Sweetwater Tavern & Brewery


Type: Brewery, Eatery

3066 Gatehouse Plaza
Merrifield, Virginia, 22042
United States

(703) 645-8100 | map

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Reviews: 23 | Ratings: 32
Photo of cjgiant
3.76/5  rDev -3.8%
vibe: 3.75 | quality: 3.75 | service: 4.25 | selection: 3 | food: 4.5

Revisit, 2017:
Looks like they've added a few more distinct taps, as there are now 7 taps of rotating beers along with the two staple. The seven on this date were all different varieties (well a pale ale and an IPA, regular and imp stout).

Stand by everything else I stated before (below). The quality of the beers is essentially solid, but they are generally lighter in heft and not often very bold on the flavors.

The Merrifield location has a decent bar area, but can get quite crowded. It is also fairly loud in the place. The clientele are middle-class professional for the most part, and it fits as a decent HH place, sans specials.

The other reason to come is that it is a fine restaurant, offering well-cooked meals that are more of the reason I come than their beers. The beers are generally well-made but are on the safe side, in style, flavor, and ABV. Overall, they have a selection of about 30 rotating beers, but only 5 at a time (and 2 are mainstays). They also offer mixed drinks and some standard non-craft bottles. The limited options at any one time is the reason for the low selection rating (would be lower save for the broader portfolio).

The service is generally very friendly. The place does get quite busy, and service speed sometimes slips because of this, but overall I am pleased on almost every occasion.

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Photo of Chaney
4.21/5  rDev +7.7%
vibe: 4.75 | quality: 4 | service: 5 | selection: 3.25 | food: 4.75

Over in the Fairfax/Vienna area and damn near close to where the hospital where my dog died. RIP: Gordon... 2012

Atmosphere: Located in a nice strip mall/restaurant district, with a nice outdoor patio and amazing atmosphere to boot.

Service: First of all, the service here is IMMACULATE! My wife and I both have a friend who used to work for "Great American Restaurants" who shudders in terror about the prospect of working there again based on their Draconian employee standards. The hell my friends, I personally LOVE those standards!

Selection: In terms of beer, they pretty much have all the popular styles, all done decently, with the occasion gem in there as well.

Food: OMG! The wife and I are a huge fan of this restaurant company and we'll continue to give them business as long as they keep churning out the gems. The salads and flourless chocolate waffle is to die for!

Value: If you're used to McDonalds, then this is an upscale place and those places have higher asking prices for their food. Trust me: The food is worth it.

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Photo of jayhawk73
3.93/5  rDev +0.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4.5

Sweetwater Tavern in Merrifield is a huge rectangle w/ a bar in the middle. It can get loud and crazy w/ a long wait on the weekend. The beers range anywhere from mediocre to pretty good. Service is hit or miss based on who your server is. I've had both good and bad service in my visits there. The food is fairly outstanding.. in fact, that's probably the highlight of Sweetwater. Everything I've had has been outstanding. Prices are fairly reasonable as well. Sweetwater is a good place in N. Virginia, and recommended to stop by if your in the area.

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Photo of ICCULIS
3.8/5  rDev -2.8%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 3 | selection: 3 | food: 5

The is the OG of the 3 area Sweetwater brewery/restaurants in VA. This was my local haunt for many years and I recently went back while on a trip to see the family.

Big space with dining indoors and outdoors. Beers are better than average and always fresh. I do really enjoy the style growler they use - ceramic cap w/ rubber stopper. Very quality!

I would say that the food outshines the brews simply for the fact that everything the kitchen turns out is outstanding. I've tried it all and love the food. It can get very crowded on the Thur/Fri/Sat early evening but nothing out of hand.

I really enjoy it here and look forward to a return visit!

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Photo of CuriousMonk
3.73/5  rDev -4.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

This is situated in merrifield right of Rt. 50. I come here whenever I am in the area (and when hungry). This place is very large, modern, and chic yet gives you an all-american feel. From steak to ribs to fish the menu at Sweetwater is fantastic. They brew their own beer and usually have several year-round selections. Of the year round selections the Pale Ale is definitely a crowd pleaser and its definitely a solid beer. The seasonal selections can be hit or miss. There is no outside seating here. In summary its not a cheap place to eat and drink, but its also not going to break the bank. Overall, good in all categories.

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Photo of BeerSox
3.68/5  rDev -5.9%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

Located just outside of the innner loop (I-495). I've been to the other two locations, and this one is a carbon copy. Tons of room, with lots of benches available. In the middle of the place there is a large bar, where apparently smoking is available because something lit up a ciggy.

The selection, like at any other location, is usually 5-6 beers. They always range average to good, but never excelllent. The food is good, and they have just about any type of American food you want.

The service was attentative. I got the wrong food delivered and they fixed it right way. In fact, it was so fast I'm sure they gave me someone elses's order of chicken tenders and just game them their food later. Oh well, that's exactly what I would have done!

The place gets noisy during peak hours. But it's good food and okay beer, and a good family place. Recommended.

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Photo of blackie
3.68/5  rDev -5.9%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3 | food: 4

atmosphere: well hashed out already, very spacey with a primarily wooden interior, pretty crowded and quite loud on a Saturday night, short wait for the deck, which was quite nice and raised above the level of the parking lot

quality: the beer was okay, generally average and unimpressive but with nothing off, the Chipotle Porter carries a misleading name, as I got no or very little peppery smoke or heat, the Great American Pale was also a decent beer but no different than the hundreds of standard pales out there

service: service was excellent, but the beer knowledge was untested

selection: 5 taps on for my visit, a pale, hefe, pale wheat, chipotle porter, and perhaps a lager or some other standard selection...the menu lists all the beers produced by this brewery, and some look interestingly enough, but the chalkboard was quite tame on my visit, though I do like that they list when each beer was tapped

food: I had the crab fritters appetizer (very good) and the roasted chicken salad (good)

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Photo of 86sportster883
3.73/5  rDev -4.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

Updated 3/30/09. The Sweet Water Tavern in Merrifield is a very large, comfortable restaurant with good food, good service and a number of respectable beers. I had been to this location a couple of times before and have always enjoyed both the food and the beer.

On this night I opted for the Red Tape Ale (an Irish Red) - served in a pint glass with a tan head and red copper body. Moderate carbonation and medium to light mouthfeel, this beer is malty w/some hop bitterness to balance it out ($4.50). Also on tap this night was the Naked River Light, Great American Restaurants Pale Ale, Roadkill Barleywine Style Ale, Black Stallion Oatmeal Stout, Snakebite Black & Tan (a mix of their Stout and Pale), or a round of samplers for $8.

As for the place itself, the Sweetwater is one very large rectangular room separated by a good sized bar in the middle. Two big flat screen TVs face either side of the center bar which offers a brewpub like refuge from the restaurant itself. I would have sat there, at the bar, but there were too many smokers so I asked for a table. The entire place has an elaborate Southwestern motif and all-booth seating that gives it a uniquely American feel. The 15 barrel copper kettle and mash tun are proudly displayed at the front of the restaurant, although you could walk right past it and not know it's there.

Overall, a real decent restaurant that makes some pretty good beers. I find myself going here often when staying in the Tyson's Corner area of Northern VA.

In the past I've had other beers here that were mostly very drinkable:

Naked River Light - Described as a low carb beer, this lager was brilliantly clear w/ moderately high carbonation, light body, soft malt nose and clean finish. Not bad.

Great American Restaurant Pale - This ale had a pleasant fruit aroma and overall was very enjoyable.

Paleface Summer Wheat - This unfiltered wheat had a tremendous banana nose and went well with the pan seared tuna salad.

Double Barrel Ale - A pleasantly fruity beer, but not like any other Belgian double that I've had. Big on caramel malt flavor but that's about it.

Chipolte Porter - This is a beer I thought might have been better w/o the chipolte.

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Photo of ubermick
3.95/5  rDev +1%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4.5

I'm a big fan of Sweetwater, although certainly more for their food than their lineup of brews. The beers on offer tend to be decent, but nothing that makes you crave them - Sweetwater Pale Ale was my weapon of choice when I stopped in.

It tends to be exceedingly busy during dinner hours on the weekends, with over an hour wait par for the course. But once you're at a table, order up a drunken ribeye with the garlic mash, much on some ozzie rolls while sipping a pint, and thank God the work week is over.

And, your trivia nugget of the day, I designed their logo! :)

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Photo of Deuane
3.85/5  rDev -1.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

Made a detour on the way home from Asheville, NC to be able and enjoy a pint (why is this not served in a snifter?)of the highly recommended BBA High Desert RIS. I was not disappointed.

The interior is a play on making you feel like you are "out west" on the range. Murals of "indians" (native americans) and lighting fixtures with cowboy decor. All a bit ketchy...but it works.

Save for the High Desert RIS the other beer are fairly pedestrian...not bad but not very exciting.

Service was very pleasant. Form the hostess to our server to the folks that cleared off our table. All very friendly and prompt.

As with the quality they are a bit lacking...had like 6 beers on or so...but I was only interested in one.

As expected in NOVA things here are a bit more than they "should" be. Although my salmon salad was pricier than "normal" it was nicely presented and very tasty. Also, had wthe crab and corn chowder which was very well done.

A decent place if you are in the area....or if they have the High Desert or BBA High Desert on tap it is worth a detour for.

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Photo of Kegatron
3.73/5  rDev -4.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

We've been to this location a few different times now and have had good experience each time. The atmosphere naturally is a country western theme and I think that they pull it off pretty well here. Large western themed murals, wrought iron fixtures, and the servers even wear jeans & cowboy shirts. The brewpub is very spacious too, allowing for lots of dining room as well as the large circular bar in the middle. The brewing equipment is prominently featured right out front for all to see as they walk in.

The beers here are what I would call solid for the most part. Selection can be hit or miss sometimes. Their house Pale Ale and Naked River Light Lager are staples with the rest being seasonals. The quality and variety of the seasonals have varied from visit to visit. On our latest one, we lucked out with three different seasonals on. The Chipotle Porter, Kokopelli IPA, and the Ghost Town Pumpkin Ale. All were good to decent. I do want to mention that they really seem to excel at brewing Stouts here, as the ones I've had in the past were excellent. Especially their winter seasonal, High Dessert, an Imperial Stout of much power and complexity.

Food here is of a good quality but the menu seems a little limited. For example they only offer three types of sandwiches in hopes of pushing you towards a more expensive entrée. Speaking of prices, everything costs a couple of dollars more than you would had a similar style of brewchain but all in all, they aren't too bad for the area. Service has never been a problem here and we received some especially good bar service during our most recent visit on a very crowded Saturday night.

This is the only Sweetwater that we've checked out so far but we look forward to visiting the others. Definitely a good place to kick back with some solid hand crafted beers in Northern VA.

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Photo of Redwood21
3.88/5  rDev -0.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

The atmosphere is like most restaurant, there is an obvious emphasis on the beer they brew in house, but for the most part this is a steak house with tables and booths and the works.
I found the quality to be relatively high. the company that owns this restaurant owns some other very good places as well, (think coastal flats) everything from appetizers to the main courses seem well prepared and are an above average offering.
the service was also pretty good, cant complain in this area at all.
the selection is somewhat limited. however they have a wide selection of what they make, and have beers based on the time of the yr which adds intrigue.
the food is also pretty good, an above average food offering. very nice.

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Photo of beeryes
3.75/5  rDev -4.1%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 2.5 | food: 5

This Sweetwater location is fairly easy to get to if you’re driving. It’s right off the Route 50 West exit from the Beltway (I-495). At the first light, make a U turn to your right on to the service road. Like other restaurants in the Great American Restaurants chain, Sweetwater is a cheerful, upscale place with pretty good prices for the quality delivered. The brewpub is open every day for lunch and dinner, with five or six of their beers generally available. Always on tap are a Light and a Pale Ale. As much as I despise Lights, I have to admit that this is one actually has a bit of flavor and character. The Pale Ale is crisp and refreshing. Nothing worth driving out of your way to get, but pleasant enough. The other taps rotate every week or two. Where I think Sweetwater excels is at opposite ends of the beer spectrum. On the one hand, they tend to do a very good and often excellent job on wheat beers and wits. On the other hand, their porters are almost always delicious, as are several of their (six or so) stouts. Some of the stouts have real power and complexity (though only one will be on tap at any given time.) The problem is that beers in the middle of the spectrum – ambers, lagers, IPA’s, bocks, etc. – tend to be insipid and forgettable. So tread carefully. You can order the sampler of five beers, or, if at the bar, get a sip of a beer in a shot glass from a bartender. If the stout is too over the top for your taste, try it as a black and tan with their pale ale or a wheat, if they have one available.

Overall, if you’re in the area of the brewpub and hungry as well as thirsty, Sweetwater is a good choice. The food is excellent and the service is quick, friendly and attentive. The beer is a mixed bag, but some of it is very good. If you’re with a group, call ahead. They have a waiting list, but no reservations, and the place is often crowded. Sweetwater isn’t easily accessible by public transport. Probably the best you can do is to take the Metro Orange Line to the Dunn Loring station and then get a $6 or $8 cab ride from there. Same thing going back.

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Photo of ghostmech007
4.6/5  rDev +17.6%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 5

I love Sweetwater Tavern. There beer varities are almost endless. I myself preferre the Wits End Ale, which is a Witbier ale. One of the most true witbiers avalible.

The food is un-freakin belieable. I love everything on the menu. I love the Spinach with Artichoke dip with chips for an appetizer then I get the Drunken Rib-Eye for any entree then the Key Lime Pie, which by the way is the only true key lime pie I have found in Northern Virginia, for dessert.

Not only that but I get my beer and free bread pastries for free extras. I love this Resteranunt. The service is unbelievalbe, everytime I go there I have to call ahead to get a table reserved (the wait time is constantly above an hour and a half) and the bar is always packed.

I love that fact that I am not the only person in NOVA to love this place. More people know about it the more that will open. I can't wait for the Manassas location to finally open.

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Photo of gbarron
3.78/5  rDev -3.3%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.5 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4.5

Style of the restaurant is basically like a Caribou Coffee - pretend mountain lodge. It is extremely popular with families and such, so be sure to take advantage of the call ahead wait list (they do not take reservations).

Wait staff is very attentive, but their beer knowledge is surface level. When you walk in, walk towards the bar, turn back around towards the front door and look up -- you'll find a chalk board with all the beers on tap for that night, including information like when it was brewed, alcohol content, original gravity, etc.

They generally have five brews on tap - a "light" beer (lightly hopped American lager, "low carb"), a Mexican Vienna style lager (along the lines of Negro Modelo), an American Pale Ale (Sierra Nevada-type, pretty good), and then two rotating beers. When I was there they had a Weizenbock as their winter beer and an outstanding Imperial Stout that was aged in oak barrels (if this is available on your visit, GET IT). Other regular rotating offerings include a kolsh. My only complaint about the brewery here is that they tend to focus too much on lighter, gateway beers.

Of all the brewpubs in the DC metro area, I think the food at Sweetwater is, overall, the best. If you're looking for a great steak only, go to the DC Chophouse. But if you're looking for anything else - fish, chicken, or also steak - then try Sweetwater, very, very tasty food. Try the grilled salmon, prime rib, or grilled half-chicken. Be sure to ask for bread, and you'll get some great little 'dough balls' that are sort of like bengiets or something. Absolutely delicious.

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Photo of ChrisBowers
3.88/5  rDev -0.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

Stopped in on my way home one day to try the beers after having had a working lunch there the previous week. I was surprised by the atmosphere... expeceted cheeseball brewpub but found an non-overdone southwest theme and a cool bar area that backs up to a huge open kitchen. Bar is a large rectangle, no tap handles on the faucets, kinda semi-modern looking. Beers are good, although there's a limited selection on tap (4 worth drinking + a low carb beer). Food is great, I had the louisiana pasta when I was there which was excellent. Place can get packed on weekends though so come at an off time or a weeknight.

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Photo of RBorsato
4.25/5  rDev +8.7%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 3 | food: 5

This place has an excellent bar area but tends to be overcrowded at most times ... Nice outside area for good weather days.

Very upscale compared to most brewpubs with excellent service and excellent food which is typical of the Great American Rest chain that this is part of. The food selection is beyond typical brewpub fare without being too crazy. The wait staff are impecable and assist each other to the nth degree -- almost never left to wait long for anything.

Their beers are of very high quality and the only complaint I have is that they usually only have 5 or 6 selections available at any one time. Nice to be able to get growlers to go at the end of the evening.

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Photo of ManekiNeko
3.73/5  rDev -4.6%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3 | food: 4.5

The theme for this chain, and in particular this spot, is Southwestern/Old West. Wagon wheel chandeliers, saloon style booths, exposed old wood, pictures of cowboy life, steer skulls, and ranching equipment all adorn the walls. The ceiling is immensely high and lends an airy feeling to the whole place. Of course, it also lets the place get a little to damn noisy. Wish there was a way to dampen the sound.

The service is usually quite good, although you'll be waiting forever if you don't call ahead for seating when it's busy (which is most nights). The servers know the food and beers offered. The only glaringly bad thing about this place is that they serve their beers in frosted glasses. You can ask that they not come that way, however. Talking with another local brewer, I found out that brewers' often pick their battles so this particular skirmish went to management.

The food here is simply awesome. American fusion with a southwest and cajun accent that seems exceedingly common nowadays. Portions are huge, prices almost as big, and overall everything is just plain yummy. Especially them buttery and sweet beignets that come in the free bread baskets they keep plying you with.

The selection of beer occasionally leaves something to be desired since they feature up to three crossover beers when one would really suffice. They do make up for this when the High Desert Imperial Stout shows up, though. Damn is that stuff fine.

Overall: Definitely worth going to if you're in town and High Desert is on tap. It's still good otherwise, but the HD means you should beat feet.

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Photo of woodychandler
3.26/5  rDev -16.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3 | service: 3.5 | selection: 3

I was very impressed by the layout of this establishment. It just goes to show what can be done when you are building the place from scratch, plus you have money and space to burn. The decor is very southwestern in feel, with a large mural of a stagecoach in the Grand Canyon dominating one wall. The brewhouse is in full view of the public and the copper is kept in immaculate condition. The waitstaff is quite friendly and eager to please, but perhaps too much so, as when I asked if I could take some pictures for my scrapbook, I was told to go right ahead, only to be run down by a senior waitperson who told me that the first person had been in error. Oh well. I really liked the acid-etched glass dividers at each of the booths, each again depicting a scene of the southwest, as well as the haning lamps with their silhouettes of cowboys, indians, horses,and the like. The best part was the exposed beams in the overhead, which were evocative of the old grain or ice storage buildings, which required the heavy beams with connecting rivets, but which are now just part of the aesthetic. Definitely worth a return visit, perhaps on an early to late morning when there are no patrons and my camera can make an appearance.

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Photo of Afterburner
4.38/5  rDev +12%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 3.5 | food: 5

The Sweetwater Tavern is part of a group of DC area restaurants owned and operated by the Great American Restaurants company (http://www.greatamericanrestaurants.com). All of the restaurants have similar menus, and most of them offer Sweetwater's Light Lager and Pale Ale on tap. But only Sweetwater is a true brewpub.

The atmosphere is nice, yuppie southwestern. All of the art pieces on the wall, as well as the big-ass mural, as well as the nifty acid-etched glass artpieces on either side of the bar, are originals made specifically for Sweetwater. They've gone for the warehouse approach to ceilings, so the place always sounds noisy even when it's quiet, thanks to the acoustics.

The service has never been less than stellar. I have eaten at all the restaurants operated by Great American Restaurants and they all feature the same "brigade" approach to table-service. You don't have "a waiter." You have several waiters in a given area, and they will service each of the tables in that area. So you might have your drink order taken by one waiter, your food order taken by another, and the drinks and food brought out by a third. It works quite well, and it's very rare that you find yourself needing something with no waiter around to help you.

Their beer list can be found at:


While that may look like a lot of beers, in actual fact they only have 5 of those beers on tap at any given time. Two of those beers -- Sweetwater Light (a light lager) and Sweetwater Pale Ale -- are always available. Sweetwater then offers three other styles of beer on rotation. The three types available depend on the time of year and the whims of Nick Fuller, the brewmaster. The last time I was there, I had a Helles Munchen style lager and a Dry Irish Stout. I'm itching to try the Chipotle Porter.

The food is outstanding. They have the best caesar salad I've ever eaten, and their menu choices are all outstanding. Their Drunken Ribeye steak is tender and juicy even when I commit sacrilige and order it extra well done. And the mashed red potatoes with brown butter gravy is to die for.

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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.43/5  rDev +13.3%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 5

Definitely one of the nicest "small chain" brewpubs. Very smart, well appointed restaurant with a kind of SouthWest flavor. The bar is "set down" in the middle of the restaurant - making it more comfortable for bar patrons - and the diners who are slightly elevated behind them. The kitchen is open and somewhat noisy, but it actually seems to help the atmosphere in this large, fairly open room. It's a nice place for people watching, and tends to attract a younger, good-looking professional crowd. Easily some of the best brewpub food I've ever had, at what I thought were OK prices for the quality and service. The beers are all very good, though somewhat mainstream (of course!). The Pale ale is an excellent choice which never fails to disappoint. I usually save it for after I try whatever seasonal is pouring. The selection is not great, but they are all good which usually can't be said! Recommended.

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Photo of marc77
4.18/5  rDev +6.9%
vibe: 3 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4

A rather upscale joint (e.g. cable lighting) w/ somewhat of a yuppie restaurant atmosphere. It really is best to sit at the bar. The large rectangular bar is situated in the middle of the large restaurant. Bartenders are quite friendly, though their knowledge of beer other than what's currently on tap isn't extensive. The beer selection is typically good, sometimes excellent if there are seasonals / rotating offerings on tap. My staple beer there is the pale ale-- clean, crisp, citrusy hops, and balanced. All the other beers even if they don't overwhelm flavorwise, are impeccibly clean, having no off flavors whatsoever. The food is excellent, but is pricey. Sweetwater Tavern seems to me not a friendly neighborhood brewpub to frequently visit, but more of place to either visit on occasion or treat yourself to. In any case, it's worth a trip.

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Photo of Bierman9
3.95/5  rDev +1%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4

Stopped in here recently with old "Bro" Artied2 and some friends... Sort of a Northeastern Virginia chain of brewpubs (I believe). Located sort of in the middle of nothing significant... Huge place with a gazillion tables/booths, as well as outdoor seating and a big island-bar. Had a western-like decor... Service was A-1, but only 4 or 5 of their biers on tap. Food was very good (chicken and Havarti sammich) but a bit pricey. OK if you're around, but I'd not seek it out...

overall: 3.95
atmosphere: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4.5 | selection: 3.5 | food: 4 | $$


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Sweetwater Tavern & Brewery in Merrifield, VA
3.71 out of 5 based on 119 ratings.
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