The 120-year-old building sitting near a busy thoroughfare in the small town of Campbellton, Florida, had been boarded up for more than 50 years. Having recently moved back to his hometown, Brian Walker was brainstorming with family members about new endeavors and how they might put that property to use.
In that conversation, Southern Fields Brewing was conceived.
After graduating in Marianna, Brian attended Florida State University and then moved to New York City. During the 11 years he worked in the hospitality industry there, the craft beer movement gained momentum.
“It was just starting to get really big on the East Coast,” Brian says. “I managed a few craft beer bars, and I also volunteered and worked down at Chelsea Brewery in Manhattan, so I just got to know the craft beer scene and just really fell in love with it—the way it brought people together from all walks of life, and how you could go into any different spot and find variety. It just wasn’t the same thing we’re all used to seeing lining the grocery store shelves.”
Now back home and working a sales job, Brian says he was looking to do something a little different when he hit on the idea of turning the family property into a craft brewery.
The result is an establishment that pays homage to the past, while also being a go-to spot for the trendy craft beer crowd and young families.
Southern Fields makes handcrafted beers using as many local ingredients as possible, serving it in the old building passed down through Brian’s mother’s family.
“It was the Central State Bank,” Brian says. “It opened right around 1900 and made it until 1929, until the Depression. In 1931, our cousin, William “Pat” Gilbert, bought the building. He had a hardware store, and he moved his store into that bank location. He had that until 1953, when he passed away. After that, the building sat vacant until we got in there. It was only used for hay storage, so it was a barn.”
From February 2019 until March 2020, Brian and his father, James, transformed the brick building. They harvested and milled wood fallen by Hurricane Michael in 2018 and reclaimed wood from the building’s loft for the tasting room tables.
They created an outdoor courtyard that is both a performance venue and an open-air game room. It has become a gathering place in the little town.
“We got in there and got to work and brought it back to life,” Brian says.
He credits the support of his family, particularly his parents.
“They have a house close by to the brewery, so they’re always in and out,” Brian says. “They’ve helped so much. My dad, if we were to name one person who actually rebuilt the place, it’s him. It’s got his stamp all over it. It’s been a family affair from the very beginning.”
After setbacks from two mandated closings in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Fields opened last fall and has been “cruising right along,” Brian says.
Many of the beers are named to celebrate local natural areas: Old Spanish Trail, High Cotton, Blue Springs, Beach Bound and Chipola River.
“Everything we do, we try to name after things here in our area,” Brian says. “Local waterways or agriculture because that’s the other big influence for us in these parts. We try to celebrate the area, particularly thinking about what style we want to do that will reflect the name.”
Some seasonal beers include local products harvested in the area, such as blueberries and popular Tupelo Honey. Recipes are created by head brewer and longtime friend Brantley Cook.
“He grew up in Marianna,” Brian says. “He and I played Little League together. We reconnected after 20 some odd years. He heard I was thinking of doing the brewery, and I remembered that he homebrewed. I went over to his place and tried some beers. After I got through about the third one, I knew that I needed to ask this guy to be the man.
“I was really worried about having to relocate someone from Nashville, Orlando or a big town where they’ve worked somewhere. But it just so happened, somebody who was really good at it lived right here.”
Open Thursdays through Sundays, the brewery has live music and a variety of food trucks. Pets and children are welcome. It’s the family atmosphere as well as the beer that draws a diverse crowd.
“People travel for craft beer,” Brian says. “Every weekend we talk to people and ask, ‘Where are you from?’ We’ll get them from Crestview, all the way over to Madison, to the lower and middle part of Alabama. They’ve specifically traveled to check out the brewery. Craft beer has got a lot of fans, and they’re very devoted. They always want to try the new thing and the next thing.”
Southern Fields is happy to serve as an ambassador for Campbellton. Brian worked with the Tourist Development Council to create a mural welcoming folks to town.
The building sits on one of the heaviest trafficked highways coming into the state. The mural—what Brian describes as “a love letter to Jackson County and our area”—was painted on the backside, thanks to a grant from the tourist council.
“The ability to restore the building back to its original shape and not tear it down has been really important in people’s minds and hearts,” Brian says. “We get a lot of people who’ve lived in the area for years, all their lives. They walk in and wander because they’ve always wondered what this building looked like because it had boards on it for half a century.”
Southern Fields tries to support local businesses and agencies. Spent grain—a byproduct of the brewing process—is donated to local farmers to feed livestock. Brian also partnered with a local fire department, developing a beer to raise funds for needed equipment. More fundraisers for other causes are in the works.
“Working hand in hand with the community is important,” Brian says. “That’s what it’s all about.”