Tuesday, 1/28/14, was a rainy day in Gainesville, FL, but luckily we escaped the gloom by hanging out inside Swamp Head Brewery. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by Brandon Nappy, who is their Tactical Marketing Manager. He told us that the building we were visiting will actually be demolished for an I-75 overpass that is being built for a big development, so they will not be able to renew their lease when it goes up in August. Instead, they are planning to build a new facility nearby, get it ready for a brewery, install an entire brewery, and then have it up and running with recipes dialed in; all of which needs to be completed before they can shut the existing brewery down. The goal is to break ground for the new place in April.
Swamp Head started selling beer in late 2009 and focuses on beers that are “extremely drinkable, yet still extremely flavorful.” Nick Dunn, Dan Wade and Joe Simmons do most of the brewing now with the help of other members of the staff, including Craig Birkmaier, who came up with the recipe for Swamp Head’s original five year round beers. By really pushing their 10bbl copper-clad brewhouse system to the limit, they were able to produce about 5,000 barrels last year. However, at their new facility they hope to install a 4-vessel, 30bbl system to help out with increasing demand. Aside from the fact that growth is planned, their slogan is “Inherently Floridian” and distribute only in Florida with no plans to expand outside of the state at any point.
Swamp Head’s 5 year-round beers are not currently bottled or canned. During the 2013 football season, they did some small runs of canning for tailgating & football parties using a mobile canning business based out of Tampa. Wild Night Honey Cream Ale is the lightest beer they offer, and might even be considered their ‘gateway beer.’ It uses locally harvested Floridian honey that comes from the tupelo gum tree – beehives are placed on floats in the middle of the Chipola and Apalachicola rivers in areas where the tupelo tree is blooming, then after the bees pollenate, honey is harvested from that pollen – which is said to be one of the sweetest, most pure honeys in the world. They also have two beers that are named after local Floridian wildlife: Stump Knocker Pale Ale uses Centennial and Amarillo hops and is named after the Stumpknocker fish and Cottonmouth is a Belgian Wheat Bier named after the cottonmouth snake that is indigenous to the swamps of North Florida and is brewed with bitter orange and coriander. Fourth is the Big Nose IPA that uses Centennial, Columbus, and Amarillo hops with a big malt backbone yet is somehow less hop forward than their pale ale. And Finally, their Midnight Oil Oatmeal Coffee Stout is brewed with locally roasted fair-trade organic coffee put in during the cold-side of fermentation, which gives it more of a soft coffee aroma and taste rather than being to bitter or harsh.
Limited batches are also in the repertoire, including their Migrational, Spasmodic, and Elusive Reclusive series. The Migrational series houses seasonal brews that come and go at the same time each year. Hoggetowne Irish Red is a traditional Irish Ale served at the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire held during the last weekend in January and first weekend in February, and distribution of the beer continues through St. Patrick’s Day. It was developed through a collaboration with Gainesville’s American Homebrewers Association known as Hogtown Brewers. The other seasonal beers are Springboard Blonde Ale, Saison Du Swamp, and Hoe Hoe Hoe. The Spasmodic series encompasses beers they are able to brew anytime they can fit them into the production schedule, whether that is once a year or 4 times a year – Swamp Head brews them as often as possible. 10-10-10 Imperial IPA and Smoke Signal Smoked Porter are two examples of spasmodic beers. We were lucky enough to try the Smoke Signal while there, and the tasting room manager, Andy Bielecki, informed us that it is made using a pale ale malt that is smoked with Alderwood on site. Their final line of beers is the Elusive Reclusive series, which contains one-off brews or beers done once every few years.
Knights of the Barleywine is also necessary to mention – the brewery creates a wort, dishes it out to hombrewers who use it to make a beer in the parking lot, then Swamp Head takes the leftover wort, finishes the beer on their system, barrel-ages it, and then sells it the next year. Yes, seriously. They also hold a ton of other events, including a big iron chef event that raises money for local charities and Reeling for Kids. The tasting room is known as ‘The Wetlands’ and is open Monday through Friday 4pm – 9pm, as well as Saturdays and Sundays from 1pm – 9pm. Tours are offered every Tuesday at 5:30pm, but they max out at 30 people so be sure to get there early! Big thanks to Brandon and Andy for giving us an extensive look into Swamp Head’s operations.
Author: Michael Roberts