The brewery marks a 10-year anniversary on Saturday.
Luke Kemper poured a can of beer into a glass Tuesday, put the glass to his lips and took a few gulps.
He looked like he’d done it before.
Across the can read, “Swamp Head,” a name for the microbrewery Kemper’s wife suggested 10 years ago, after he had already come up with “at least 10 different names.”
Kemper remember those days vividly — when his microbrewery became the first to open in Gainesville.
“I remember selling our first couple of pallets” he said with pride. “We didn’t have a fork lift or anything so I remember (the distributor) rolling in a dolly to pick them up.”
A few days later, he went to Stubbies & Steins, a pub that has since closed, and celebrated by drinking his beer with his family.
“That was the most expensive beer I ever purchased,” he joked. “I had to pay to make it but then I was buying it again. It was so exciting because of all the hard work that had went into making it.”
Saturday, Kemper and Gainesville’s craft beer faithfuls will celebrate Swamp Head’s 10th anniversary.
They also will be marking a 10-year-old shift in Gainesville’s culture.
Since Swamp Head debuted, microbrewers have popped up around town and transformed Gainesville’s beer scene, make it a more informed “beer town,” Kemper said.
Swamp Head Brewery was the first microbrewery in 2008, opening for business in 2010. Then came First Magnitude Brewing Company, 1220 SE Veitch St., in August 2014. Last year, Cypress and Grove Brewery opened its doors at 1001 NW 4th St.
Alligator Brewing, a nanobrewery, was incorporated in 2007 and brews in Tall Pall’s Brewpub. Blackadder Brewing Company brewpub opened in 2016.
“Before we came, there were people who knew about craft beer, but there were a lot of people that didn’t know about craft beer,” he said. “The people who knew about craft beer were excited about it. They were pumped. But the others were people who thought you could just drink a Corona, a Budweiser or Miller Light.
“Getting started and being able to show people the difference was incredible.”
Microbreweries are known by locals for producing a variety of beers that focus on quality and pay attention to details that macrobrewers can’t because of the sheer quantity they brew.
A traditional brewery, like MillerCoors, produced than 60 million barrels of beer combined at its seven macrobreweries in 2017.
According to U.S regulations, a microbrewery can make no more than 15,000 barrels of beer a year.
Swamp Head enthusiast James Jenkins said that before moving to Gainesville, he hadn’t had experience with craft beer. Swamp Head’s Big Nose India Pale Ale was the first local IPA he’d ever tried.
“I was blown away and am an avid lover of many other beers they make to this day,” he said. “Don’t be surprised to find me over there on a Friday night with a cold pint or filling up a (jug) for the weekend.”
The rise of breweries seen in Gainesville puts it on a track that other trendy cities have walked.
“That’s what every growing city has, you know? A brewery. Look at Austin, look at Denver, Asheville — those guys are booming and that’s their linchpin to get people down (to Gainesville).
“I don’t know if it’s public or not but I’ve talked to people that have said, ‘Part of our process in luring people to come to Gainesville is to bring them to Swamp Head,’” he said. “It’s awesome to see that what we’re doing is not only paying off for us but also Gainesville.”
Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce spokesman Todd Van Hoosear said the the chamber “definitely works with microbreweries.”
He said last year’s chamber member appreciation party was held at First Magnitude, and this year, it’s planned for Swamp Head.
“They’re great places to highlight Gainesville’s cultural, food and drink scene,” Van Hoosear wrote in an email.
Swamp Head has been growing with Gainesville, Kemper said, alongside the other breweries.
In October, Swamp Head launched its distribution to South Florida in Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
With the launch, it now delivers throughout the entire state of Florida.
Swamp Head brewed 8,400 barrels in 2017 and is hoping to brew 12,000 barrels this year.
“I’ve always wanted to become Florida’s brewery,” Kemper said.
In 2015, Swamp Head moved into its new building, 3650 SW 42nd Ave., in the industrial park off Southwest 34th Street, with triple the beer production capacity, triple the tasting room space, more than triple the parking with just under 70 spaces and — an important touch for tasting room guests — six times the restroom stalls, for a total of six instead of one.
The facility went from 6,500 square feet to 13,500, also adding 36-foot tall yellow silos that hold 60,000 pounds of grain.
Kemper said he founded Swamp Head because he “loved drinking beer,” and wanted to bring to Gainesville, a place where he grew up, a microbrewery like he’d seen out west in Colorado when he’d been in college.
Smaller, but arguably just as popular, is First Magnitude, which produces beer for draft and in cans in Gainesville, St. Augustine, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Orlando, Cedar Key, The Villages, Ocala and Lake City.
First Magnitude was started by a group of four people, after getting a few pointers from Kemper.
“Craft beer is a very collaborative industry,” said Christine Denny, co-founder and part owner of First Magnitude. “The folks in craft beer know everyone rises together.”
Denny and husband, John, had talked about opening up a microbrewing for awhile, she said. John had taken a few leisure courses in brewing at Santa Fe College and his love for brewing grew.
Other co-founders, Wells and Meg The Losen, approached the couple and said, “if you guys want to start this business, we’d want to come in and help.”
The newest microbrewery, Cypress and Grove, doesn’t bottle or can its brews yet, but it has its own tasting room, production area and plans on canning in the future.
Pat Burger said he started the brewery with Gary Heil, after years of thinking about opening one.
“Before Swamp Head, I had thought about opening a brewery and after investigating, I could not find the capital I needed so I shelved it for years.”
Though all the breweries have managed to keep their doors open, the growing number of breweries means growing competition and slowed growth rates, Kemper said.
But owners of Gainesville breweries seem to feel the demand for breweries remain and is growing.
“I think we are all adding a richness to the community,” Burger said. “I personally can’t make enough (beer), and I know we’re not throwing a lot away.”
Kemper shared a similar sentiment, saying if people paid attention to the number of houses, condos and apartment buildings planned for Gainesville, they’d realize Gainesville is not ready to stop growing.
Denny agreed. “If you compare us to any other town, we have the right climate for another brewery with our level of industry and business,” she said. “There’s definitely room for more brewers.”
What Kemper hopes would grow more — and it will, he said — is Gainesville’s love for drinking beer, a tradition that has been “a glue in the culture for centuries.”
“As long as (the breweries) are staying to true to who they are and are doing what they want to do, which is making great beer for Gainesville, we’ll all be just fine.”