Lake City’s Halpatter Brewing Company became one of Florida’s youngest distributing breweries when they signed with Team Cone in August of 2018. The brewery came to fruition in December 2018, the work of three aspiring homebrewers, their families, and the beer-loving community that surrounds them.
When brothers-in-law Chris Candler and Jeremy Gable decided that they would make their own beer, they did not foresee the beginnings of Lake City’s first craft brewery – their only goal was to make great beer and share it with friends. Candler, who had lived in Lake City for 22 years, and his brother in law who lived in Saint Petersburg began conversing over a few beers. Those brewing sessions led the two friends to debate the merits of opening their own beer-making operation. Those talks led to speculation and planning what they would do if they were to open one. “We found that over a relatively short period of time, we were making pretty decent homebrew,” Chris remembers. “The story goes that Jeremy and I came up with the name ‘Halpatter Brewing’ in 2013 with no intention of opening a brewery. It was a joke. We never thought it would happen.” Chris and Jeremy knew that opening and running any business would be challenging, since Chris has been in the world of small business for 25 years. Jeremy’s skills as a graphic designer would be an asset to the brewery, but the guys would procrastinate on taking any action. For the brewery to work, the duo would require someone with more brewing experience. Unbeknownst to Chris and Jeremy, that someone was already brewing in Lake City at that very moment.
The missing piece
Fate intervened in the creation of Halpatter Brewing when one day, Chris opened a local magazine that wrote a story about accomplished Lake City native and homebrewer Jonny Frazier. “We actually met Jonny out of the blue in 2015,” Chris recalls. “At the time, I was sitting in my garage brewing by myself, and I saw there was another homebrewer in town.” Chris first wanted to meet up and brew with Jonny and was more interested in a kindred spirit to brew with than a head brewer for Halpatter Brewing. “I called him up and asked him, ‘Let’s just get together and brew,’” Chris says of his first talk with Jonny. “That was in May. We brewed twice with Jonny and we knew that we had to make the brewery a reality. By October, we were working on starting the brewery. He [Jonny] was the missing piece to the puzzle.” Halpatter Brewing now had a trio of founders, each lending their specific talents to the business.
Jonny Frazier may have been the third member of the Halpatter Brewing founders, but he also brought brewing experience and knowledge from his previous job as an automation engineer. “Jonny built the brewery’s brewing system himself. He did all of the welding, all of the programming – all himself,” explains Chris. “We use a fully-automated batch-processing seven-barrel brewing system. Jonny built it all with touch-screen automation – touch a button and it will brew a batch of beer and it will hold temperature within half a degree.” But Jonny didn’t stop at the brewing system. “Jonny also built our keg washer, our grain mill, and so much of the equipment.” From the time he started, Jonny Frazier’s impact on Halpatter Brewing Company went beyond simply brewing the beer.
Success before opening
In February 2016, Halpatter Brewing Company poured at their first beer festival and that was the moment the trio knew this venture was destined for success. “We had 1,000 people turn out to the first craft beer festival here in town,” says Chris. “We had said that if the craft beer festival went well, then we would know we have a market in Lake City and we’ll pull the trigger on the brewery and go for it.” Well, the festival went very well, and the festival-goers loved Halpatter’s beer and the idea of a Lake City craft brewery. From there, Chris likens the brewery’s momentum to a “wagon full of rocks rolling downhill. We couldn’t have stopped it if we wanted to.” Before they even opened, the brewery had close to 3,000 fans on Facebook. “We have been very blessed with the community being behind us on this thing in a big way.”
Make the building into a brewery
Once the founding trio found a home for the brewery, Halpatter Brewing Company started renovations and construction in June of 2017 and opened in December 1st of 2017.
The home that the guys found for Halpatter Brewing Company solidified the brewery as one of the premier hangout spots in Lake City, and also allowed the brewery to save a piece of local history. “We have become the gathering spot in Lake City where people come and hang out,” says Chris. Part of that reputation is based on the location and building the owners chose for the brewery. The building itself was constructed in 1939 and completed in 1940 as Lake City’s city hall and had been repurposed for several other uses. The building was sitting dormant and the brewery saved the building from possibly being torn down. Much of the original building is still intact; the brewery only blew out one wall and the bones of the building are mostly intact. Chris, Jeremy, and Jonny then added a few more local touches to the tasting room: all of the metal accents are old fire escapes from the Blanche Hotel in Lake City (the hotel is currently under renovation to turn it into condominiums, so the guys were allowed to go in and pull out all of the fire escapes and repurpose them into tables).
Who was “Halpatter”?
Chris says that he and Jeremy were deliberate in their choice of brewery names. “The name of the brewery comes from the Seminole chief Halpatter Tustenuggee, that means ‘Warrior Chief Alligator,’ and he and his group were the first settlers in this area,” Chris says of the brewery’s namesake. These settlers lived right at the base of Lake DeSoto, which sits one block away from the brewery. There’s a sign in town that says that this is the site of the original settlement of Alligator Village. After the white settlers came to town, the area was renamed Lake City by the Florida Legislature in 1864.
Chris has researched the city’s history and is excited for the brewery to take part in Lake City’s future. “Lake City was the fourth largest metropolitan area in Florida at one point,” Chris says. “There are two active railroad lines that come through Lake City – one north and south and one east and west. We were where everybody stopped. Back in the 1920s, we were bigger than Miami. When the interstate came in, the growth just went elsewhere.” Downtown Lake City is growing, too. I’d like to think that we’re helping to bring 750-1000 unique guests into the town each week. We’re seeing a huge rebirth in downtown Lake City. I’m proud to be a part of that, if not a tour de force in helping build that.
Bringing Lake City into the beer
Part of Lake City’s proud past is brought to light by the brewery’s choice of beer names, Chris is proud to say. Every one of the beers in Halpatter’s “Starting Lineup” has a tie to local history.
O’Leno Cream Ale is Halpatter Brewing’s lightest beer and is named for the town of O’Leno, which is now a state park.
Old School Session IPA is named for the roots of the University of Florida, which has roots in Lake City.
Seymour Finn’s Irish Red “Truman Seymour and Joseph Finnegan were the commanding generals at the Battle of Olustee, the largest Civil War battle fought in Florida, which happened about 20 miles east of here,” says Chris.
Big Hal Imperial Brown is a dry-hopped American Brown Ale which tells the story of Halpatter Tustenuggee.
Sixteen Springfields DIPA – Tells the story of sixteen rifles that were thrown into that lake after the Civil War and were recovered. “We’re working on getting one of them to display at the brewery,” Chris says.
The biggest problem is success
Chris recalls opening day and the work that came afterward. “When we first opened, the reception was crazy.” Chris says that the brewery’s tasting room sold more than two times the amount of beer that he had projected. The guys were “expecting a dip in the summer, so we could catch up.” Despite expectations, the brewery had their strongest month of sales in June 2018. After that, “July won’t be as good as June, but it will be our 2nd or 3rd busiest month so far.” So much for a slow summer for the Lake City Brewery.
Chris also admits that “until this month, we’ve been scrambling just to keep up.” He illustrates this point with a visual: “In the hallway downstairs, we stack the kegs – clean ones on the left and dirty ones on the right. We barely have time to clean the kegs to fill them. It’s been like this since we started. Our biggest struggle has been to deal with unanticipated success. We thought we’d be able to run the brewery with seven employees. We’ve already had to hire sixteen to keep up.” Chris admits that one of Halpatter Brewing Company’s biggest challenges has been success. “We’ll have beers that take two weeks to brew that are selling out in nine days. The brewery doubled production capacity in its first six months of operation and only supplies the tasting room. It’s been nuts – it’s a permanent grin plastered across my face, but it’s been a crazy successful venture up to this point.”
Beer from a small town for small towns
Chris says that Halpatter Brewing Company has roots in Lake City and is excited to sell beer in towns like Lake City all over Florida. While Jacksonville and Miami look nice, “We see our market as small towns. We want to be that everyman brewery – that’s how we were born.” Chris hopes the story of Halpatter and their hometown will carry into other small hometowns in the state. “We want to be in Steinhatchee, Apalachicola, and coastal towns. We want to be in Starke and Live Oak and I think that’s where our story will resonate – a small-town brewery selling beer to small-town folks.”
In fact, Chris says that one of his favorite victories that the brewery has scored is helping to revitalize downtown Lake City. “I think we put out great beer, but my favorite thing to do personally is sit on the deck on a Friday night, watching the parking lot fill up and watching people come into downtown. It used to be that we had one restaurant and maybe fifty people downtown on a Friday night. Now we’ll pack the house tonight – the parking lot’s full. It’s great to watch.”