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SweetWater’s Freddy Bensch On Brewery’s Olympic Origins

Freddy Bensch co-founded SweetWater with his friend Kevin McNerney. On February 17, 1997, they sold their first keg of beer.
Freddy Bensch co-founded SweetWater with his friend Kevin McNerney. On February 17, 1997, they sold their first keg of beer.
Credit SweetWater Brewing Company

This Cultural Olympiad story was produced in partnership with ArtsATL as part of “Atlanta Remembers: The 1996 Olympics,” WABE’s series on the impact of the 1996 Summer Olympics on Atlanta, 20 years later. For more stories, click here.  

Some legacies of the 1996 Olympic Games are quite conspicuous. Driving around Atlanta, you’ll see the Olympic rings and torch on Capitol Avenue. Just down the street, what was once Centennial Olympic Stadium is now Turner Field. But there’s another Olympic legacy that’s just as tangible, just as visible, though perhaps not as obvious.

That’s SweetWater Brewing Company, Georgia’s most successful craft brewery to date. In 1996, SweetWater co-founder Freddy Bensch was fresh out of school, having just graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder. He’d worked at a brewery while he was at school, alongside his friend Kevin McNerney. While on a road trip around the Southeast, their truck broke down in Atlanta. The city was making its final preparations for the Centennial Olympic Games.
 
Atlanta’s vibrant energy was infectious, and the buzz did not die down after the closing ceremony. In an interview for “City Lights,” Freddy recounted his early days in Atlanta, sharing his initial impressions of Atlanta’s food and restaurant scene and how he’s witnessed that culture evolve and thrive.
 
SweetWater Brewing Company sold its first keg of beer on February 17, 1997. The craft brews are now sold in 18 states as well as Washington, D.C.