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Ex-Lawyer Follows Dream To Open Micro-Brewery

Small wooden kegs of beer sit inside the vast warehouse waiting to be tapped. They are filled with sample recipes for brews that owners of Coppertail Brewing Co. expect soon to be selling to local bars, restaurants and grocery stores.
 
In Kent Bailey's office, cardboard boxes are filled with coasters and T-shirts emblazoned with the message "Resist the Industrial Brewing Complex." It's a fitting challenge from a man who gave up a comfortable business law practice to follow a dream.

"I wasn't loving what I was doing anymore," says Bailey. His passion was for home-brewed beer crafted in his spare time in his Davis Islands' kitchen.

But he began to think, "How can I make this a career?"

He put together a business plan and a team to help make it work. In November he said goodbye to his law career. By March Bailey, 38, expects to open the brewing operations at Coppertail in a 34,000-square-foot warehouse at 2601 E. Second Ave., fronting Adamo Drive and sitting catty-cornered from Ikea. In past lives, the building has been home to Hellman's mayonaise, an olive oil company and a refrigeration repair shop. One month later he hopes to have a temporary tasting room open so he can offer tours. Longer range goals are to open a permanent tasting room and gift shop by summer or fall 2014. Outdoor space of about 32,000 square feet will be used for special events including beer festivals.

Right-of-way owned by the city of Tampa along Adamo Drive is slated for development as a greenway. That part of Coppertail's overall project needs additional city council approvals.

For now, offices and a front lobby are remodeled, with help from Schiller's Architectural Design and Salvage .The warehouse, building exterior and parking lot are works-in-progress. Hafner Ferlita Architects are the building's designers.
Residents in the East Ybor area are supportive. Initially there were worries that the establishment would be another bar.

"The fact that is not a 'bar-bar' is awesome," says Fran Costantino, president of the East Ybor Historic and Civic Association. "It's not going to bring in riff-raff."

Instead it will be an upscale business in an area that needs that type of new development, Costantino says.

Things are moving quickly. Approvals from Tampa City Council and the federal agency regulating brewery permits are in place. Brewing equipment from German-based Rolec is due to arrive in January.

Bailey is delighted that Rolec won the bidding contract for Coppertail's equipment. "Rolec really wants to be brewing in Florida," he says. "They don't have one here."

The award-winning company does have its equipment at several businesse in the United States including Brooklyn Brewing Company in New York and Lagunitas Brewing Company in California.

Bailey pitched his brewery idea to friend and home-brewer aficionado Robb Larson at WaZoo, a beer event at Lowry Park Zoo last year. Larson, who is a personal trainer, now is in charge of beer development and social media. The brewery's Facebook page is followed by about 1,100 people. They've also created a blog.

Coppertail's award-winning brewmaster is Casey Hughes, president of Master Brewers Association of America. Hughes moved from upstate New York at age 18 to Tampa. He worked with Key West brewing on the bottling line but worked up to a brewing job before he legally was able to drink alcohol. For many years he was head brewer at Flying Fish brewery in New Jersey before jumping at the chance to move back to Tampa and join the Coppertail brewing gang.

As a startup Coppertail's aim is to settle in with Tampa's growing micro-brewery movement. But Bailey says, "We've tried to give ourselves room here for the capacity to grow regional in 10 years or so. That's all a pipe dream now."

There is a camaraderie among local brewers much different from the corporate dog-eat-dog world of business law. "We've made a point of gettng out there and meeting as many brewers as we can," Bailey says. "Everyone has been kind and gracious."

Bailey sees craft beers as a growing trend that is benefitting from people's desires to grow and buy local food products.
 
"People are fed up with beer as an industrial product," he says. "They want it to be local, naturally flavorful again, and like it used to be. People are very focused on local and natural. Craft beer plays into that very well.''

As for the Coppertail name, Coppertail is a fantastical sea creature that lives in Tampa Bay where he protects swimmers and battles pollution.

Bailey's now 6-year-old daughter Sofia is the one who came up with the name after a talk with Bailey about the earliest explorers of Tampa and the kinds of creatures they might have seen." A lot of them reported seeing sea monsters which I thought was hilarious," says Bailey. "Coppertail is something impossible, about imagination and a lot about Tampa Bay."

Writer: Kathy Steele
Source: Kent Bailey, Coppertail

Read more articles by Kathy Steele.

Kathy Steele is a feature writer and editor at 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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