National IPA Day has returned! While American IPAs are an undoubtedly classic style, the drinking public’s tastes have changed, so the style continues to evolve. Whether its hazy and juicy IPAS, new and experimental hop styles and formats or simply a new adjunct added to these hoppy beers, remember that this day is all about the exploration of the style that keeps moving craft beer forward.
For the person who has tried everything: IPA Day is a great day to remember the classic beers that turned heads in the first place. Remember that Dogfish Head’s90 Minute IPA (9.0% ABV – technically an Imperial IPA) and 60 Minute IPA (6.0% ABV were innovations that made the bitterness of IPAs palatable to those casual drinkers who had not yet experienced craft beer. Owner Sam Calagione’s experimentation with continually hopping a beer (hence the numbers) led him to these IPAs that express the citrusy and pungent aromas without the bitter bite that many other IPAs had at the time.
For the person who doesn’t like IPAs: While not everyone loves IPAs, but hopefully the spirit of experimentation is strong on this hoppy holiday. In that case, the use of lighter malts, its grapefruit character, and subtle dryness of Coppertail Brewing’sFree Dive IPA (5.9% ABV) can appeal to even the most ardent anti-IPA drinker. If more convincing is needed, try Free Dive with spicy shrimp, Indian curry, or ceviche.
For the die-hard IPA fan: For the drinker that’s had them all, and has a locked-in favorite, it’s rewarding to remember that even the “hops in my veins” drinker started somewhere. In this case, enjoying the strong caramel malt presences and hop-forward pine and citrus of Swamp Head Brewery’sBig Nose IPA (7.3% ABV) can bring back memories of a time when a favorite local IPA just hit the spot. Gainesville’s first craft brewery’s Big Nose IPA still holds up – strong hoppy aroma that follows through into the finish along with plenty of malty sweetness to balance the bitterness.
For the person who loves hops not alcohol: For those who want the hoppiness of an IPA but for one reason or another choose not to drink the alcohol, a beer like Lagunitas’s IPNA (non-alcoholic) illustrates the great taste of a classic IPA with none of the alcohol. While the beer has 0% alcohol by volume, it maintains both the malt and the hops of a traditional IPA.
For the person wondering about hazy IPAs: Some beer fans don’t like the bitterness present in traditional IPAs and pass up the entire category. That can be a mistake as hazy IPAs are here to offer something different. While many of these beers are unfiltered, hence the “hazy” moniker, they are also made differently than traditional IPAs and tend to express the fruity character of hoppy beer without all of the customary bitterness. Sierra Nevada Brewing’s Hazy Little Thing IPA (6.7% ABV) is just such a beer – the brewery brags that they “package Hazy Little Thing in all its raw glory: unfiltered, unprocessed, straight from the tanks and into the can.”
Whatever your hoppy persuasion or whichever category you fall into on IPA Day, it’s a great day to try something new and discover your next favorite beer. Click over to our Beer Finder page and discover where these beers are available near you.
International Stout Day has been a hallmark of November for the last seven years, the same way that IPA Day has become a big part of August each year. These “beer holidays” are a great day to branch out and try something new, something you may not have tried otherwise.
Be careful, and do not underestimate stouts – they can carry a larger alcohol presence, depending on which style of stout the brewer decides to brew. Even the beers listed in this article begin at 5.2% ABV and rise all the way up to 10.2% ABV – so drink slowly and share with friends, if you like. Or if sharing a bottle is not an option, bring enough for the whole party.
Here are a few suggestions of beers to warm your November – on International Stout Day and beyond:
Swamp Head Brewery Udderly Calm (5.2% ABV): Gainesville’s Swamp Head Brewery chose this milk stout (stout brewed with lactose, or milk sugar) as the wintry entry in the Migrational Series of beers. Imagine candy bar chocolate, milk chocolate, and chocolate cookies in beer form, then wake up and enjoy a can of this dessert-forward limited beer.
Coppertail Brewing Captain Jack Stone Crab Stout (8.3% ABV): One of the few of these stouts that can boast a bit of Florida in every bottle, Coppertail Brewing’s Captain Jack’s Stone Crab Stout starts with a boatload of Florida Stone Crabs. “Our Brewmaster Casey drives to Key West and loads up a couple of hundred pounds of fresh-caught stone crab from the legend himself, Captain Jack. Meanwhile back at the brewery, the crew times the brew day just right for Casey’s arrival. Minutes later the crab is added to the stout boil.” These crabs give a briny edge to the roasty, earthy, and chococlatey stout that bears the name of the legendary Key West boat captain.
Infinite Ale Works Into the Dark Roast (9.0% ABV): Dark, black, and viscous, Infinite Ale Works’s Into the Dark Roast brings layers of coffee and roasted malts to bear on the palate in this sipping beer. Into the Dark Roast is available all year long, but it is especially delicious in the dark months of Florida winter, where the air is cold and the nights are long. This stout is at home with a piece of chocolate cake or a robust cigar – for best results, bring some to share with friends.
Sierra Nevada Brewing Narwhal (10.2% ABV): When the beer dictionary is written, and the entry about imperial stouts is written, Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal will be the picture that illustrates the style. Inspired by the mysterious creature that lives in the depths of the oceans, the Narwhal is a beast that loves to share its nuances of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke. Narwhal brims with malt complexity and a warming alcohol presence that can stand up to even Florida’s winter chills.
Abita Brewing Office Party (6.8% ABV): Just like an office party brings people out of their shells to celebrate the holidays, Louisiana’s Abita Brewing Company’s Office Party Stout brings all of the different flavors present in dark beer out to play. Generous amounts of cocoa nibs, cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg are added to infuse the spirit of the holidays into this limited release.
Swamp Head Brewery is proud to partner with the University of Florida to bring the Swamp Head Tailgate to The Gator Walk Village on the North Lawn outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium beginning this weekend (September 7th) for the game against the University of Tennessee Martin Skyhawks.
“Growing up in Gainesville and being a Gainesville brewery, we’re obviously super excited about partnering with our hometown team,” said Luke Kemper, owner of Swamp Head Brewery. “We thought this would be a great experience for Gator fans, so we’ll be set up with plenty of beer, shade, music, and tailgate games before every home game.”
According to the University of Florida Gameday Initiatives website, the Swamp Head Tailgate will be a staple of “The Gator Walk Village. The Gator Walk Village is host to a premium tailgate setup, along with Gator Walk and a designation spot for all Gators Fans with music, drinks, fun & food trucks. The Village, which opens at 3 p.m. on Sept. 7, is located on the North Lawn in between University Ave. and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will once again expand this season, adding to the lively pregame atmosphere and entertainment surrounding the stadium.” The tailgate will also feature food from local food trucks. “The Official Swamp Head Tailgate will open between three-four hours prior to kickoff (depending on kickoff time) and close 45 minutes before kickoff. Fans of all ages can stop by the tailgate for shade, tailgate games, live music and more.” There will also be water for sale at the water station located near the Swamp Head Tailgate.
While the lineup of bands and food trucks will change for every game according to the university’s website, Swamp Head Brewery will proudly anchor the tailgate with their beer before every home game for the 2019 season.
The venue will be open to fans of all ages, with fans 21 and up being allowed to purchase beer prior to the game.
For more information about the Swamp Head Tailgate including a map to its location, please visit the University of Florida’s Gameday Initiatives website.
As the season of summer comes to an end on the calendar, Labor Day offers one last chance to get together with friends and family at the pool, the beach, the river, or the park before September and October rattle through into winter time and relatively cooler temperatures. In preparation for those final pool parties, beach days, picnics, and tubing sessions, choosing the right beer can make Labor Day shindigs that much better and brighter. The right ale or lager can add depth and complexity to any dish and the Labor Day cookout is no exception.
Here are a few ideas for Labor Day beers that can endure the Florida sun and keep the party going:
For the Grillmasters: Samuel Adams Oktoberfest (5.3% ABV) The toasty malt in this amber-colored lager will be enough to match flavors with burgers, dogs, and pulled pork while maintaining a relatively low alcohol content. Try one with your favorite bacon cheeseburger, slider, or sausage and see how many layers of flavor this beer really shows.
For the Football fans:Coppertail BrewingIndependent Pilsner (5.5% ABV) College football is finally kicking off for the season – watch parties and football days are back. Why spoil these events with inter-team rivalries? Tampa’s Coppertail Brewing has a beer that doesn’t take sides! Independent Pilsner is light in body but with a touch of hops and a clean finish. And those tater tots, nachos, or jalapeño poppers? Independent Pilsner will not get in the way of any savory halftime snack.
For the Pool partiers:Dogfish Head SeaQuench (4.9% ABV) For those who want to get a few days poolside, SeaQuench has you covered. This beer is a hybrid of three light-bodied styles of beer and has a citrus presence and touch of salt. Those of who might like a low-country boil and/or cedar-plank salmon are in luck also – SeaQuench was specifically designed to pair with seafood.
For the Beachgoers and boaters:Swamp Head Brewery Hydroslide Kolsch (4.9% ABV) For those who’re looking to get in touch with mother nature in the motorboat, canoe, kayak, or water shoes, Gainesville’s own Swamp Head Brewery’s summer classic Hydroslide Kolsch is made for weekends like this. Dry-hopped for aroma, this light-bodied ale will quench a thirst and go well with virtually any picnic or cookout food.
For the Bonfire/ Mallow roasters:Abita Brewing’s Purple Haze (4.2% ABV) While some insist that a s’more has to be roasted over a campfire, the oppressive heat of Florida summer cannot be understated. Whether you decide to roast marshmallows outside or make indoor s’mores in the oven, try some chocolate and sweetness with Abita Brewing’s Purple Haze. This wheat lager has an addition of raspberries added to it so that anything sweet and chocolatey will gain the berry flavor. So basic chocolate s’mores become raspberry chocolate s’mores. Chocolate bars become raspberry chocolate bars, and so on.
To find these fine ales and lagers, please click over to our Beer Finder.
Cheers to Labor Day, football season kicking off, and enjoying a day with friends and family. Please enjoy the day and enjoy it responsibly.
It has been roughly ten years since Gainesville native and University of Florida Alum Luke Kemper got the idea to open Swamp Head Brewery, the city’s first production brewery.
Kemper says that the idea for Swamp Head Brewery began to take shape when he experienced the social beer culture in Colorado. “I went to school out in Boulder, Colorado,” Luke recalls. “My brother was always bringing down beer when we would hang out.” The amber ales and wheat beers of the Mile-High State made an impression on Luke. “Long story short – I got to see how Colorado breweries were making beer, but they were also impactful in the community.” The idea of community impact from a brewery stuck with Luke when he came home to Gainesville.
Luke was then reminded of Craig Birkmaier, a family friend who was an award-winning homebrewer. “During that time period, Craig had been homebrewing in his garage and was winning medals on the homebrew competition circuit. We sat down to talk about making a brewery. I told him that I knew nothing about making beer and little about running a business, but I was confident I knew what types of beers people would like to drink.” After that formal meeting, Luke and Craig decided to move forward with Swamp Head Brewery.
From Humble Beginnings in the Swamp
From that meeting in 2008, Swamp Head Brewery was on its way to fruition. Luke remembers, “I was able to get together a little money and was able to hire Craig as a brewer. We found a little warehouse space in Gainesville.” After that, they needed a brewing system. “We found a brewing system south of Ocala in The Villages, the old Spanish Springs Brewing Company equipment. They had a 10-barrel brewing system – very beautiful, way too pretty for us.” From there, Luke and Craig went down to retrieve the system and to learn a few things about it – starting by cutting out the system. “We actually went down there and took the system out, and that gave us a good idea on how to put things back in.” Luke thinks of this as the first time that the reality of the brewery came together. “We got to take everything apart and a rigging company came and hooked everything up and put it on trailers. That’s when everything sunk in. ‘This is really happening.’ I had already taken the money out and we had the equipment, we just had to go and make beer with it.”
Moving the system was the beginning of the brewery, but there was more work to be done. Luke remembers those days, “moving to Gainesville, we spent a year getting the system assembled – we basically had one employee and we were working day and night to get it going.” It would take almost a year from the time the equipment got to Gainesville to the time Swamp Head Brewery sold its first beer. Luke remembers the timeline because so much happened during those first months. “August 2008 was when we went down and started disassembling the equipment from Spanish Springs. Towards the 4th quarter of 2008, we had the equipment installed and sold the first batch of beer November 18th, 2009. Almost two years from the time the company started on paper until we were selling beer.”
Luke admits that there were hurdles Swamp Head Brewery had to overcome in those early days. Luke recollects, “The biggest thing for us back then was that nobody knew what opening a craft brewery meant. Whether it was your local auditing office or the offices in Tallahassee. The concept was so new to them. That has changed so much now because the path has been paved. Everything for us was chopping down proverbial trees to make a path from A to B.” The lessons that Luke and company learned before the brewery opened have continuously paid dividends. Luke says that the best lesson was “learning the process and who to talk to. That is what paid off for us. We learned to keep going and keep talking when someone said no.” Whether the problem was label approval or installing power, the important thing was to keep going and not be afraid to ask for a second opinion. Luke points to the example of installing power to some brewing equipment. “We would have one person come in and tell us that we needed three-phase power and that would cost upwards of $15,000. We would talk to another contractor and they would tell us that they can’t do it. Then there was a guy who would tell us that there was three-phase power right there and it would cost a few hundred dollars to bring it to the building. That made a big difference for us – we can do that. We kept asking and we benefitted from that.”
From Start to Beer
During that time between installation and beer sales, Luke remembers that he was not the only one who was growing in his experience of Gainesville beer. “The city did not know what it would be like having a brewery and I didn’t know what to do. I thought they would be telling me. Instead, we worked together and worked through it. There is no syllabus that tells you what to do, we just had lots of meetings with them trying to explain that we weren’t a huge international brewery with a massive facility.” Luke was successful in his explanations and he and Craig were able to drive the brewery toward opening day. The next big milestone for Luke was getting Swamp Head beer into bars and restaurants around Gainesville.
Luke recalls, “We sold our first batch of beer to Cone Distributing in November of 2009, and a few accounts picked it up and served our beer around town.” Luke was thrilled to go to the few craft beer bars around town to sample the beer from the company he helped create. “It was cool to go to Stubbies or the Alcove (RIP to both establishments) in December 2009 with friends and family and paying for pints of our beer.”
The Beginning of the Wetlands
When Swamp Head Brewery began, Florida’s laws were somewhat nebulous about the existence of tasting rooms at a brewery. When Luke went to apply for permits to open The Wetlands, Swamp Head’s tasting room, that permit was originally denied. “Gainesville did not agree with the same regulations as the state. When I applied to open my tasting room, the folks in Gainesville denied me, and sent my paperwork to the folks in Tallahassee,” Luke remembers of the delay. “Tallahassee ended up taking 4 or 5 months to get back to me.” For the first two years of Swamp Head Brewery’s life, the beer was only available through distribution. Luke recalls “Swamp Head’s staff stayed small: me, my brewer, and a part-time assistant because it wasn’t feasible to do anything else.” And running a brewery is a lot of work for a staff of two and a half. “We couldn’t get to bars and restaurants and we were so busy just doing what we had to do at the brewery. Then in 2012, the tasting room opened. Gainesville never had anything like it; it was similar to a speakeasy.” While the tasting room was unique, it also allowed Swamp Head to provide a gathering space to the community and showcase local beer. Luke says that the Wetlands “afforded us the visibility for people to actually see us making beer, something tangible right here in Gainesville. It allowed the customer to see another thriving business in Gainesville and for us to tell customers our story.”
That mission now continues at Swamp Head Brewery’s new home at 3650 SW 42nd Avenue in Gainesville – the second home the brewery has built. Swamp Head Brewery moved into its current facility in early 2015 and has been there ever since.
Swamp Head Brewery’s Core Beers
The beers that Swamp Head Brewery originally sent into distribution are the same ones that anchor their core lineup today: Wild Night Honey Cream Ale, Cottonmouth Witbier, Stumpknocker Pale Ale, Big Nose IPA, and Midnight Oil Oatmeal Coffee Stout. Luke remembers establishing those beers fitting them to the brewery’s Floridian theme, “Oddly enough, our core five beers were chosen before the tasting room opened. We just looked at what we thought would do well in the market,” says Luke. “Even before looking at the data, a pale ale, an IPA, and a honey cream ale seemed like easy-drinking beers, plus we wanted to do a beer that incorporated local ingredients like we did with Wild Night. We get our honey from Payne’s Prairie. We also wanted to do a stout – no one else was doing one. Even though it was Florida, so we did an oatmeal coffee stout. At that time, being not too far from college, everyone wanted a sweet wheat beer, so we had Cottonmouth.” While five core beers are a lot to keep up with as a young brewery, Swamp Head’s logic has stood the test of time. Says Luke, “In each bar or restaurant, if they’re a Swamp Head fan, they should find something that is going to fit into their wheelhouse. That was the idea behind the core five.”
Luke is also quick to add that “our lineup is still evolving. The beauty of our lineup is that we can still call those audibles and make quick changes. Just the other day, we were talking about how we were going to redo our release calendar. We are changing things around. Not only are our palates changing, but our customers’ palates are changing as well. The consumer is evolving. At the end of the day, we make beers that we love to drink, and as our palates change, some of those beers are going to change as well.” While Swamp Head has grown and changed from the early days, Luke knows that the brewery’s tasting room gives them an advantage in crafting new brews. “The tasting room affords us the ability for a lot of pilot beers and testing and R & D, and that’s something we look at before we put something in the market.”
Will Swamp Head’s core beers ever change? Luke is somewhat murky on the subject. “As far as changing the core five, we have a few ideas about changes but while we’re figuring it out, we have to keep that quiet. Those secrets are secret… for now.”
Swamp Head’s Message and Mission
Luke asserts that what the brewery does is not isolated to Gainesville or the state of Florida – Swamp Head’s mission is more than that. “Part of our responsibility with this company is to be responsible and not just to take and pillage from the earth but also to give back and to preserve the earth for future generations,” asserts Luke. “A lot of what we do aligns with people’s values – people who like to go outside fishing, hunting, camping. We like to align ourselves with groups that have a like-minded focus.” Luke stresses that he wants the company to have great liquid, but also to align with core values. “When a consumer looks to make a purchase, they are looking more and more for a company that aligns with their values, and we are making a conscious effort to show and talk about our ideals. We have always supported these projects and causes, but now we are trying to make more of an effort to talk about them. It’s not just a beer brand, it’s a lifestyle.” While the brewery does a lot of work in the community because it’s the right thing to do, they want more people to join the cause and they are working to spread that message. “At the end of the day, people are looking at who they’re buying from and who they want to support, so you have to say, ‘This is what we’re about; this is what we do.’” This message gets out into the community and Luke says he has seen the message resonate when people come back into the brewery. “It’s the same thing when people want to work here. They tell us they like the work we do with community groups in Gainesville and our sustainability message. That gets me excited. But we know that we need to work to get that message into the community.”
Swamp Head Brewery’s sustainability mission goes beyond the facility and into the beer, too. Luke says that this is a large part of the decision to can beer. “For me, cans were the way to go because of transportation and logistics,” Luke says. “They’re lighter so they use less gasoline to get here. Smaller carbon footprint. Florida is a giant peninsula surrounded by beaches, pools, and golf courses and a lot of those places are not glass-friendly. If you want the active outdoor folks to enjoy your beer, then the can is ideal.”
“Putting our money where our mouth is”
Luke says that of all the work Swamp Head Brewery does, commitment to the environment and making quality and consistent beer are the priorities.
Swamp Head Brewery’s facility is living proof of these values, starting with the commitment to the environment. Luke proudly shows that “We have seven acres with the brewery, and we have put an acre into conservation on the west side, which is where our tasting room looks. That land backs up to wetlands, so the view should never change.” Swamp Head Brewery also has another unique feature for a Florida brewery: Swamp Head was the first brewery in Florida to install solar panels. Those solar panels were important to Swamp Head’s mission, says Luke and a feature he had to have at this building, Swamp Head Brewery’s second home. “Once we moved here, we were working with an accountant, and she asked us if we were putting solar panels on the brewery, expecting it to be an easy box to check ‘no.’ I said ‘we’re going to have to do this. We’ve been talking about it for years.’ She told us it was not a good idea. I told her that it may not be a good idea, but we couldn’t just talk about doing something good and then not follow through. We had to put our money where our mouths were.”
That mandate also extends to creating quality and consistent beers, as evidenced by Swamp Head Brewery’s Quality Assurance Lab Program. According to Swamp Head’s Director of Operations Nick Dunn, the brewery’s lab keeps samples of every batch of beer and “any time there’s a complaint, we will pull the can and go check it out. If it’s draft, we’ll go to the can date, which will be the tank date and we always have a sample of our batches.” This process and commitment to quality give the brewery confidence in every batch of Swamp Head Brewery beer that goes out the door.
Nick says that the one thing he is proudest of during his tenure at Swamp Head Brewery – Nick became head brewer when Birkmaier departed Swamp Head – “We never tried to hedge a cost. Some brewers get bigger and have to look at changing recipes to save on the cost of hops. Nothing has ever been shaved in that direction.” Nick says that all of the brewery’s changes have been focused on something else: getting better at making beer. “We’ve changed processes to be more efficient. But the process is the only place – we’ve never taken anything away from the beer. We used to dry-hop for seven days. It takes a lot of time to do that. Now we will spin a beer for 24-48 hours and it will have the same effect. The beer has the same contact time and produces the same result, it just happens much faster.” These changes make better beer, or the beer does not go out the door, Nick says. “We will change, and we will always be spending top notch on hop contracts, hops, yeast health, and dumping beers that don’t make the cut. We will make sure we are responsible towards our brand. We will pay what we have to pay to get the beer that we want to make.”