The adventures of opening a brewery: The wheels start to roll

Longtime beer writer Robb Larson, along with Co-Founder Kent Bailey, is opening Coppertail Brewing Company in Tampa, FL. This is the second installment in the Opening a Brewery series (see the first.) Join him on his quest as he documents the journey from drunken idea to grand opening.

Robb with Tim and Mike from Oxbow Brewing Co.

Much has happened in the last few months at Coppertail Brewing Co. Progress seems to move so slowly at times but after looking back (since the last update) it is frankly surprising how much has taken place. Back then we had a name, a building, and little else. Now, plans have been set, equipment has been ordered, and we’re starting to gain, well… a little momentum anyway. Ironically, last weekend was Wazoo which is where my compadre and fellow co-founder Kent originally pitched the idea to me last year (2012).

Even though we haven’t opened yet, we did our brew our first official beer. Oxbow Brewing Company, a farmhouse brewery out of Maine, collaborated with us and we’re hoping to get a few kegs down to Florida. Grizacca is the name of the brew and our new brewmaster Casey transported some experimental hops all the way to Newcastle, ME to craft the inaugural Grizacca. Fortunately I had the opportunity to lay lips to this special, tasty beer while on a conference up in that neck of the woods.

Tampa’s craft beer community has been enormously supportive with the collective thinking that all local breweries are working together to build the area artisan suds culture. And obviously the customer base. We’ve met with many of our fellow Tampa Bay area beer makers and all of them have been cordial, friendly and willing to help. One great piece of advice given to us was to buy the biggest brew house we could afford. Those words of wisdom (we believe) were followed and we ended up purchasing a sparkling new 50 BBL brew house. Thankfully, it was within the budget (with much tweaking) and it’ll save us money in the long run.

Dave and Casey

Travel seems to come with the territory in this industry, but at least it’s all beer-related and most work trips include time for tasting local brews. Sometimes… entirely too much time for socializing. Just off the top of my head I can think of seven work trips since last November. My last couple have been training at the Siebel Institute in Chicago, and a few days later, the Beer Bloggers Conference in Boston (seriously, there is one) — which was an absolute blast. It’s both exciting and humbling to meet some of the industry people you really admire.

Thankfully, our next work trip isn’t until October and revolves around a stop at the GABF (Great American Beer Festival) to celebrate all things Craft Beer. Tough job, I know. As a bonus, it’s held every year in Denver, Co. which is one of the top destinations for U.S. barley pop fans and just a darned cool place overall.

Casey Hughes, formerly the Director of Brewery operations at Flying Fish Brewing Co. in NJ, joined the team starting in early July and both of us (along with Kent) have been busy on the pilot system. Brewing has actually been occurring since April on the system and we have a few promising recipes that we’re beginning to develop. Our first official event will be the Halfway There (to Tampa Beer Week) event being held at the Cuban Club in the Ybor City area of Tampa on September 7th. I’m sure we’ll all be plenty nervous… well maybe not Casey.

Casey will be instrumental in not only everything brewing-related but also in the construction and brewery setup. He’s overseen the construction of two breweries and has been in the industry for over 17 years. Extensive renovations have just begun and it’s certainly exciting to see heavy machinery driving around the property.

Another new member came on board at the same time Casey did. Dave Iwansky became our Controller/HR Rep and we are glad to have someone keeping our drunken-sailor like spending in check. (I wonder if real-life drunken sailors take offense at that cliché?) Dave’s also a rabid craft beer nut and has a terrific palate.

Other than that, our website — which is just a blog for now-has been going nuts with the page views. Kent and I have both had fun writing and promoting it. To be honest, we don’t have a whole lot to write about some weeks so it’s often about just beer information. People seem to enjoy it though and it feels like we’re starting to get noticed.

Well, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading about our little brewery in planning and I’ll check back in soon.


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