Dressed in a shirt drenched in sweat and splattered with beer, Neal Mackowiak smiled at sunburned festival-goers who stopped by his pop-up tent. He poured his Habanero pepper-flavored beer into their 4-ounce glasses.
Mackowiak, head brewer at Gainesville’s Alligator Brewing Co., was one of 38 brewers from around the state and country who served crafted ales, stouts and lagers to young and old beer enthusiasts Saturday afternoon at the inaugural Hogtown Craft Beer Festival at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.
“I like brewing the weird stuff,” Mackowiak said of the Habanero beer. “That’s what craft beer is all about — being creative and being weird.”
About 1,500 people drank light and heavy beers infused with ingredients such as hibiscus flowers, pecans, coffee beans and blueberries.
The festival was organized by Hogtown Brewers, a nonprofit homebrewing club made up of about 150 local beer-brewing hobbyists.
The club hopes to make the festival an annual, nationally recognized event. Next year, it wants to open the festival to 1,000 more people, said Mark Tumarkin, an organizer of the event.
Each brewery set up its coolers and kegs underneath tents in a grassy clearing at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. About 40 white-topped tents bordered clusters of people. Some stood in line for samples while others conversed in circles.
Most clutched 4-ounce glasses that they used to sample endless concoctions.
A majority of the breweries were microbreweries, breweries that produce only enough to sell their beer nearby. However, big names like Sierra Nevada, Magners Cider and Samuel Adams served, too.
Those who attended were excited to try something other than the traditional college bar beers.
“I’ve learned that you can pretty much make beer out of anything,” said Brent Powell, a 23-year-old UF graduate student.
The festival wasn’t made to be a “drunkfest,” said Craig Birkmaier, an organizer of the event. Instead, it was the brainchild of people who appreciate the taste of beer and its various flavors.
“We’ve been raised to think — and mass markets have made us think — that beer is just this yellow, fizzy, light stuff,” Birkmaier said. “We want people to understand that it should have flavor, and it should be savored.”
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Neal Mackowiak, brewer at Alligator Brewing Co., serves samples at the Hogtown Craft Beer Festival on Saturday.