To round out my recent Florida brewing adventures, I made a return trip to an old friend and one of my favorite breweries, Swamphead. Gainesville’s original brewery, they opened their doors in 2008 in a small industrial complex on the edge of town. Less than 10 years later they expanded to a gorgeous, environmentally friendly, and much larger facility that was conveniently less than half a mile from my house back when I lived in town. A frequent Friday night haunt for me through grad school, I have missed Swamphead and relished the opportunity to stop in. Grab your beers, watch out for gators, and take a seat as I step down memory lane and review a place that, as their creators say, is inherently Floridian.
- Beer – Full disclosure, their oatmeal coffee stout is one of my all-time favorite beers. The love I have for their brews does not stop their either. With an incredible selection of year-round, seasonal, and limited release beers with an impressive amount of variety, I guarantee you will find something you enjoy here. The flavors are nuanced and they utilize a wide variety of ingredients, often in unique ways, underlying the skill their brew masters possess. I think highly of their beers and would recommend taking a growler or some cans home with you after your visit. Score: 4.5/5
- Brewery – Hands down one of the most gorgeous tap rooms I have ever been in, with a focus on being ecofriendly to boot. The tap room is dominated by a large bar with a lovely reclaimed Florida hardwood surface that gleams under the Florida sun that pours in. This matches the tables scattered around the room and a few accent areas of wood on the walls. An entire wall of windows that face a small pond and the friendly neighborhood alligator let in plenty of natural light and limit the need for additional lighting during the day. Step through the door next to the bar and you enter the brew floor, where you can sip your beer and play giant Jenga or giant connect four under the watchful eye of the looming kettles and fermentation vats. Step outside in to the humid Florida evening and you can enjoy the reprieve from the hot sun around numerous picnic tables and lush grass near the pond. While they do not have a kitchen on site, a rotating stable of food trucks are available, providing food every night they are open (Tuesday through Sunday). The prices are pretty standard for a craft beer joint, with a pint of their year-round at $5 and some of the seasonals as high as $7. Many of their beers are available to buy in cans or take home in growlers, which I highly recommend doing. Of note is Swamphead’s emphasis on sustainability and carbon neutrality, underscored by solar panels that power much of the brewery and the numerous conservation events and groups they support. Kudos to being environmentally friendly! Score: 4.5/5
- Ambiance and Entertainment – Aside from the aforementioned giants Jenga and connect four and the scattered lawn games, the thing I remember and enjoyed the most were the Friday nights before a home football game. These events would feature several food trucks, limited release beers, and live music, serving as the pre-tailgate party. On top of that, they also host many charity and fundraising events, raising money for causes such as the local animal shelter and conservation groups. Whatever you are looking for in a brewery, you will probably find it here. It seems that there is almost always something happening at the Wetlands, so be sure to check their schedule whenever you are planning to stop by. Score: 4.5/5
- Location – Located on the south side of town, they can be a little hard to find if you don’t know the area. Tucked in the very back of a commercial complex, surrounded by trees on almost all sides, just follow the steady stream of cars and bikes and you will eventually find the brewery. Plenty of on-site parking for both cars and bicycles make getting there uneventful, and walking is even an option if you live close by as I did. Other entertainment and food options are a short car or bike ride away but let’s be honest, you will not want to leave until they close for the night. Score: 3/5
- Customer Service – One of the most important things to remember about Swamphead is how busy they often are, and there is no table service so all drink orders must be done at the bar. In many places I’ve seen this lead to long lines and poor customer service, which can then feed back to the staff and put them in a bad mood and make things worse. Not Swamphead. I’ve always found the wait time to get a beer or check out is minimal, and the service has been swift. They do a great job ensuring they have enough staff to work the bar and having multiple pour stations for many of the big events. It goes a long way to creating an enjoyable atmosphere that makes you want to keep coming back, and they nail it. Score: 4/5
Total Score: 20.5/25
Favorite Beer: Midnight Oil – 5.0% ABV Oatmeal Coffee Stout
Final Thoughts: Its no secret that Swamphead is one of my favorite breweries and is in the top two of my most frequented tap rooms. Excellent quality and variety of beers in a gorgeous tap room are the reason why, and I encourage everyone who ventures even remotely close to Gainesville make this a must stop on their brewery adventures.