Owner of Swamp Head Brewery
(Editor’s Note: This is part of a series in which we scoured the country to find 30 innovative brewers and beer professionals under 30 years old, each of whom hopes to further the scope and breadth of the American craft beer scene.)
Luke Kemper, 30
All About Beer: Tell us about your brewery.
Luke Kemper: Swamp Head brewery is the first and only microbrewery in Gainesville. Our slogan is “inherently Floridian” and we try to use local ingredients and brew beers that are balanced and approachable for this hot humid weather. I started Swamp Head in 2008 when I moved back to my hometown of Gainesville. I went to school out in Boulder for a couple of years and that is where my love of craft beer began. I now have three brewers and a total of 10 employees. We are mostly draft with only a couple of bottle releases to date, however that will be changing as we got a Meheen for 750 mL bottles. We have a tasting room and like everyone who is making good beer, business is booming. … We expect to brew around 3,600 barrels in 2012.
How did you first get into brewing?
I got into brewing beer when I purchased the system from Spanish Springs and helped my head brewer brew the first batch of beer. … My first brewing experience was on a 10 barrel system and we brewed 5 barrels of our honey cream ale Wild Night, which features tupelo honey from the panhandle of Florida.
What’s your favorite beer style?
That is a tough one as being down here in Florida it is hot and humid and the season really plays into my choices. Part of being in the craft industry is that I like a wide variety of styles, but if I had to pin one down I guess I would say that sours, especially since we don’t do very much with them yet due to possible contamination.
Do you have a mentor in the brewing world?
I haven’t actually gotten to speak to the brewery owners, but New Glarus is a very good example of what I would like to do in Florida. Those guys have really nailed Wisconsin selling 100,000 barrels in one state. That is impressive to me.
What inspires you when you’re brewing?
Being part of something that people are excited about. We don’t have to sell beer. We just try to keep up and brew beer that is of the highest quality. Seeing how my hometown has embraced Swamp Head is still surreal to me. Never could I have ever imagined that people would be talking about us like they are and it is just an awesome experience.
What do you attribute to your success?
Great beer is obviously number one, and then running a business that is ethical. Seems like it is a no-brainer, but if you treat people fairly and try to do the right thing, people notice. Also, by surrounding myself with employees who are 100 percent behind what we do makes it that much easier.
What do you think drives the popularity of craft beer?
People like good beer once they find a style that they like. There is also a major shift in American thinking and supporting more local and independent business knowing that they are helping out their local communities. Along with the more local support comes the more green issue. A lot of breweries care about the environment and want to be leavers instead of takers.
In general, how do you think the next generation of brewers will shake up the craft beer world?
It is already happening with extremes being pushed and brewing beers that don’t conform to any style whatsoever. People want to have fun with making beer and as the movement grows you will see the shift from domestic to craft. There is also going to be some kickback as every Tom, Dick and Harry have jumped into the brewing world and not everyone is going to be making great beer and at some point they will go out of business.
In particular, how will you contribute to that shake up?
We will be educating Floridians and expanding their taste buds to new and delicious beers. Also, the established quality breweries will need to keep expanding to satisfy demand. Also, here in Florida, we hope to keep the friendly vibe that is craft beer alive. As the market matures people will ultimately start viewing one another as competition.
Last one: Cascadian dark ale or black IPA?
I guess I would go with Cascadian dark ale as most of them taste totally different than an IPA with all the roasted bitterness.
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