Opening a brewery: Fun, work, headaches, beer

Beers-small batch brewing

Our pilot brewing system

It all started back at the Wazoo, a popular beer event in Tampa held in early August…well for me anyway. My friend and client, Kent Bailey, graciously lured me to the non-profit tasting with a free VIP ticket plus a ride home. Pouring rain greeted our arrival, along with intermittent lighting but we made the best of it. After all we were at a brew fest with a complimentary shuttle afterward.

Sometime after dark and a whole slew of 2-ounce pours, Kent nervously unveiled his plan to open a craft brewery somewhere in Tampa. And he wanted me involved. At first I thought he must be joking but he certainly appeared serious. Of course I said yes: What red-blooded, suds-swilling guy could turn that down?

Truth be known, I wasn’t totally surprised. Kent had been gradually getting into craft beer the last few years. He had shown an interest in my posts at TaylorEason.com and was even kind enough to leave a comment once in a while. Also every time my homebrews made an appearance he certainly seemed to enjoy them. During our workouts he also incessantly talked about beers and brewing instead of sets and reps, which was odd. Finally he asked about home brewing and then started making his own hooch. According to Kent, the epiphany actually came during a tailgating event before a Tampa Bay Rays game after trying my now (in?)famous English IPA.

Robb, Kent and Sam Calagione

Kent and me with Dogfish Head’s Sam Calagione

So the seed was planted. Much was at stake and we needed to do our research to make sure this whole crazy scheme was viable. Funding and the capital requirement were first and foremost, for obvious reasons. Thankfully, that was determined for the most part before I jumped on board.

Some of the other homework was easy. Craft beer is huge and growing nationwide. Yet in Florida, it’s still in the toddler stage. We knew there was room in the marketplace and Cigar City Brewing had opened up a few years back and essentially blazed the trail. With that info we also ascertained that there was a growing demand for fresh, local, craft beer in this metro and that this Bay Area thirst would continue to evolve for quite some time.

Next, we sought out neighborhoods that could support a business that produced bubbly, fermented barley liquids and narrowed it down to a couple of centralized, easy-to-navigate areas.  Many small breweries had trouble funding their expansion after they had peaked out production at their current brew house and we wanted to avoid that. There was a minimum building square footage requirement we nailed down as well as a minimum system size. All in all it was a lot of fun but a ton of work, especially when we were both still employed full-time.

Our table at Stone Brewing Co

With the funding in place we began to look at properties. Ironically, the first building we looked at ended up being the one we went with, and with our location decided, we started the fun research. We flew out to Baltimore on a brewery tour…on the company dime. Our weekend getaway was mainly to discover how different breweries were set up, what was included in the tours, and to scope out tap-room layouts. Of course, these trips sounded like good intoxicating fun which didn’t hurt.

First we went to Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Maryland, there we were able to meet founder Sam Calagione by pure luck. We were going to tell him our grand plans of opening up the next great venture in Tampa but I’m sure he’s never heard that before. From there, we drove up to Brooklyn Brewery in New York, then down to Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania. All three remarkably different from each other and it was indeed a valuable experience.

A couple of months later we flew out to San Diego for a whirlwind two-day, eleven brewery tour-de-force. Stone Brewing Company is a hop and ale mecca and the highlight for sure. Green Flash Brewing Co was awesome as well, particularly with a low-cost private tour. Craft beer is everywhere in So. Cal. and it was eye-opening to view the popularity and advanced artisan suds culture. Honestly, we had no idea that the business we were entering could be that treasured by any community and have that grandiose a following.

Naming a brewery was a lot harder than we thought. Hundreds of names were tossed around and eventually we narrowed it down to four or five. Finally we decided on Coppertail Brewing Company, which we thought reflected the fun and adventurous spirit that defines craft beer. Both Kent and I are having a blast writing blog posts on the Coppertail Brewery website and look forward to developing the brand as well as the beers.

Now all we have to do is build and open the brewery. Sounds easy right? Tune in next month and check out our progress.

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