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10 Years of Brewing Bonds


Written By: Alyssa Ramos

As the Florida sun dips into the horizon, it stains the skies in shades of orange and violet. Towering cypress trees sink their massive roots into the muddy banks of a spring. Long tendrils of Spanish moss lounge on its branches, blue herons perch on its edges while alligators wade quietly through the water.

This is Florida at its best.

No one understands this better than Swamp Head Brewery. More than anyone, Swamp Head knows just how to distill the Florida experience right into a 12 fluid oz. can. This Gainesville-based microbrewery has been a fixture in the community for 10 years, and it’s still going strong.

“Swamp Head is way bigger than a person or an entity,” the owner, Luke Kemper, said. “It’s a lifestyle that I hope people can align with.

” With its dedication to community involvement, sustainability and quality beer, it’s clear as to why Swamp Head is here to stay.

Over the course of 10 years, Swamp Head has been bringing the community together over just that, a good pint of beer. The company prides itself on being inherently Floridian and putting Florida first. Its iconic cypress tree logo and aluminum can packaging take residence on store shelves all over town. It’s not unfair to say that Swamp Head beer has been developing into a Gainesville staple.

“Beer is a glue that’s binding – whether it’s wine or beer, since the beginning of time, people have celebrated a special event with drinking,” Kemper said.

Like most companies Swamp Head came from humble beginnings. At 25, Kemper was starting his business during the Great Recession of 2008. The learning curve was steep.

“In college there’s a syllabus. If I do A through Z, and if I get a percentage here, I’ll get my A that I’m looking for,” Kemper said. “[In the] real world, there’s not always a syllabus.”

But the company has since grown and overcome its struggles. What was originally two employees (including Kemper) is now 30. In 2012, the company opened its first-ever tasting room. Three years later, in 2015, the company moved into a much larger location off 34th Street.

“We’re still small in the scheme of things, but things are much bigger than they were before.” Kemper said. “It’s an honor to be here, but we still have a lot that we want to accomplish.”

Although known for its quality craft beer, Swamp Head has also served as a vehicle to propel its sustainability goals. In the past year, Swamp Head has planted more than 100,000 trees with the Alachua Conservation Trust and removed 10 tons of trash along Florida’s coast for their statewide coastal cleanup
event, The Trash Tour, in part with the Coastal Conservation Association.

“If you have an opportunity to try to save the environment or do your part to give back then you should, and so the earth doesn’t need us, but we need the earth,” Kemper said.

Kemper is a Floridian and true Gainesville native at heart. When he’s not brewing kegs of beer, he can be found camping or kayaking in the springs. For him, sustainability has not only been a priority, but a responsibility.

Tucked unassumingly behind an industrial complex off 34th Street, Swamp Head is now located next to acres of conservation wetlands where the view will remain untouched. Originally located off Interstate 75, its new building is the also first microbrewery to have solar panels.

“We’ve always been committed to the things that we think are important that run a sustainable company – it’s always been a part of who we are and who we want to be for the lifetime of the company,” said Marketing Director Brandon Nappy.

As Swamp Head continues to grow, its distribution is slowly spreading to all corners of the state. However, distribution won’t exceed state lines. In order to maintain quality control as well as reduce its carbon footprint, Swamp Head distribution is exclusive to Florida.

“We want to make sure that we can supply people in Florida with our beer,” Nappy said. “It’s our goal to be that brewery where people go ‘Oh when you go to Florida, you have to get a Swamp Head beer because you can’t get it anywhere else and it’s amazing.'”

Every glass or can of beer has a personality behind it, Nappy said. The products are locally brewed and it’s not just a brand but hand-crafted by passionate people.

“It’s actual people back there sweating and throwing grain bags around and laughing and having fun and creating this product that you’re drinking,” Nappy said.

Kemper attributes his success not only to his passion for his work, but the people who make their ale aspirations into reality. Most of the employees are Gainesville natives, and all have taken part in the various day-to-day jobs required in the brewery even if it meant washing kegs.

Nick Dunn, the operations director, has been with the company since 2011, and he’s felt that everyone has a say.

“What you do matters to the end product,” Dunn said.

Quality Swamp Head ales and lagers come by way of open collaboration and sheer experimentation. Even accidental mistakes have led to the best beer. The best part is that this company “office” turns to the hangout spot when it’s time to clock out.

“At the end of the day, it’s only as serious as beer,” Dunn said.

Ten years in and Kemper has been blown away by how Gainesville’s support of local business has grown as well as the microbrewery scene. On April 7th, the company celebrated its 10-year milestone with an all-day event with games, food trucks and limited-edition products.

“Everybody wants to be friends with the beer guy,” Kemper joked.

As Swamp Head moves forward, they want to reciprocate the warm welcome and enthusiasm that Gainesville has shown them since its early days. Swamp Head is more than just a business, but a part of the community. Since its beginning, the company has made a point to participate in community events or local nonprofits whether it be Alachua County Humane Society, Ronald McDonald House or the Boys & Girls Club.

“We had a lot of people coming to us saying ‘man, you’ve really shaped downtown; you’ve helped Gainesville elevate with other cities that had breweries, and I didn’t think about that component,” Kemper said. “We were just excited that people were drinking beer.”

The success of a company is never guaranteed. With Swamp Head, not only have they sustained their business, but they’ve made their business environmentally sustainable. At the end of the day, beer is only a byproduct, but the relationships that are formed in the process are the real prize. Because when it comes to building relationships in the community, nothing brings people together more than a cold glass of beer.

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Swamp Head by the Numbers:

  • 150,000 trees Swamp Head planted in Alachua County
  • 1st Brewery in Florida to utilize solar power
  • 10 tons of trash that Swamp Head removed from Florida’s coasts in 2017
  • 700 barrels of beer sold in its first year of production
  • 12,000 barrels of beer that are on track for brewing this year
  • 1 the number of employees Swamp Head started out with
  • 30 the number of employees Swamp Head has now
  • 2017 the year Swamp Head expanded their distribution footprint to include the entire state of Florida
  • 1 state Swamp Head beer is only available in the state of Florida and plans to stay that way
  • 2 the number of times Swamp Head has been the recipient of the World Beer Cup Awards

 

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