The oldest and the side of the biggest Brewery in Gainesville is definitely Swamp Head. The beers from this mess of outfit can now be found around the state in six packs , all originating from their brand new 13000 foot Warehouse, just off Interstate 75. I had the pleasure of meeting with Owner/founder Luke Kemper recently, who took me on a guided tour through the facility to talk about the history of the brand, their focus on the state and the environment, and where they are going in the future.
SwampHead began in 2008 with Luke’s first time brewing under the company moniker. In that time, they have grown to a statewide outfit under the Florida forward guidelines of using locally sourced ingredients whenever possible, promoting and supporting environmental causes, and all while making world class beers. Heck, even most of their apparel is made right in Gainesville.
The Wetlands has a gorgeous, carbon neutral tasting room, overlooking a massive woody outdoor lake and 40 acres of conservation land (that land hides the fact that just beyond lies the bustle of Interstate 75). People usually come by with dogs, and every so often deer and wild turkeys will wander by. There can be a lot of bustle, especially on UF game days.
The facility, over 13,000 square feet and designed and built from scratch, is “kind of like a bit of a park like setting, tucked back in an industrial complex.” It works for them, bring a bit off the beaten path to take advantage of the lush greenery, have plenty of room for expansion, and not to compete with other bars and restaurants already carrying their product. The visual centerpiece of the facility are their giant twin yellow grain silos outside, holding Pale and Pilsner malts in each.
It took a year and a half to finally decide on the location, and environmentality was a major feature of the design. There are solar panels on the roof, and much of the wood in the tasting room is recovered, sourced from a saw mill close by.
It celebrates a decidedly North Central Florida lifestyle, one that few people truly see as being from Florida. While out west, Luke found the common image of Florida was one of “Palm trees and alligators. Those things don’t really go hand in hand, you don’t really see alligators at the beach.” Their area is a bit less tropical, with a proliferation of wetlands such as the nearby Okefenokee Swamp, and the ‘swamp’ portion of the SwampHead name was used to reflect that.
The ‘Head’ came from the head on a good pour of a pint, and it was Luke’s wife that out those two together to create the name as it stands today. Luke hopes it will go a long way in creating a lifestyle image and beer reputation to make SwampHead a brand people hae to have when in the Sunshine State.
SwampHead distribution, early on, was a little different, with all of their beers being packaged exclusively in 750ml bottles. But the industry tastes have changed considerably, according to Luke, and their old gravity filler is now long gone. Now, their special releases are in 4-packs, a format he likes more since opening a 12oz can is easier to drink than popping the cork on a full 22oz bottle and being forced to finish it.
The brew system can support a maximum capacity of 25 thousand barrels of beer, with lines of 120 bbl fermenters working hard and bubbling away. What’s interesting about the brewing floor is almost everything has a shelf above it, allowing them to use the incredible overhead space for more than just airy ceilings. Pallets of malt are packed above pallets of malt, and you’ll see empty kegs stored about keg washers, for example. There’s even a separate storage facility for all of the cans they need to distribute statewide.
SwampHead is only available, and will only be available, in the state of Florida. This allows them to keep a smaller, more green footprint in terms of environmental impact. It also allows them to keep better tabs on the product. There’s a good bit of variety in those beers out for distribution, although their strongest seller (especially in their home market) is still their Big Nose IPA.
They also use the beers for a lot of charitable purposes, releasing beers to support causes like Coral Reef Restoration Foundation, Florida Springs Institute, The Turtle Conservancy, Cultural Conservation Association. Even though they’re based in Gainesville, Luke and the rest of the team want to promote the state and really be known as ‘Florida’s Brewery.’
Some of these beers are only going to be available in Gainesville for the time being, albeit the reach for those may grow in the near future. Their core beers, however, are pretty readily available in better bottle shops around the state and are well worth searching out.
But the Gainesville facility is worth the trip, and the view is wonderful.
And apparently has deer as well.
Special thank you to Tom Davis for your hospitality and assistance.
Drink Florida Craft,