It seemed like just yesterday I graduated from the University of Florida, leaving Gainesville, the sleepy little town just about 110 miles north of Orlando behind. It was always a college town and will always be a college town. Dirty bars with cheap beer (sometimes a penny for a pitcher) and typical student food like pizza by the slice was the expectation. Sometimes it was more welcomed than anything else you could've offered. Yet, just a few years later, something happened. A revolution of sorts. Gainesville has been undergoing an evolution in its food and beer culture and Swamp Head finds itself at the forefront of the cause. Founded in 2008, Swamp Head sought out not only to be Gainesville's brewery, but instead, as their motto "Inherently Floridian" suggests, Florida's.
Originally, the brewery sat in a commercial warehouse park, tucked away in a back corner. Unassuming, small, and charming. Soon, too small. For as industrial and dry as the brewery's surrounding were, an etched and painted piece of cypress bearing the brewery's logo let you know where you were. Inside, copper kettles and fermentation vessels gave a rustic, cozy old Florida feel to the brewery. Cars lined the parking lot and streets leading to the little oasis of hand-crafted and bold flavored beers being offered by the young brewery. Most impressive was the incredible number of college students on college budgets leaving behind the aforementioned typical college town bars and paying two or three times what they had been paying for beer previously to enjoy Swamp Head's offerings. The following grew. People around the State began travelling to Gainesville to get their hands on limited releases or six-packs of the popular flagships, like Stumpknocker Pale Ale - a flavorful, resinous, and wonderfully balanced pale ale. People in Gainesville started to understand the interplay between high-quality beer and the modern food being served now in Gainesville. Soon, people around the country began to take note.
So here we are, a mere five years later and Swamp Head has moved into a new brewery three times the size of the prior brewery - complete with a proper canning line and something most breweries don't have, a lab. A stand alone brewery complete with two large yellow silos welcoming you at the entrance. Even more, Swamp Head made the new tap room as Inherently Floridian as the beer and art work on the labels suggests.
The new brewery sits on a large plot of land and next to a retention pond and a forest that Swamp Head has donated to preservation. Almost as if on cue, a hawk swooped down from a tree and grabbed one of the bluegill that live in the pond just to let us know the space is and would remain natural. The wood inside the tap room is repurposed and reclaimed wood from farms. The bar top is a gorgeous display of cross cut cypress, the tree that symbolizes Swamp Head. As we talked about the growth of the brewery, the great beers they produce, and what's next for Swamp Head, the sun filled the tap room through the large panoramic windows that enclose it. All in all, everything points back to nature. Just as they planned.
The brewery had just released its latest batch of 10-10-10 an aggressively hopped Imperial IPA so big that it previously won gold as a barleywine. 10 different hop additions, 10 percent abv, and 110 IBUs. Beautiful color, massive hop character, and a sturdy malt backbone to give balance to this monster of a beer. But Swamp Head doesn't rely on the big limited releases to grow it's brand - a devotion to a quality core lineup of beers has allowed the brewery's growth to continue and will ultimately allow for the brewery to expand the reach of its distribution. Other popular and limited offerings include Catherine's Passion, a big and roasty Russian Imperial Stout featuring locally roasted organic fair trade coffee and cacao nibs and the recently released Eternal, the brewery's first beer in the Forever Florida series. Eternal, a crisp blonde ale, once again displays Swamp Head's commitment to the Florida ecosystem and was a collaboration with the Florida Springs Institute, a private non-profit corporation which educates the public about the issues facing Florida's springs and aquifer and develops management methods intended to protect and recover the springs. Swamp Head is donating a portion of the proceeds from Eternal to help the Institute in this cause.
Eventually, Swamp Head will reach its way across Florida. Hopefully this means more great beer and more education on the issues that face Florida's fragile ecosystem. Hopefully it means turning more drinkers of cheap, mass produced beer into craft fanatics. Swamp Head is only five years old, but they're already a great ambassador for the craft beer community in our State and for my favorite small town. It's a good time to be a Florida Gator.