Sweetwater Tavern Restaurant
14250 Sweetwater Ln
Visited on February 8, 2013
Travelling to Washington DC this weekend, I got the opportunity for a quick stop-in at a brewpub on the very fringes of dense civilization before it gives way to the Virginia hills. Sweetwater Tavern is a small chain of brewpubs operated within the DC area by a larger company that owns several franchises in the area, called Great American Restaurants. And it’s pretty obvious that it’s a chain.
The decorations in this brewpub aren’t very warming, welcoming, or even rational. They’ve got some sort of Mexican/Western vibe mixed with trendy, upscale Americana going on. There’s random Mexican carpets hanging from the rafters, cowboys and buffalos etched into the glass paneling between booths, and cavernous walls adorned with chic light fixtures. It’s all a bit baffling. And while some might find the obvious corporate oversight appealing, I find it cold and distancing.
We didn’t have any entrees while sampling our brews, but we did try a few appetizers, all of which I found extremely tasty. We got tex mex eggrolls, blue grab fritters and a side order of sweet potato fries. While the fries were a bit salty for my taste, everything else was very well executed. Sure, the dip for the egg rolls might have just been sour cream with a bit of guacamole mixed in, and the fritter sauce might just have been some lobster bisque, but it was still delicious. The only issue was the price. It might be an artifact from being kind of close to DC, but most every dish was $12 – $20 and the appetizers were $10. Plus, pints of beer were $5.50 while a growler fill was only $10.
Talk about an in-house mark-up.
Speaking of the beers, they weren’t all that impressive. They had a light lager that was mildly better than a Big Three beer and a Barking Frog Ale that somehow managed to taste even worse than a light lager. The weizenbock was probably fine, but I don’t really care for the style. The imperial stout was tasty – as all imperial stouts tend to be – but not impressive for the style. The best thing I found was their Pale Ale, which apparently won a gold at the 2010 Great American Beer Festival. I’m not sure which hops they used, but they’re not very common. There were a lot of subtle flavors in there that I’m not used to in a Pale, which is what made it interesting to me and worthy of a growler fill.
Which brings me to my few complaints. Beer travelers beware – they will not fill your typical screw-top growler. They have some sort of fancy reverse-pressure-flow system that only fills their specific grolsch-top growlers and they refuse to stick a hose from their taps for any other kind. It seems that you buy a growler, drink the contents, bring it back, and swap it for a new, full one while they take care of washing the old ones.
t’s a nice system for people living in the area, but it completely screws anyone from out of town not aware of it.
I ordered a growler and left to retrieve one from my car, only to come back to find a brand new $18 grolsch-top growler sitting on my table that I did not want to purchase. I’ve got plenty of growlers, I don’t need more. A passing waitress tried to explain to me that they only fill their own growlers because they can’t be sure of the sanitation of others’ and it’s a liability issue. I said that was bullshit, as nothing harmful grows in beer and countless other breweries don’t have to take insurance out for their growler fills. Being a bit flabbergasted, I was a bit shorter than I needed to be and came off as angry. I would have been happy to just have not taken a growler home, but a manager came by and explained their system and why it only fills their growlers. It’s some fancy line almost like a bottling system that fills growlers without allowing any oxygen inside at all, keeping it fresh for a long time. She then gave me the growler for free and charged me only for the fill.
This is great customer service, and I applaud the place for that. I still don’t understand the fancy system, though. I can kind of see wanting their beer to be fresh for every customer, so anyone who ever tries their wares from a growler will get the best experience possible, even if it is forgotten about for a month or two. But most people carrying around growlers are well-aware of how quickly the beer will go flat and the need for fast consumption. I don’t see why they don’t offer both options. I mean, how hard is it to have a hose for the taps? Or they should at least having a warning on the menu somewhere to avoid these types of situations.
All in all, it’s not a bad place. It’s just corporate, overpriced, and a little silly.