By Stephen Kubiak
From Jacksonville Naval Air Station to Camp Blanding to Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville’s military roots run through the soul of the city. With all of those veterans and military personnel living in the area, it’s no surprise that a few of them would come together and start a business. For Veterans United Craft Brewery, that business is great beer.
Veterans United may be new to the craft beer scene since its founding in 2013, but it has grown quickly. Two of the operation’s most popular beers, HopBanshee India Pale Ale and Raging Blonde Ale, can already be found in cans around Florida. That’s impressive for a brewery that started with a bucket.
“This is how I got started with beer,” said Ron Gamble, founder and brewmaster at Veterans United. He pointed to a beer bucket on a table in the corner of the brewery. It’s the first thing people see when taking the tour. Gamble’s wife gave him the bucket as a gift and he’s been brewing ever since. Gamble, a former naval flight officer, turned his passion into a business and opened Veterans United Craft Brewery.
“It’s all about service to me,” said Gamble. “We serve. We gave, And we continue to give in how we can.”
Inside the taproom, the staff is friendly, the patrons are happy and the beer is flowing. It’s a warm environment, considering it’s been carved out of a warehouse. The floor is raw concrete, the tables were built by Gamble himself and on the walls hang art crafted by local artists. It’s a place I could imagine meeting my fellow veterans and feeling at home with good company and music.
“This is the hospitality room,” said Gamble. “It’s a place to meet one-on-one to see the people and meet the staff, but the future is what goes out back the door. This is a brewery first.”
Between the fermentation tanks, coolers and kegs, Gamble was excited to show off the entire brewery. On the nearby canning line, cans waiting to be filled stand in line like soldiers in formation. It’s an orderly operation executed with military precision, but one steeped in passion.
“We focus on making great beer,” said Gamble. “Beer is a beverage for all.”
And Veterans United does make a great beer. A personal favorite is the Buzzin’ Bee Honey Rye Wheat, an unfiltered wheat ale made with local Florida honey. The light sweetness of the honey balances out the unfiltered beer. The beer has helped Veterans United make a name for itself, and it’s even attracted a celebrity.
Chef Emeril Lagasse sat down with Gamble during a visit to the brewery for an episode of Emeril’s Florida.
During my visit, when we sat down in the taproom, Gamble and I began reminiscing about our military experiences, as veterans often do. The “war stories” poured out of me as Ron and I sat over a beer discussing the origins of Veterans United, and I realized it was because of the bond we shared – having both served.
“So much of the military has been a pivotal influence in my life,” Gamble said. “My life has centered around my military experience.”
I raised a mug to Gamble and he smiled back.
“Veterans United,” said Gamble. “We’re always working together.”
The military is such a big part of Jacksonville’s history that a memorial was built to honor those who served.
Standing the shadow of TIAA Field, where the Jacksonville Jaguars play, sits a solemn reminder of sacrifices made. The Duval County Veterans Memorial Wall is dedicated to those who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice for their county. Despite its location in the shadow of the mammoth sports venue, it offers a place for quiet reflection. There are many names on the black granite walls, which seem to glow in the warm Florida sunshine, too many names to count. It’s difficult to fathom that so many names can come from just one Florida county.
On the day I visited, a man and his wife quietly sat in front of the wall. The man, a veteran, wore a vest with a large POW-MIA patch on the back. I wondered why he was there, if he perhaps knew someone on that wall. We all come to the wall for our own reasons - as a way to remember and honor those who didn’t come back from war. We never forget.
For many veterans, the men and women that they served with was more important than the mission. When you finally get together, there is laughter and reflection, remembering times that you can only talk about over a cold beer. It’s about the person next to you. So, let’s all raise a glass. Here’s one for the brothers and sisters.
When You Go:
What: Veterans United Craft Brewery
Where: 8999 Western Way #104, Jacksonville 32256
What: Duval County Veterans Memorial Wall
Where: 1145 East Adams Street, Jacksonville 32202
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