Getting Crafty: Exploring Gainesville’s Craft Beer Scene

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By Colleen McTiernan | Photo by Mackenzie Bowlin for Swamp Head Brewery

There is nothing quite like ending a long day of work with good company, pleasant conversation and a nice cold beer. And with the recent surge in local craft breweries, Gainesville residents now have a lot of choices when it comes to their suds. But if Bud is the king of beer, why have craft breweries (small, independent breweries) flourished, not only in Gainesville, but also around the country? With over 5,200 craft breweries open across the U.S. according to the Brewers Association, there must be some drive that is pushing consumers to craft beer. Although quality may play a big factor in this trend, there is something more to the craft community that has beer lovers making the switch to local brews.

Why craft brewing?

Just about every brewery in town, from Swamp Head Brewery, which now distributes across the entire state of Florida, to Cypress & Grove Brewing, the newest to open in Gainesville, have roots in home or amateur brewing. Chris Hart, of Blackadder Brewing worked at Hoggetowne Ale Works for seven years and homebrewed consistently for several years prior to that before opening Blackadder and Patrick Burger of Cypress & Grove brewed at home for 25 years before deciding to take his brews to a larger scale. By brewing small batches of beer out of their homes and allowing friends and family members to taste them, our local brewers were able to experiment with their recipes for years before bringing them to the community, resulting in different flavors and fresher tastes.

Craft brewing allows for a level of experimentation that brewing at a large-scale corporate brewery, like Anheuser-Busch InBev, does not. For instance, both First Magnitude Brewing and Swamp Head add new flavors to some of their regular beers, like Mole Drift and Cranberry Beet Wild Night. And Blackadder prides themselves on their assortment of out of the ordinary beers, like The Pink Rider, a saison made with hibiscus and pink peppercorns. “The quality of craft beer just generally far exceeds the macro beers that are out there,” Ben Guzman, event coordinator at First Magnitude Brewing, said. People are looking for bigger, bolder flavors, and they can usually find them at craft breweries.

And of course, the local aspect has also intrigued beer drinkers. “People are paying more attention today than they ever have about where their food, or their beer or their products are made,” Brandon Nappy, tactical marketing director of Swamp Head, said. “They’re paying more attention to the quality of what they are eating and drinking.” Juan Pablo Lopez, a self-professed beer lover, said that he really appreciates being able to get beer from our local breweries. “Not only do they make great beer, but the atmosphere is very welcoming and they’re always coming out with fun flavors you won’t find anywhere else.”

Finding a sense of community

The community aspect is hugely important to the breweries in town. There is no over-the bar TV at Blackadder so that their bartenders can really talk to and get to know the people. “The taproom, the tasting room is a really important part of interacting with the community and getting people to recognize and understand what you’re doing,” said Hart.

Cypress & Grove has also positively impacted the community by revitalizing the old Gainesville Ice House, which was built in 1903. Burger said that many people have told him about their memories of the ice house, including one woman who remembers frequenting the ice house in the summer to cool down. “It’s neat that it has that history and we hope to bring that back to the community as this being a center or location where people come and hang out,” said Burger.

Aside from truly becoming apart of the Gainesville community, the breweries in Gainesville are supportive of one another, even coming together once a year to brainstorm ideas for and brew a beer called It Takes a Village for Gainesville Craft Beer week. When Hart’s grain supply did not come in on time, Nick Dunn, director of operations at Swamp Head Brewery, was kind enough to sell him the grain he needed. And when he first started brewing at Blackadder, John Denny of First Magnitude allowed Hart to wash and sanitize his kegs there when his own keg washer would not work. There is a definitive atmosphere of camaraderie between the breweries. “We share a lot of information,” said Nappy. “We’re friends with all of the local guys, and we talk to them very often.”

Family friendly

Despite primarily selling beer, all of the breweries in town are truly family friendly. First Magnitude, Cypress & Grove and Blackadder all offer house-made sodas and flavored seltzers for non-alcoholic beverage options, and for those of drinking age that are not beer lovers but love the craft brew atmosphere, the breweries often have ciders on tap and some, like Cypress & Grove and First Magnitude, even offer wine. And if your children are of the four-legged variety, you can even bring them along with you to Swamp Head. With food trucks and games that everyone can participate in, our local breweries are not just for the 21+ crowd. “We want to be as much of a community center as possible where everyone feels welcome,” said Guzman.

Giving back

Swamp Head, First Magnitude and Blackadder try to use local ingredients when possible, and Cypress & Grove hopes to use local fruits in future experimental beers. For instance, First Magnitude has used grapefruits and herbs from Forage Farm. “Since we’re a local brewery, we’re serving our local community,” said Guzman. “We’re going to try to make beers with fruits and flavors that people are used to here.” Blackadder has used local chestnuts to make Warm Cockles, a British strong ale. Hart even delivers his grain to a local farmer to feed her chickens and pigs.

First Magnitude and Swamp Head have both experimented with Florida hops, which only a few years ago were not viable due to the weather conditions they need to thrive. However, UF IFAS has worked to make Florida hops a more viable option for local breweries, who have supported this venture by creating their own beers with the hops, including First Magnitude’s Apopka Hop Pale Ale. “We’re in this business in order to support the community, and the patrons who come in here are interested in doing that,” said Guzman. “That’s part of why they spend their money here.”

The local breweries also hold a large number of events to benefit the community. From fundraisers for UF bee research to medical causes, the breweries are focused on giving back. “We try to make sure that we’re working with any and every charity that we possibly can fit in with a huge focus on sustainability and local community,” said Nappy. And as far as sustainability goes, Swamp Head hosts Tree Fest every year to help the Alachua Conservation Trust to reforest parts of Florida with native longleaf pines. First Magnitude has also donated over $13,000 to the Springs Eternal project, and 1 percent of sales from Wakulla Hefeweiszen are donated to other springs initiatives, said Christine Denny, head of the outreach and communications team at First Magnitude. “It’s important to say how much we appreciate the way Gainesville community has brought us into the Gainesville story,” said Denny. “We’re really humbled by it. It means a lot to us.”

The craft beer community, while of course about the innovative and fresh beer, encompasses so much more than the beverage. The craft breweries in Gainesville are truly involved in the community. From providing spaces for families to spend time together, to giving back to local charities, they are truly apart of the Gainesville story.

Staff Picks: Our favorite beers at each brewery!

First Magnitude – Wakulla Hefeweizen

Swamp Head – Wild Night Honey Cream Ale

­Blackadder – Jerkmaker Weizenbock

Cypress & Grove – Wheat

Alligator Brewing Co. – Devil’s Millhopper IPA

A quick guide to beer pairing

IPAs and Pale Ales: Spicy foods

Brown Ales: Cheeseburgers and barbecue

Stouts and Porters: Meaty, savory dishes

Imperial Stouts: Fudge, chocolate cake, bananas foster and other desserts