Florida is a burgeoning hotspot for the craft beer world right now. According to industry website Rate Beer, there are more than 85 establishments that brew beer for public consumption in the state with many more in the way. One of the most promising is the small, but growing, brewery that makes its home among the Gator fanatics in Gainesville – Swamp Head Brewery.
Luke Kemper did his college studying in Colorado among the booming craft beer scene in and around Denver and was often called upon to bring home cases of beer on school. For a while that was OK, but soon a seed of an idea began to grow – maybe Gainesville needs its own craft beer brewery. It was from that see that he grew the idea of Swamp Head Brewery. It was not an overnight process; Kemper rallied the support of the local government and rounded up his equipment before producing his first batch in April of 2009.
Swamp Head operates on a 10 barrel, two-vessel, copper-clad brewing system. It is not a large system and the little brewery works hard to keep up with demand. And demand for the breweries products is definitely there due in no small part to the extraordinary skills of head brewer Craig Birkmaier.
Kemper believes that craft beer keeps gaining popularity because of the current generation’s desires for more choices and exciting new products. He also attributes it to the growing “Culture of people wanting to support local.” He believes that people want a sense of ownership and take pride in their local products. Something that he practices as well as preaches as is evident in his company motto; Inherently Floridian. Kemper take great pains to purchase as much of his ingredients form local suppliers and even donates his spent grain to a local cattle farmer to feed to his livestock.
“I’ve always looked to New Glarus as a sort of role model,” Kemper said. “They produce something like 100,000 barrels a year and only distribute in Wisconsin.”
Under Birkmaier’s watchful eye, brews from Swamp Head have garnered multiple awards with many more on the horizon. Some, Kemper hopes, will come at next month’s Great American Beer Festival in Denver. This year will mark the third appearance at the GABF for Swamp Head. “We have to make a name for ourselves,” Kemper says. To that goal, Kemper is bringing his brewing staff to man the brewery’s booth Friday night and all day Saturday.
The brewery will be pouring several of their favorites at their booth including:
Smoke Signal – A 2011 Gold Medal Best Florida Beer award winner, this is an American-style Smoked Porter that clocks in at 6.9% ABV.
Stumpknocker – Took the Silver Medal in 2010 and the Gold in 2011 as Best Florida Beer, this brew is a American Pale Ale that benefits from two dry hop additions.
Dark Water – Another award winner, this brew took the Gold in 2011 for Best Florida Beer and was created through a collaboration with Eric Lumen of Green Room Brewing in Jacksonville Beach. This is an American-style Black Ale at 6.4% ABV that gets its color from chocolate wheat malts.
Cottonmouth – This Belgian-style Wheat Bier is 5.0% ABV and brewed with coriander and bitter orange peel.
Catherine’s Passion – Silver Medalist in 2011 Best Florida Beer Awards, this Russian Imperial Stout is infused with organic cocoa nibs and dark roast organic fair-trade coffee.
Kemper is excited to attend the GABF again this year. “There’s a lot of craft beer out there,” he says, referring to his old Colorado stomping grounds.
With the addition of the exceptional beers from Swamp Head, there is even more.
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