I will readily admit that even I am prone to assumptions every now and then. Sometimes those assumptions are sadly correct, and sometimes I am pleasantly and excitedly surprised by something that goes far beyond my expectations.
One of those expectations was for Lake City, Florida.
If you have never heard of Lake City, I am not shocked. It’s situated just inside the area where Interstate 10 and Interstate 75 connect. It’s maybe an hour west of Jacksonville and maybe an hour south of the Georgia border.
I didn’t expect there to be much at all when I went. In fact, the only thing that I saw an abundance of as I traveled from Interstate 10 into town were an abundance of Prisons, both state and Columbia County. But all of a sudden you run into a very charming downtown area. Off the main drag downtown is a building from the forties, rising up a few stories from the street with a sign at the top emblazoned with the name of their newest resident, Halpatter Brewing.
Halpatter Brewing is named for Halpatter Tustenuggee, a Seminole war chief born around 1795. The term tustenuggee is a position within the tribe, not the chief, but closer to the secretary of defense for the tribe if it were a presidential cabinet. The great Seminole Osceola was one of these as well. There are no verifiable pictures of Halpatter Tustenuggee, so the logo of the brewery is their best guess for how the dignified gentleman looked.
Halpatter is also translated as Alligator, which is how Lake City had the original name of Alligator City. Legend has it the mayor’s wife pushed very strongly to have the city renamed as she did not want to hang her curtains and a place called Alligator City.
Their facility finished construction in 1940 and was the original District Two offices for the Department of Transportation. After that, it had been City Hall and School Board offices before sitting vacant for a decade. It was going to be torn down before the Halpatter Brewing team rolled up their sleeves and grabbed the space for their own usage. They did not have to do a whole lot of destruction, and many of the walls and rooms in the building are the way they were when the building was first built.
They have done an absolutely phenomenal job with the renovation. Much of the wooden fixtures were reclaimed from an old barn, and the metal from which chandeliers hang and stools sit upright were actually reclaimed fire escape hardware from the nearby Blanche Hotel, which is currently going through a 17 million dollar renovation. The interior was designed by John Best, a designer famous for being on shows such as Treehouse Master, Extreme Home Makeover, and has design interiors for Green Bench Brewing and Coppertail Brewing as well.
I met with co-owner and homebrewer Chris Candler who, along with graphic designer brother-in-law Jeremy Gable and homebrewer/engineer Jonny Frazier started Halpatter Brewing in 2013. Chris took me on an extensive tour of their impressive and historic facility, starting with the large event space that sits just behind the taps on the 2nd floor.
The space is perfect for small meetings and events, and had just been used for a medical lunch and learn the day before, as well as a wedding the previous weekend. As I was there, there was a prom night fashion photoshoot going on, models running back and forth getting ready. That’s not the only prom night shenanigans that gone on there, as apparently Halpatter was the place to be on prom night for impromptu photos. It wasn’t something they advertised, it just sort of happened.
In the center of the ceiling sits an impressive tree chandelier, one of several art pieces throughout the facility done by local artisans. It’s all available for purchase as well, as the artists bring them to the brewer for patrons to enjoy and possibly take home for themselves.
The rest of the second floor is populated with additional breakout rooms that can be easily repurposed into meeting rooms, game rooms, and so on. One such room was used as the bride’s chambers over the weekend, and another has a massive board in the middle that has been both a table tennis table and a boardroom meeting table.
There’s a small kitchen as well, offering a lot of great charcuterie boards and similar plates, very standard for most breweries but a little outside the box for Lake City. Most weekdays the kitchen is headed by Chris’ son Connor, who brought out a wonderful warm pretzel basket with Belgian mustard and a beer cheese made with their own cream ale.
Below the upstairs bar is a massive downstairs bar space as well, with most of the the same beers on tap as upstairs. This works well for Halpatter, as they can close the upstairs for an event (like that wedding) and still be open for normal business downstairs. The expansive beer garden behind the brewery is open and spacious, and is also shared by a restaurant and an Irish Pub that’s under construction. There will be a stage going in soon, and the fire pits, including a huge and wonderfully detailed fire pit that looks like the Death Star from Return of the Jedi, are also brought in by local artisans for sale. I can’t imagine that one sticking around for very long.
Their small brew system is in a space on the ground floor and was installed and built out by Jonny a few years ago. It is on course to be fully automated, eventually being able to be remote started to activate the system and brew a standard recipe from scratch.
Concerning the actual beer, there are five core beers that they try to have around at all times. The recipes were developed by one of the founders, but eventually tweaked and dialed in by all three of them. When I was there, their Irish Red was the only one of those that was not on tap. The other four I was able to try, and consisted of the following:
O’Leno (Cream Ale, 5.35% ABV, 15 IBU) – This is their top seller, comprising at least a quarter of their sales. That’s to be expected, since the region is traditionally into Big Macros and this cream ale is a great way to bring people into craft. As a traditional cream ale, they use flaked Maize, but the flavor of the beer isn’t overly reminiscent of corn. Instead, what you get is a light-bodied beer that is massively full of flavor and incredibly delicious.
Old School (Session IPA, 4.7% ABV, 50 IBU) – A pretty spot-on, slightly floral hop-forward brew that is very easy to drink.
Big Hal (Imperial Brown Ale, 7.75% ABV, 69 IBU) – This dry-hopped brown ale started out as an experiment, just to see what would taste like to dry hop a brown ale. That original beer started off as 11%, but has since been dialed back. It’s a pretty popular beer with drinkers, and tends to alternate with the Irish Red in being their 2nd and 3rd most popular beer. Even with the retooling, there was a strong quality to this beer, with an intense malt character that is not for the faint of heart.
16 Springfields (Imperial IPA, 7.1% ABV, 130 IBU) – This one is strictly for the hopheads. A massive west coaster, with strong citrus notes bursting with huge, resiny alpha acids.
I ended with a pint of Red Rye Saison (Saison, 5.7% ABV, 20 IBU), a beer that actually brewed for someone else, but it became so popular they kept it on and bring it for themselves. It was interesting to taste the meatier rye in a lighter style of beer, since most try beers tend to get hopped as if they were an IPA, if not duly converted directly into said style. It’s pretty tasty, and you can almost taste a whiff of caraway in this bready beer.
Halpatter Brewing has been in the community for years, and were working the north Florida beer festival circuit for years before the facility finally opened. Once they did open, they had already made their set of fans with several thousand on social media. There’s plenty of love for them in the community, and they try very hard to let Lake City and the surrounding County know that Halpatter is their Brewery.
The community has responded quite favorably, and for good reason. It’s a fantastic brewery is great beers and a wonderful staff. They also seem to be leading the way for a massive revitalization going on in Lake City, all the more reason to go back.
At least you’re going to Lake City and not someplace named Alligator City. That just sounds like a roadside attraction.
Drink Florida Craft,