Local brewery owner Luke Kemper has a lot bottled up — one thing being patience. That’s what it’s taken the owner of Swamp Head Brewery, 3140 SW 42nd Way, to start growing his 1-year-old business.
In an exclusive interview with the Avenue, Kemper reflects on the business’ success and explains all that it takes to get the juices flowing when trying to expand. Suffice to say, he’s got a few tasty surprises in store for local beer lovers, including new bottled beer and a new tap room.
Avenue: Let’s cut right to the chase. What’s new on tap?
Kemper: Hoggetowne Irish Red is a new one we made for this year’s Hoggetowne Medieval Faire. We’re sending a couple of kegs out around town this week, and after that it will be on tap at the fair, along with four beers from our main lineup.
(Kemper hands me some to try.)
Avenue: It’s good. Very easy to drink. Is there anything else going on in R&D around here?
Kemper: We’re always tweaking our main lineup, and lately we’ve been trying to pull a little more hop character out of Big Nose, our [India Pale Ale].
We also have a new cascadian ale that wound up a little darker than the amber we were shooting for, so its color is a little reminiscent of swamp water. Once we start bottling, we have a farmhouse ale ready to brew, Saison du Swamp.
Avenue: Bottling? It’s about time.
Kemper: We’re looking at the end of February for that, but there’s a lot of red tape to start selling bottles.
Avenue: The tap room looks great. When does it open for business?
Kemper: Soon. We’re just about ready to go on our end, but again, there’s miles of red tape. The state allows a beer producer to sell on premises as long as it promotes state and local tourism.
I don’t think there’s really any question as to whether or not a brewery promotes tourism, it’s just a matter of convincing the right people in the government.
Avenue: Paperwork and red tape. That sounds like the hardest part of this job.
Kemper: It’s certainly the most frustrating. All the rules and regulations are ambiguous enough that you need clarification, and everyone tells you something different when you ask. I talked to one person and got the green light to open the tap room, and a week later they told me the opposite, and so on. Currently, the answer is yes — knock on wood.
Avenue: Bureaucracy aside, has business been good in your first year?
Kemper: Absolutely. From the beginning we’ve only been growing. Even now, we’re getting new accounts every week both in Gainesville and around north Florida. It’s all we can do to keep up with everything.
Avenue: Any plans for expansion outside the region?
Kemper: We don’t want to expand until we’re sure that we can keep everyone at home totally happy. There’s more work to do right here in north Florida before we set our sights beyond that.
Avenue: You won’t be stepping on anyone’s toes if you branch out beyond your home state? Other regional breweries, maybe?
Kemper: I heard someone say, “A rising tide floats all boats.” We’re not competing with other craft brewers as much as trying to get everyone to drink better beer. Craft beer is only something like 4 percent of the U.S. beer market. If, collectively, we bump that up to 5 percent, that’s a 25-percent increase for everyone. In a way we’re competitors, but at the end of the day we’re all on the same team.