From 420 Extra Pale Ale to strain-specific IPAs to an annual 420 Fest, SweetWater Brewing has made a name for itself over the past twenty years through its connection to cannabis and the marijuana lifestyle.
That’s a big part of the reason that the Atlanta-based brewery was purchased last year by global cannabis company Tilray, and also a major factor in why SweetWater, the nation's tenth-largest craft beer maker, chose to open a second brewery in pot-friendly Colorado, along with a branded taproom at Denver International Airport.
But SweetWater may not be able to serve its flagship 420 ale at DIA or make any reference to cannabis there, thanks to the airport’s longtime policy prohibiting marijuana-adjacent souvenirs.
"It all has to be family-friendly," says DIA spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. "SweetWater won’t be able to promote their 420 or pot-themed materials or products."
The airport's no-pot-policy was implemented in late 2014, after a businesswoman complained that DIA officials were preventing her from selling pot-leaf-imprinted flip-flops and boxer shorts to a souvenir store. The rule makes it off-limits to "sell, display, or advertise any product bearing the image, likeness, description, or name of Marijuana or Marijuana-themed paraphernalia; and advertise a Marijuana-related business or establishment" at DIA.
The pot prohibition comes as news to SweetWater co-founder and CEO Freddy Bensch. "As of now, we intend to [sell it]," he says of the marijuana-branded beer. "In this day and age, with legalization [in so many states], we feel like we will be serving some 420."
SweetWater was founded in 1997 and brewed its first beer on April 20 of that year, which is how 420 Extra Pale Ale got its name. Over the years, it has nurtured its connections to environmentalism, outdoor activities and cannabis. Last year, it was purchased by Toronto-based Tilray, which is helping the brewery grow.
On July 12, SweetWater announced that it had bought the building and equipment belonging to Red Truck Brewing, which made a big splash when it opened at 1020 East Lincoln Avenue in Fort Collins three years ago but remained closed after pandemic restrictions ended earlier this year. The Fort Collins location, which includes a 32,450-square-foot production facility, taproom and restaurant, will allow SweetWater "to pursue major expansion plans across the U.S. and into the West Coast," according to the company.
The announcement also included the news that SweetWater would lend its name to a restaurant and taproom on the B Concourse at DIA, joining local breweries like Great Divide and New Belgium at the airport. The SweetWater spot is scheduled to open within the next few weeks, Stegman says.
With or without 420 Ale.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.