiev is the proprietor of Hub City Beers and Fine Cigars in Hattiesburg. Stokes Distributing who provides promotional consideration for his piece, is the exclusive distributor of Sweetwater 420 Strain G13.