Whether you are a beer aficionado, occasionally indulge your inner Sam Adams or just want an excuse to booze, American Craft Beer Week kicked off Monday to celebrate the masterful hop-barley-yeast concoction — aka fun in a bottle.
The celebratory week was started to help craft brewers connect to fans and to educate patrons on the art of brew.
“It’s an opportunity for brewers around the country to get people focused on what we’re doing,” Swamp Head Brewery brewer Craig Birkmaier said.
Beer has come a long way from being just something to chug at a frat party or NASCAR race, to a multitude of foreign and local artisan ingredients strategically brewed for a variety of tastes, colors and styles.
Like fine wines, microbrews have flavor, smell and texture characteristics that are distinguishable and unique. Depending on a person’s palate, many desirable traits can be detected — bitter, hoppy, smooth, floral, sour, malty, full-bodied, smoky or even spicy.
Swamp Head Brewery, 3140 SW 42nd way, and a few beer bars around Gainesville planned to celebrate American Craft Beer Week.
Wednesday, Swamp Head held the People’s Choice Brew Day, where it solicited requests of different types of beer from fans via social media, and demonstrated beer brewing on a small pilot system based off of the best recipes it received.
Friday they will hold a pub crawl where the crew will visit many different bars in downtown Gainesville, offer discounts and give out free merchandise. Starting at 8 p.m., it will visit The Midnight, Palomino, Stubbie’s, House of Beer, The Bull, Tall Paul’s and Loosey’s.
Tall Paul’s Brew House, which brews in-house under the name Alligator Brewing Company, will feature 10 different microbrews on tap during the full course of the week, according to head brewer Neal Mackowiak.
“It’s been something we’ve been building up for — it’s the responsibility of craft-beer bars to educate people,” Mackowiak said.
Stubbie’s is offering weeklong specials, including $1 off all American crafts on tap, select $3-craft bottles and $2 off Swamp Head pints on Friday, manager Peter Burke said.
Alcove and The Top will feature beers from local breweries, such as Tampa brewery Cigar City Brewing. The Top was renovated in March to expand its micro draft beer capability threefold, from 12 to 36 taps.
As a town that loves its local products, it’s no wonder Gainesville’s first microbrewery, Swamp Head, has experienced tremendous success, evident by its presence and demand in many bars and restaurants in Gainesville.
“Our experience has been phenomenal because of people going out and asking for the product,” Birkmaier said.
Founded in 2008 by UF grad Luke Kemper, Swamp Head is looking to expand its 10-barrel brew system.
“We are starting to look for a 30-barrel brew house,” Birkmaier explained.
This would allow Swamp Head to triple its production to more than 300 barrels per week and distribute to a wider audience. Birkmaier said they would have to move to a larger space and already have their eye on a few new locations. Birkmaier said the move will not affect production and it will continue brewing at the old location until things are up and running.
“People are now willing to spend a little more money for a local, higher quality product,” Birkmaier said. Swamp Head, and most craft beers cost around $5 for a pint and range from about 5-to-10 percent alcohol.
Gainesville’s support of moving away from generic beer to local artisan crafts is also evident by downtown beer bars that seem to multiply.
“Gainesville now has the most concentrated beer scene in Florida – it’s something to be proud of,” Alcove Owner Evan Yavelberg said.
While a few staple bars such as Stubbies & Steins, The Top and Alcove have offered craft selection for years, newer bars such as Tall Paul’s Brew House, House of Beer, The Bull, Loosey’s and The Midnight have sprouted up to accommodate craft beer demand.
“The reason I chose Gainesville as a place to open the bar was because of the demand — it was an open market,” Paul Evans, the 6-foot-7-inch owner of Tall Paul’s Brew House, said.
Florida was relatively late to the craft-beer trend, with major microbreweries emerging only in the last few years. Pioneer states such as California and Colorado saw craft breweries begin brewing in the late 1990s.
“We were late to the party, but things are starting to evolve,” Birkmaier added. “Microbrewing is starting to take off — a lot of that has to do with tasting rooms.”
Tasting rooms are small bars attached to the breweries that allow beer drinkers to visit the brewery while tasting permanent and experimental beers. This allows fans to connect with local breweries, it also allows the brewery to recirculate profits directly back into its brewery, instead of the usual three-tiered profit system where beer goes from the brewery to the distribution company to the bar or restaurant where it is served.
Some bars expressed concerns over this week falling during a time when school is on break and beer-loving students and faculty may be out of town.
“We’re in between two semesters, so it will be interesting to see how many people respond to this,” Mackowiak said.
The art of making beer has surpassed simply going to beer bars, and some take matters into their own hands and experiment with home brewing.
“The Hogtown Brewers are very strong as well — we have a very educated public,” Burke said.
The homebrew club, which has been around since 1985, provides monthly education and social outings for homebrewers in Gainesville. The club also put on a craft beer festival in April, where it had beer sampling, beer and food pairing, homebrew demonstrations and educational seminars.
Homebodies looking to indulge can find large beer selections at beer stores Tipple’s Brews, Gator Beverage and Ward’s Supermarket.