Beer Of The Week: SweetWater Guide Beer begs for a spot in your cooler

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Graphic: Karl Gustafson

SweetWater’s new Guide Beer lager is like catnip to this river-rafting, Montana-based beer writer. First, it’s a hoppy pilsner, one of my favorite styles. Two, it’s on the easy-drinking side of the ABV scale at just 4 percent (Kate likey). And three, its branding signals it’s “built for the outdoors”—rivers, specifically—with waders, rafts, and fly-fishing references out the wazoo. I was essentially destined to dig this beer.


So it should surprise no one that Guide Beer is here in my Beer Of The Week space, the second time I’ve covered Atlanta-based SweetWater Brewing in this column. (I try not to repeat breweries, but I genuinely like this beer and there aren’t a ton of nationally distributing breweries from the South. Forgive me.) This beer also served an important psychological purpose that sealed its spot in this week’s spotlight: It reminds me that spring might actually arrive sometime in the foreseeable future.

On the river, I’d definitely drink this beer from a can, but pouring it into a glass allows a better aromatic experience. The Hallertau and Mt. Hood hop aromas jumping off the pour are bright and grassy, sneaking in just a little earthy oregano, too. Underneath the hops, the flaked corn in this beer’s grain bill lends the nose a sunny sweetness that reminds me of some imported Mexican lagers. The aromas are simple, clean, and not overpowering, which is how the beer tastes as well. The hops are at a relatively low level, just enough to create a little intrigue to the otherwise light and effervescent swallow. If you’re looking for a slightly hoppier, craft answer to standard macro river beers—usually Coors Light or Rainier in our raft—this is it.

Crushable is a much-overused beer word these days, and “drinkable” has always been sort of a funny adjective for me (beers are liquids, so aren’t they all drinkable?). Since I try to refrain from using those words if I can, I’ll sum up Guide Beer thusly: I could drink, conservatively, six or seven dozen of these. SweetWater’s brewers nail what I want from a beer when I’m rafting on the Blackfoot or the Big Hole or the Clark Fork in the summer: a squeaky-clean fermentation profile, just a touch of malt sweetness, lively carbonation, and maybe a smidgen of subdued hop flavor. SweetWater actually did collaborate with fishing guides to develop and launch this beer, and 11 percent of proceeds will be donated to charities that support guides after injuries and natural disasters.

My digital weather station tells me it’s currently 17 degrees in Missoula, and I can’t recall the last time I saw my lawn under less than 6 inches of snow. But this beer tastes like fresh air, longer days, the first accidental sunburn of the year, slipping back into a worn pair of Chacos, and getting out on the river. Even if you don’t have a world-class fly-fishing river in your backyard, give this beer a go on your first outdoor romp of the spring. Whether it’s a softball game, a concert in the park, or a just grilling in the backyard, Guide Beer is its ideal liquid soundtrack.

Where to get it

SweetWater’s Guide Beer is available in cans and on draft beginning mid-February throughout the brewery’s 25-state distribution. Use the beer-finder tool to locate it near you.


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Erik the Red

Heading to the Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater area pretty soon. Last time I was there I discovered that they, surprisingly, have a pretty big beer scene there. But didn’t get a chance to explore much. Anything you recommend looking for outside of Cigar City, which I can easily find up in the mid-Atlantic?