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15 years of beer: Swamp Head Brewery celebrates its 15-year anniversary with Swamp Fest 2023

Luke Kemper, owner of Swamp Head Brewery, reflects recently on the upcoming 15-year anniversary of his brewery. He is excited to celebrate with the local Gainesville community. (Miguel Molina/WUFT News)
Luke Kemper, owner of Swamp Head Brewery, reflects recently on the upcoming 15-year anniversary of his brewery. He is excited to celebrate with the local Gainesville community. (Miguel Molina/WUFT News)

Luke Kemper says that even after 15 years, the goal is to always make awesome beer.

“Work hard, play hard, make something you’re proud of,” Kemper said. “Make something that people are excited to be part of.”

Swamp Head Brewery is putting on its annual event called Swamp Fest to celebrate 15 years of business on Feb. 18 from noon to midnight. The celebration will feature live music, drinks and food.

Kemper, the owner of Swamp Head Brewery, reflects on the history of the brewery before the festivities begin.

He said he got the idea to open a brewery during his time outside of Florida. While attending school in Boulder, Colorado, Kemper saw the impact that local breweries had on communities and wanted to bring that back to Gainesville.

However, it was not as simple as it looked.

Because there were only a few breweries in Florida at the time, he said it was challenging to find information about how to legally and properly start one of his own. Additionally, he said the city of Gainesville did not know what opening a brewery meant. After several frustrating meetings with both the city and the state, Swamp Head Brewery was finally able to open its doors in 2008.

“It was just a lot of banging my head against the wall trying to get the whole thing actually off the ground,” Kemper said.

But after its rough start, the brewery began to grow. Swamp Head moved out of its original location into a larger facility, which it still uses. The brewery would begin to get recognized for its work with awards and accolades from beer competitions, including the World Beer Cup.

He said one thing that's changed in the past 15 years at Swamp Head is the number of drinks it can carry. When the brewery first opened, it only had 10 beer beverages that customers could select from. Today, Swamp Head offers 25 different drinks and often cycles through its menu for seasonal options.

He said the number of customers in the area has significantly increased since 2008. But more customers have also come with more competition.

“When you were the only game in town, as long as you're open, people were showing up,” he said. “Now you got to kind of do more to be exciting and to get people excited about what you're doing.”

Although there have been several changes in the past 15 years, he said the one thing that remains the same is the company's goal: to make awesome beer the ethical way. Kemper said he wants people to see Swamp Head as not only a brewery that provides great customer service but as a facility that cares about the environment and local community.

When it comes to the festival itself, Molly Eveleth said there are a couple of new changes for this year’s event.

Eveleth, the marketing manager for Swamp Head Brewery, said there will be three food vendors this year instead of two in previous years. This year’s festival will have music performances all day, which is something that the brewery has never done before.

There will be an outside bar set up for the event that will serve four festival-exclusive brews. Although the names of the drinks have not been announced yet, Eveleth said the beverages have been made by four former members of Swamp Head to show 15 years of history through taste.

The annual “Swamp Fest Lager” will be making a return. There will be red and white wine for those who do not drink beer. And there will be gluten-free and non-alcoholic beverages available.

The festival will have Swamp Fest shirts available for purchase. In terms of giveaways, Eveleth said the first 100 people, over the age of 21, who come to the event will receive a commemorative koozie.

At past festivals, the brewery has had between 1,000 to slightly more than 2,000 people. This year, Eveleth said she expects there to be more people because the company has more fans and it is the 15-year anniversary celebration.

Although parking is free, space is limited in the brewery’s parking lot. That being said, Eveleth suggests people carpool or ride share to the event.

Due to the expected increase in capacity, an array of tables and seats will be available. As well, several tents will be propped up to provide shade.

Berkeley Hoflund, the owner of Stubbies Pop-Up Sausages, said she is excited to celebrate 15 years with Swamp Head.

Stubbies serves gourmet European sausages and will be one of the food vendors at this year’s festival. A spring seasonal sausage, vegan sausage and pretzel bites are some of the things that will be available.

She said her relationship with the brewery started years ago. Before she got the sausage cart in 2016, she had a craft and import beer pub called Stubbies & Steins. The pub would buy Swamp Head craft beer kegs to serve to its guests and would also use the beverages for making beer cheese.

She said she decided to get involved with Swamp Fest this year because she loves the staff and wants to celebrate with the brewery.

“I mean it's Swamp Head,” she said. “So how could you not wanna be involved here?”

Lionel Jr. will be one of several artists in the Swamp Fest music lineup this year.

He said he mainly plays country music now but also does a variety of music from soul to jazz music.

Lionel Jr. said he performs in the Gainesville area at least four times a week. He often plays in bars, restaurants, private events and any other places that have drinks.

He said one of the biggest reasons he decided to do the festival was because of how the brewery treats musicians. He said Swamp Head is a big supporter of live music and has made him feel that the work he does as a performer is important.

“Even though Gainesville is a big music town, not a lot of venues tie how important they can make you feel as a musician,” Lionel Jr. said. “Swamp Head does that.”

Jeff Kanipe is a regular who has been going to Swamp Head since it opened its doors.

He said he keeps coming back after all these years because the new venue is attractive, the beer is good and he enjoys the events.

“There's just lots of things going on that help keep you coming,” Kanipe said.

He said that he is going to check his schedule and do his best to make it to this year’s festival.

Miguel is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.