I’ve been here before. The first time I visited though, it was more of a vision: a big brewhouse here, a bottling line there, a tasting room too. That vision has morphed and changed a bit over the years – and mind you it has almost been two years since I first met Kent Bailey. Since then they have started brewing and distributing their beers and have maintained a temporary tasting room – but the biggest part of the vision remains incomplete. Once that vision becomes reality, Coppertail will be the destination that Bailey has all along planned.
It’s not hard to see how Coppertail is different than other Tampa Bay breweries. For one, it’s not located in a strip mall or industrial park. It’s an enormous ex-mayonnaise factory with the remnants of a rail spur running through it. Also its brewing and fermenting capacity is just … massive. I’m not going to repeat numbers here, but their purpose built system is massive, automated, and so full of stainless-steel that grown men have wept in its presence. It’s also all built in such a way that what happens here is kind of a spectacle.
It’s a sort of a temple to brewing. The two-story tasting room wraps gently around the brewery and bottling line. There’s a balcony which is planned to actually open into the brewery – letting the sounds and smells gently waft into the tasting room – and countless windows looking out on rows of fermenters, hop infusers, a bottling line, and of course the unstoppable ballet of kegs moving about.
The second time I visited in May 2014, nearly a year after they took over the building, they still hadn’t brewed their first full batch on the new system. The tasting room was still a parking lot. The temporary tasting room hadn’t even opened yet. The beer was still a relative unknown outside of beer-geek circles. But the vision was still there. And so was Kent, shepherding it all through the legal and regulatory hoops required to open a brewery.
He stood right in front of that window and cast his vision for a tasting room that people would come from far and wide to visit. “They’ll come to Tampa to try Cigar City, then they’ll hear about us and maybe come see us.” Kent’s so modest.
The tasting room’s warm and welcoming finishes stand in stark contrast to the brewery’s polished steel and machinery. Coated in rustic charm, the tasting room will welcome visitors with hand stained wood floors, polished concrete, rustic wood bars, exposed steel beams, and of course those windows. Natural light will pour through those outdoor windows and into the tasting room. Patrons will gaze through the interior windows as Coppertailers whip up new brews.
Coppertail’s opening comes about in a time when the State of Florida is actively reexamining the laws which make this precise combination possible. Organizations seeking to “clarify” the tasting room rules have sued the state of Florida’s licensing division, requesting clarification on the rules used to grant licenses to breweries with attached tasting rooms. It’s a risk for new breweries – Coppertail already has its licensing and is brewing beer. None of this would have existed if the situation was like that of our neighbor, Georgia who prevents breweries from having such elaborate tasting rooms. I can’t help but wonder what other destinations would be stymied if things changed in Florida.
Coppertail’s tasting room will open on March 6, 2015. That’s my prediction at least (I have it on good authority), and who knows how right I’ll be since I’m pretty sure this is the second March 6th in as many years that they’ve planned to be open. But destinations take time to build.