I wasn’t prepared for this. I was expecting two guys in a part of a run-down warehouse, not two guys trying to fill an entire run-down warehouse. Also, I’m nervous. It’s my first interview with an honest to goodness brewery.
I showed up on a lazy Monday afternoon at Coppertail’s new-to-them digs just on the North side of Adamo drive near IKEA. I almost missed the place. Kent’s instructions to “just park on 26th” led me to believe that there would be street parking, or maybe a parking lot. But there wasn’t. Once I hit 2nd avenue, I knew I had missed it. As I reversed back down 26th towards Adamo into one of the half-a-dozen spots in a covered parking area, I saw it: the sign on the door. In letters barely 2 inches tall: “Coppertail Brewing Company”. That is the only small thing in this place.
Robb arrived at the highly secured front door and showed me into the offices, which felt as if they had only been renovated yesterday. In reality it wasn’t yesterday, but a few months ago. Think grey and neutral colors. This doesn’t feel like a brewery. It feels like a tech startup. There’s very little furniture. There are boxes from office supply stores and Grainger on the floor. Plans on conference room tables. On a windowsill in the conference room (they have a massive conference room!) is the only sign of beer: a design comp for a label, and a bottle with said comp realized and printed onto it.
Kent walks in and invites me and Robb to join him for his afternoon beer break. And this is how it begins: insight into the minds of two guys on a mission to put it all on the line and make their living doing what they love. It’s not cliché because it’s real: these guys are doing it. After a few handshakes and introductions, we’re on our way.
The first stop on our tour is the storage facility, which currently houses the keezers keeping the pilot batches and secret ingredients ready for sampling. Kent explains that their first few years in operation will be dedicated to bottling, because it’s the most cost effective way for them to get started. This massive space – probably at least 5,000 square feet, and only a small fraction of the rest of the facility – will hold the bottles, cardboard, and eventually cans needed to keep them bottling at capacity. Also it’s a lot easier to add a canning line later than additional brewhouse capacity later. Something about adding more pipes, drains, and the like. More on that later.
Kent sneaks away to a second keezer and comes back with a silvery Mylar bag the size of a lap dog. It’s not labeled, and still sealed. Kent has a devilish look in his eye: “These are some hops Casey wants to experiment with.” He gently tears the bag open. Air fills the bag and I get the faint scent of citrus and grass: those are some incredible hop pellets. We all take huge drags off the bag, relishing the heady scent. I actually bite into a few. It’s a good time.
Casey Hughes, fresh off his job as head brewer at Flying Fish in New Jersey, is Coppertail’s head brewer. Kent and Robb can’t speak highly enough of him. Casey’s coming down this summer and while he’s known for his Belgian beers, that won’t be their focus here at Coppertail. Pilot batches are still fermenting, but there is talk of lagers, bocks, and amber ales, with some wild stuff thrown in to keep it fresh; but the word of the day is balance. They’re striving for balance in their lineup.
Balance is not something these guys inherently have. Seriously, I’m beginning to think they’re a little nuts. They’re going all in. They both love beer so much that they’re giving up their careers, personal lives, and fortunes to open this place. They have graduated from home brewing directly to regional brewing. They came up with the scratch to get into a 50 barrel brewhouse with plans to brew up to 15,000 barrels in the first year. That’s not a typo. It takes a lot of space to brew 15,000 barrels of beer. Coppertail has it.
The second part of our tour takes me to the home for the brewhouse. It’s more than 10,000 square feet of covered area. You could literally build two or three single family homes under this roof, it’s enormous. But people aren’t going to live under this roof, at least not for shelter, maybe for beer. This will be 10,000 square feet of just brewing and fermenting equipment. Kent’s a little disappointed that they weren’t able to place their order for the brewhouse until April; they had originally planned to order it in February, but just couldn’t make it happen then. With the delay on their side and all of the demand for brewhouses from craft breweries opening up around the country, Coppertail is facing a six-month lead time on theirs. In the mean time, they’ll keep brewing pilot batches, building a base, and honing their craft.
The space next to the brewhouse is even bigger: nearly 15,000 square feet. Robb and Kent have big plans for this space too: parking, huge windows into the brewhouse, and access to a rooftop biergarten. By my calculations, Cigar City at its birth could fit into this building alone twice: and there are three more buildings.
Cigar City, home to Tampa’s Patron Saint of Beer Joey Redner, isn’t looking at Coppertail as a competitor. As a matter of fact, Joey and Kent have been in touch. The unwritten pact: produce good beer and we’re going to get along just fine. Bring down the craft in this area, and we’ll have problems.
The craft for Coppertail begins with Robb Larson. Robb is your prototypical beer-geek. As a matter of fact, he is Taylor Eason’s beer blogger. This guy knows his beer. Every style you can think of: he has brewed it or thought about brewing it. Robb hails from Minnesota and his passion is beer, but his profession was personal trainer. That’s how he met Kent.
Kent Bailey is (or rather was) a business attorney. Kent faced an existential crisis, as many of us do as we reach that certain point in our lives. Kent found happiness while tailgating with Robb at the Trop, drinking a home brew. As the first pitch was thrown, so was Kent: he didn’t want to leave his beer behind. He found his passion and it wasn’t just drinking beer.
Ever the capitalist, Kent took the lead and began assembling resources: the building; the brewer; the plans and permits. Robb brings the beer experience and vision. Both gave it all up to start this brewery. And talk about stories: theirs is just beginning.
Coppertail Brewing plans to officially open before the end of 2013. Brewing starts in earnest this summer. Stay tuned to TBBN as we watch this fledgling brewery take shape.