Florida Beer Pairings: Swamp Head Brewery
By Stephen Kubiak
You’ve heard of beer and food pairings, but how about beer paired with authentic Florida experiences? Join us as we explore the state through the flavors of Florida’s craft beer culture.
Since 2008, Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville has put a little bit of Florida into all they do. ‘Inherently Floridian’ is the brewery’s slogan, and they’re not just empty words for Swamp Head owner Luke Kemper.
“We want to be Florida’s brewery,” Kemper said.
Swamp Head’s tasting room, The Wetlands, celebrates its Florida roots with large windows opening to views of pine trees, moss-covered oaks and a small pond, the natural light beaming off tables made from heart cypress stumps. You’ll forget you’re just a few miles from the University of Florida campus. Pull up to the bar and sample from a veritable playground of beer flavors and styles.
The first thing you’ll encounter in the tasting room?
“You’ll be greeted with a bearded smiling face,” Kemper said with a laugh.
A steady stream of patrons flows into The Wetlands, carrying growlers. Servers dutifully fill the containers between pulls from the taps. Some customers start with a flight of the core, year-round beers; others grab pints of their favorite specialty brews. Seated along the beautiful bar, hewn from heart pine and cypress, the clientele ranges from college age to those who could be the parents of the students. It’s a comfortable, casual atmosphere where even the timid are willing to try the one-off ales.
“When people do step out of their comfort zone, the beer they try has got to be good,” Kemper said.
Swamp Head has a beer for every palate, with pales and porters, cream ales and coffee stouts. The appropriately named Midnight Oil is a rich oatmeal stout, but easy to drink with its notes of coffee. On the other end of the spectrum is Wild Night, a honey cream ale, a lighter but full-flavored beer that will win over the toughest taste buds.
“I wanted something that would be exciting for Gainesville,” Kemper said.
The brewery’s evolution has been exciting, from its beginnings in a cramped warehouse space into a stand-alone facility shrouded by woods. On the roof, solar panels make Swamp Head the first brewery in Florida to truly harness the power for which the Sunshine State is named.
“We care about environment, sustainability and natural resources,” Kemper said. “Things that are near and dear to Florida. Things that we all care about.”
With its effort to be an ecologically friendly company, it’s only appropriate to pair a few Swamp Head brews with classic experiences out in Florida’s great outdoors.
Wild Night Honey Cream Ale - Just a few miles south of Swamp Head Brewery you’ll find Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. One of Florida’s most unique and diverse ecosystems, the state park offers a variety of activities – hiking, canoeing, fishing, camping, horseback riding, and bicycling. Why pair a honey cream ale with Paynes Prairie? The wildflowers - vast fields of wildflowers just waiting for hungry bees. If you’re looking for natural Florida, this is it.
Stump Knocker Pale Ale - This beer might be named after a freshwater fish, but what if we make the pairing a little more literal. Located near Wewahitchka in North Florida, the Dead Lakes State Recreation Area is a graveyard of bald cypress stumps. The area earned its name after the Chipola River naturally flooded and dammed the area - leaving behind an unusual and beautiful landscape. Come for the bass fishing, photo ops and paddling, but try not to knock into any stumps.
Midnight Oil Oatmeal Coffee Stout - Midnight Oil, with its dark and rich color, mirrors the tannic water of the Suwannee River - a great waterway for casual canoe trips and swimming. The water may appear dirty with its brownish tint, but most of the river’s water supply is fed by Florida’s underground springs and is quite clean. Plant matter mixes with the river water, in a process similar to brewing tea, and causes the river to appear brown. Way down upon the Suwannee River, you’ll come across jagged limestone formations, sandy riverbanks perfect for a picnic stop, inlets off the river where you’ll find small, unnamed springs - all underneath the shade of trees leaning over the water.