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Sway Brewing & Blending Company

Bailey's Harbor, Wisconsin

 

Crusin’ rating: B+

Booze Rating: C-

 

This week we are continuing our Door County Series with the most recent addition to Door County’s brewing lineup, Sway Brewing & Blending. Started by Matt Sampson, who holds a doctorate in chemistry, started home brewing back in San Diego and then was the brewer for nearby Hacienda Brewing Co.’s wild barrel program. When I say nearby, I’m talking a seven minute walk around the corner. Which means an easy hit of 3 craft breweries all within a town of about 1000.


Only a brief, lovely Fall walk after our review of Door County Brewing Company, we arrived at Sway Brewing. We learned that Sway has only been in the building since May of 2023 so this may make our first review of a spot within 6 months of opening! With that in mind, as this review progresses, keep in mind that this is a brewery that will most likely come into its own as time goes on.


As we rounded the corner we saw the building that houses Sway Brewing & Blending perched into the side of a hill on a residential street. Outside the exposed basement were some picnic tables and propane heaters. Other than the sign and those tables, the building itself looks like a large residential home/business. Think small-town Wisconsin insurance agent. Although the outside was nothing wild, entering Sway was a step into coziness. The interior of Sway is a very modern coffee shop facade complete with tons of plants, lots of wood and black metal, and an overall impression of very clean and new. I thought it looked like Joanna Gaines built a brewery but Hannah was absolutely in love with the decor, the layout, and the indoor temperature. Now, I run a little warm, so I’m used to sitting in a brewery in a T-shirt, especially if the beer starts to catch up to me. Sway’s internal temperature, though, would have given an indoor water park a run for its money and would have made my grandparents' heating bill look cheap. I found myself wishing for shorts and wondering if there was a pool stashed away someplace. Never have I sweated while tasting beer indoors in Fall in Wisconsin. Hannah though, running borderline freezing as usual, was in heaven.



Perhaps, somewhat uniquely, Sway Blending and Brewing features a bakery and coffee as well as beer, which would explain the overall coffee shop vibe. We’ve actually seen the brewery/coffee shop combo before, interestingly enough, in Copper State Brewing Company and Gravity Box Brewing Company. I will have to think of a name for such spots, Brewing Shop? I’m open to suggestions! Whatever the case, it seemed to be working here and it was apparent that we were not the only patrons who had walked here. Although most patrons were currently drinking coffee on an early Thursday afternoon, I spotted one or two beers, alleviating my initial worry that only coffee is served until later in the day.


Hannah and I snagged a s

mall shelf-table facing a window, adorned with various cacti as I prepared to review. As I said, Sway offers coffee, baked goods (made in house and served Wednesday through Saturday mornings), and also has rented out its kitchen to a Mexican restaurant, of which you can order from directly at the counter, but appears to be a separate business. Other than Coffee, we spotted Wisco Pop, Tepeche, and Kombucha - I almost thought I was on State Street.


While there weren’t flights available, small sample pours were free, half pours ran $5 and full pours ran $7. The full pours would be anyway from 12-20 oz, depending on the beer style. I will say that I had believed that all of the beers here would be spontaneously fermented in foeders, but I did not see any literature around the brewery denoting that. While I appreciate the simplicity and minimalism of the website - I would love more information on the beer making process:

We take a minimal intervention approach to making beer - allowing raw ingredients to freely express themselves, while providing enough delicate guidance to ensure the creation of a beautiful beverage.

That’s fantastic. Does that mean it’s wild fermented outside under peach trees a la Burial Beer Co? Does that mean you throw everything in a barrel and hope it turns into beer? I think between that and the sort of - ahem - Swaying-semi beer definitions (see below). It was frustrating to me to try and nail down exactly what’s going on here. I love wild-fermented beers. I actually love a lot of beers but I think there was a line here wherein simplicity was favored so much that I’m left guessing at what I am drinking.


A Little Breeze (4.5% ABV) - This Mexican-inspired pale lager was gold with brilliant clarity and smelled largely of sweet corn notes. With a slightly creamy mouthfeel, some of that same sweet corn, and then a hoppy finish - was expecting there to be more sage as the menu notes provided, I didn’t really find any in here. While I think the sweetness definitely fulfills the Mexican lager note, I was not in love with this one but that may be because often so many other Mexican lagers around Wisconsin usually involve lime or are served with one so I’ve subconsciously come to expect it.

Then again, is this Mexican-inspired because of the assumed corn use? Would the average person be expecting beer with lime? A Corona? I know this may seem nitpicky since it’s related to reviewing, but again, when you walk into a brewery don’t you expect to have a little bit of knowledge available to what you’re going to be drinking?


Such a Pleasant Stay (3.8% ABV) - this “ordinary pale beer” - which Hannah said “what the hell does that mean?” to which I answer here, I think it’s just an American Pale Ale. This is in reference to my point above. In an effort I think to be more simple - you end up with more questions. I might know what beers possibly fit under the umbrella of “pale beer” but is your average person walking into this spot going to know?

Anyway, Hannah and I both picked up lemon custard, honey sweetness, and Hannah detected some cornstalk funk in there when smelling this pale yellow, brilliantly clear beer. With a mix of grassy funk - almost like weeds and lemon cake - this one was fairly enjoyable.


Up Past the Treetops (5.0% ABV) - This Witbier with Coriander and Chamomile (finally a beer that just says what it is here) - Hannah and I picked up coriander on the nose, faint, some faint sourness, and a little herbal tea in there. This one tasted quite herbal though, relative to the others, with a sort of wet earthiness in the aftertaste and a little bit of that coriander.



I have to say, and maybe this was because I had heard this brewery hyped up so much, that I was just expecting a little more - perhaps unfairly so as this is a new venture. This is a spot where Hannah and I really struggled telling a good chunk of the beers apart. Some of these flavors were so subtle that they were barely present, if at all, and some of the flavors and aromas mentioned on the menu simply weren’t there, and they should have been noticeable. Sage is distinct. Coriander. Chamomile. Those are distinct aroma and flavors and while subtlety may have been the goal, I would like to see a little more that really sets these beers apart. Maybe it’s part of the process, maybe it was intentional.


As it stands, there is a good beer in there. A solid beer somewhere in there. Hannah agreed with this but pointed out it was as if there was a base beer, like we see so often with spirits, and then various items were added to create different branching beers from that. I think I agree with that, even though I don’t believe that’s the literal case here. The beers gave that impression for the most part, they were more similar than different. Who knows, maybe our palettes aren’t quite tuned enough to tell. This all may be because it’s a new venture and we’re there pretty early into it, but I was really expecting a strong showing out of the gate here and I, unfortunately did not get that. I’m always open to changing my mind, and maybe would go back to Sway on a future trip to Door County. If you’re going to be in Bailey’s, I think you should try it. I think I will retry it at some point if there’s time on a future trip up, the space really is nice and I can only hope the beers continue on up the slope.


Until next time, keep on crusin’, don’t stop boozin.’


To learn more about Sway Brewing please visit their website at: www.swaybeer.com of on Facebook: @SwayDoorCounty or Instagram: @SwayBeer

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