Craft Beer Corner
Sweetwater Happy Ending Imperial Stout
(Editor’s note: Cory Byrom, local craft beer enthusiast and home brewer from Peachtree City, shares his opinions on craft beer from all over the world.)
I'm just going to cut to the chase: Sweetwater Happy Ending is one of my absolute favorite beers.
I look forward to its winter release each year, and I am sad when it disappears from shelves a couple of months later. This is in spite of it's kind of cringe-inducing name. Taken at face value, the name is fine, but in the context of Sweetwater's lineup, it is clear that there's some sexual innuendo going on here.
Frankly, this is my biggest gripe with Sweetwater, who too often taints a good beer with a title that's embarrassing at the least and offensive at worst. (I'm positive I blushed when I ordered a Big Ol' Belgian Blue Balls from the waitress at a local Taco Mac. At least they did shorten the name of their DP Quad, which used to be called Donkey Punch. Google it. Wait, on second thought, don't.)
Then there was the original label, which featured a winking geisha, pushing the innuendo into uncomfortable stereotype territory. Thankfully the current label is back to the rivers and the lakes that we're used to from Sweetwater, with their fish mascot taking up the bulk of the bottle. But let's put all that aside and focus on the beer itself, which is what we're all here for anyway. And what a beer it is.
This thing is a beast! It's pitch black with just a hint of a tan head on top, and pours like motor oil (in a good way). It's thick and viscous, and feels like liquid velvet on your tongue. And clocking in at 9% ABV, that all adds up to a perfect sipping beer. Once you taste it, you'll want to make it last anyway.
One thing that sets Happy Ending apart from the herd of stouts and imperial stouts out there is how hop-forward it is. In addition to the hefty amount of hops going into the brew, it's also dry-hopped (meaning hops are added after brewing is complete, during fermentation).
This process is used in some pale ales and all IPAs to enhance the aroma, but isn't seen in maltier beers like stouts and porters too often. In this case, that piney hop aroma mingles with roasted malt sweetness, caramelized sugar, and the ever-present alcohol that refuses to pretend this isn't a very strong beer. That boozy flavor is with you every step of the way, acting as a backbone to the roasted malt and bright hops.
This doesn't taste like a traditional stout that's been beefed up; it's a complex re-interpretation of what a stout can taste like. It's hoppy and spicy, with hints of rye and bitter coffee, and a little caramel and chocolate rounding it out. I can think of no winter seasonal I'd rather sip on a cold night.
Like the best winter beers, its high gravity fights off the chill of the cold months without overpowering the complex flavors at play. When it's dark out, I'll sit by the fireplace and let the fire warm me from the outside while Sweetwater Happy Ending warms me from within. I recommend you do the same. A+
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(Cory Byrom is a stay-at-home dad to three young kids. He likes loud music and strong drinks, and in his spare time he enjoys listening to other people's stories. He hosts a monthly storytelling show in Atlanta called The Iceberg.)