Two local breweries spill the process behind their beer

With major breweries located within its borders, Gainesville is no amateur to the craft beer industry. Swamp Head Brewery, at 3650 SW 42nd Ave, and First Magnitude Brewing Company, at 1220 SE Veitch St, have become increasingly popular spots in the community and draw in regular crowds of locals and college students. While both sites offer brewery tours, many patrons bypass the narratives and behind-the-scenes processes that help to bring their beer purchases to fruition. The process of turning the individual ingredients – mainly grains, hops, yeast and water – into a crisp brew, however, is surprisingly refreshing in and of itself.  

Swamp Head, which was founded in 2008 and began selling beer in late 2009, asserts itself as being “inherently Floridian” and is only available in the state. In its first year, the company brewed 700 barrels, approximately 21,700 gallons, and has grown steadily since. Last year, Swamp Head brewed around 8,000 barrels and currently has 28 taps in its tasting room.

We want to be that brewery that supports Florida and stays in Florida,” said Brandon Nappy, the tactical marketing director at Swamp Head. “We want to be that brewery where when people come to Florida they want try Swamp Head beer because they can only get it here.”

The company has a strong commitment to sustainability and the local environment and was the first brewery in Florida to use solar.

“We try to align with local organizations and charities that work for things that we feel are important, whether it be trees or Florida’s waterways or the springs and rivers,” Nappy said. “We feel very strongly about conservation, and we put a large amount of our efforts not only into making world-class beer but into going forward with those efforts.”

While the hops and grains used mainly come from the Pacific Northwest, the company does acquire local ingredients whenever it can, such as Florida honey. While most Swamp Head beers only have grain, hops, yeast and water as ingredients, those with additional ingredients have the information displayed on the label.

Swamp Head begins making the beer by milling the grain and running it through a process with hot water to extract the grain’s sugars. During the brewing process, hops are added and the mixture, called a wort, is brought to a boil and then moved to a fermenter. The yeast is introduced in the fermenter and eats the sugars to make the beer.

“The saying in the industry is that the brewers make the wort, and the yeast makes the beer,” Nappy said.

The beer stays in the fermenter for about three weeks and is then carbonated and either canned, kegged or bottled.

Being in Florida, breweries have to adhere to the three-tier system, which means they legally have to sell their beer to a distributor. Swamp Head has six who strategically distribute the product around the state to bars, restaurants and grocery stores.

“We’ve been extremely lucky over the last nine years that most places in Gainesville, if they do have craft beer on tap, probably have Swamp Head beer,” Nappy said. “We’ve been very lucky in that we’ve had a really good response to our product in our local market.”

Beer connoisseurs can look forward to the re-release of 10-10-10, one of Swamp Head’s most popular beers, this May.

Like Swamp Head, First Magnitude, which began in 2012, also believes in making high-quality craft beer while driving attention to the environment. The name of the brewery itself refers to the first-magnitude springs within the state, and many of their beers are named in reference to their traits. For example, First Magnitude’s popular 72 Pale Ale alludes to the temperature of the first-magnitude springs.

We hope people wonder and ask about the story of the name because that draws attention to our great environment here in North Central Florida,” said John Denny, the head brewer at First Magnitude. “When people think of Florida, they automatically think of beaches, but the springs are not as obvious. We want to help call attention to them because they are very important resources worth protecting.”

The company also tries to use local ingredients when it can and works with Forage Farm here in Gainesville, which provides fruit and herbs for some of the beers. The hops and malt used primarily come from other regions, although the company released an exception to this in April with the Apopka Hop Pale Ale. The beer is the first of its kind and made with only Florida-grown hops.

First Magnitude’s tap room has 19 beer taps as well as one cider, and all of their beers are brewed here in Florida.

While the brewing process is relatively the same as Swamp Head’s, Denny made note of some of the quality tests conducted to ensure a fine batch.

“In the time in which the beer is fermenting, we’re taking samples, and we’re checking every day,” Denny said. “We’re noting the progress of the yeast by checking the specific gravity of the fermenting beer at that point, and we’re also checking pH and tasting the beer. So, we have a couple of objective data points as well as subjective data points.”

  After the beer is made, the company works with five different distributors within the state to get it out to various retailers. It also offers the beer at its location.

“We’re forever looking at how to do things more efficiently while maintaining a really high-quality standard,” Denny said. “The best part of it is when the day is done, and I can walk out to the beer garden and see a bunch of people enjoying First Magnitude beers and enjoying each other’s company. It’s tough to beat that feeling.”


By Haley Clement

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