Monday, January 16, 2012

Announcement: Swamp Head Brewery to Join South Florida Beer Week

Well, the week is creeping up and we are drinking a lot of water, meditating, and getting our minds and bodies ready for some great beers which will be flowing throughout South Florida. As we are sure you've noticed, we keep referencing these "special beers" brought to you by Florida Brewers... well we are happy to announce that Swamp Head Brewery out of Gainesville, Florida has allowed us to feature a few of their beers at some South Florida Beer Week events. This is the first time that Swamp Head beers will be available in South Florida publicly, and we're damn proud that the brewery will be making this debut during Beer Week (and for now, this week only).

The following events will have Swamp Head beers on tap:
Lou's Beer Garden: Monday
Funky Buddha: Tuesday
Laser Wolf: Thursday
Field of Beers: Friday
Jupiter Craft Brewers Festival: Saturday

We know not everyone may have researched this up-and-coming brewery so we took the opportunity to sit down with its founder Luke Kemper and learn a little bit about what Swamp Head is all about. 

SFBW: Tell us about yourself.

Luke Kemper: I was born and raised in Gainesville, FL. I started college at the University of Colorado at Boulder but finished at UF with a degree in Management. I have always loved nature and the outdoors as well as drinking good beer.  

When was Swamp Head formed?

Swamp Head Brewing was founded in January 2008 and I purchased the equipment in August 2008.  We brewed our first back of beer in April 2009 and then sold our first kegs on Nov. 18, 2009.

How did you get started in the beer industry?  

Since I went to school out west there was already a lot of talk about craft beer. I actually moved back to Gainesville to get my masters in Fisheries but quickly changed my mind since I didn't want to leave my dog and girlfriend behind as I would of spent a lot of time outside the US.  My stepdad, Dan, has a good friend named Craig who did home brewing and from there I basically asked him if he wanted to start a brewery with me as the head brewer. He had a lot of knowledge based not only on age but he is a real renaissance man who knows a lot about a lot of things. Plus, I liked the beers that he was making.

What made you decide to do this for a living?

Just figured that I would give it a shot. I was able to get the funding together and so I just jumped in head first. Then the economy crashed which made me realize this had to work or else I would be screwed. Not that I wasn't serious about it from the start, but that definitely made it even more real.

Did you have a mentor or look toward another brewery to pattern yourself after?

No mentor. I have basically just been learning as I go and fortunately people are also very helpful in this industry. As far as patterning after someone not really except that I like the idea behind New Glarus and the "drink indigenous." I really want to make all of Florida my backyard. 

How many people work at the brewery? Is it still the six listed on your site?

I now have seven people on the payroll and there are a couple more that fill in every other week or so. 

With only seven employees you must wear a lot of hats. Are there any roles that you fill right now that you never envisioned doing before you got into the beer industry? 

It's constantly something new. Until the beginning of last year, we were taking care of everything from the website to Facebook to everything. Craig and I just figured out what needed to get done and we'd split it up. I am stuck more and more in my office with bill paying, paperwork, administrative stuff... hopefully soon enough we can get someone to take care of a lot of these things and I can get out of the office and back to being creative. 

How many beers do you brew? Which are your personal favorites?

We make 5 beers year round [Wild Night Honey Cream Ale, Cotton Mouth Belgian Wheat, Midnight Oil Coffee Stout, and Big Nose IPA]. Then we have our "migrational release" series which consist of at least another 5 beers. We also have our "spasmodic series" which consist of 3 to 4 beers that we put out about 4 times a year. Then there are the other random one-off beers and some limited release things that happen from time to time. Personal favorites is tough. That all depends on my mood, time of day, season, etc... so to say my favorite would be tough.

What do you love about being a brewer in Florida?

First off it is awesome to be a part of something that is growing so rapidly and with such excitement. The entire country is pumped about craft beer and it only recently has come to Florida; within the last couple of years, really. We are able to be a part of something much larger than ourselves in that we can help make a name for the entire state of Florida. Everything is so new down here and with that comes a little more freedom, I think, in how things are being done. The fact that we can keep things as local as possible also is nice in that we are able to practice the "people helping people" idea. Keeping things local means I am able to help out in these tough times. 

What are your biggest obstacles as a small craft brewer?

Everything. Planning, logistics, consistency, purchasing power, forecasting. I mean, we have a lot of regulations and reporting and lack the personnel to properly take care of everything. Getting the distributing team behind your product. Being able to produce enough and keep people supplied. Dealing with the giants like Budweiser and Coors and all the lobbying power that comes with their money.

How does the future look? Do you have expansion plans?

In February we will be getting some tanks that will allow us to double production. After that who knows. Everyday something changes and my plans have to be reworked. The goal is to get some land and actually build a production brewery.

Production Brewery? For those who haven't visited Gainesville, what would you consider your brewery now? 

Right now we are a production brewery but are in a warehouse that wasn't designed for it. The floors aren't sloped, we are getting tight on space and don't have enough parking spots for visitors. We would want something actually designed as a production brewery where we would have the room for merchandise and more than one bathroom. We are making due and fortunately people are understanding. 

Any advice you would give to people looking to start out in the industry?

Quality is most important and make sure your run your business ethically. Also, you need to be flexible and but still have set goals in mind.

Tell us why drinking local is important to you.

People helping people. By drinking local, you are helping out your community and keeping the money where it belongs (in Florida). Also, the beer should be fresher and the feedback chain is shorter meaning issues are dealt with faster.

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