Basically, there are two kinds of brewery tours that I have been on: the basic ‘here’s how we make beer’ tour, and the ‘you know all the basics already, let’s talk about details’ tour.
Luckily for me, I got the latter on my latest visit to Coppertail Brewing. At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m somewhat familiar with the basics.
I got quite the tour, too, especially as Coppertail enters such a big time in its history.
Opened in 2014, Coppertail Brewing was founded by lawyer and homebrewer Kent Bailey. He, along with his team and co-owner/brewmaster Casey Hughes decided to build their dream brewery in a run down warehouse on the outskirts of Ybor City. Never built for beer, the building was home to such businesses as an olive packing plant and a Hellman’s mayonnaise factory.
Kent himself was my guide through this labyrinth-esque facility, along with Marketing Director Gary Kost and PR Director Nancy Summers. And they all had their clothes on! (More on that later). The oldest part of the site undergoing a rebuild, with bottling and production equipment to be relocated there to make room for more fermentation on the main production floor. It’s an active construction site, so no going there.
Next to it, however, is Coppertail’s massive walk-in cooler. It’s pretty big and filled with the standard bottles and hops. There’s a lot of whole leaf hops, too, as their system was built to take advantage of all that lulupin goodness. Having a fully stocked, walk-in beer fridge makes Kent pretty happy (obviously).
Outside are two good-sized foeders. They’ve been utilized to good effect with a wide array of Coppertail’s signature wild and sour ales, but rarely do they leave the Ybor tasting room.
Everything that does leave the brewery goes through their absolutely cavernous production floor. Much of the tasting rooms has massive picture windows that look out on the floor, and all of the way to the side is their bottling machine.
It was running when I was there, bottling up a fresh batch of their hoppy Belgian ale Unholy. It was a particularly good batch, too, since I was able to enjoy a bottle that had been filled and labeled maybe 20 seconds prior.
In the back is their giant 50 BBL brewing system, which was hard at work brewing up a double-batch of their IPA Free Dive. The system was notable for two reasons: it’s one of the largest craft brewing systems in the state, behind the behemoth system at BrewHub. It also contains a ‘hopbank’ for dumping fresh, whole leaf hops into the beers.
The beer is fed with three hop canisters nearby, and they all were fully loaded with hops since Free Dive takes a lot to make it so good. Brewmaster Casey Hughes likes to make hop bombs, so it’s perfect for him.
It’s also somewhat automated with a fully customized, remote-accessible control program. Casey’s gotten a good deal of ribbing from the rest of team at Coppertail and elsewhere for making adjustments to a brew from his phone while at lunch. I don’t know; it looked pretty neat to me.
One last stop before we sat down in the tasting room: a little known and rarely seen space within the tap room was a fully realized, yet never used kitchen. Coppertail has now signed a deal with Stein & Vine, who will be occupying that space and soon – maybe even later this month – will be bringing their menu to Ybor.
Stein & Vine General Manager Steve Lavelle was there, putting the finishing touches on a Coppertail-centric menu that will feature as many ingredients from within the brewery as possible. Think spent-grain pretzels (they’re still working on the recipe) with Coppertail beer mustard, things like that.
Stein & Vine has had a very good relationship with Coppertail, usually featuring at least one of their beers on draft. When you think about it, the symbiotic relationship between the two is a natural. Stein gets a kitchen in an established space and easy access to unique ingredients. Coppertail gets a known entity with a known menu and big following, and further cements the brewery as an evening destination.
I am hoping they will be opening that soon. It’s just one of the many, many events Coppertail is hosting over the upcoming months. The most important is their anniversary, coming in late August. They have also started to attend, sans clothing, a beer festival at a local nudist colony. Yes, some brave employees of Coppertail and other regional breweries go bare and bear their beer to brave bathers buck naked.
The running rule at Coppertail is to always say you’re busy when the Sales Manager comes around to ask what you’re doing that weekend…
They’ve also started to make waves in events and festivals showcasing that quintessential Sunshine state beer style, the Floridaweisse. For those uninitiated, this heavily fruited Berliner Weisse is a lot of things all at once, crisp, tart, and fruity. I asked if all of their weisses were just treatments of the same base beer, and well enough they were not.
Every recipe is different in slightly different ways, but they weren’t always that way. While still figuring out the style, Hughes had a base recipe, named after one of the employees whose methods of fixing and building things in the tap room weren’t, let’s say, structurally or logically sound.
But his weissing skills are polished now, and Coppertail’s offerings reflect how good they are at making them. They even just released their latest Floridaweisse, Pinky Swear (Berliner Weisse, 3.5% ABV) in 4-packs for distribution throughout the state.
It combines the flavors of a classic Berliner with lemon and raspberries. It’s light, tart, and slightly pinkish with all those berries. Incredibly delicious and quite the taste treat.
That being said, I was just a bit more excited for Hawaiian Ponch (Berliner Weisse, 3.5% ABV). This weisse had great flavors of coconut, pineapple, and strawberry. It was easily obvious how fresh all of those fruits were, and just the coconut-forward aroma was a delight to sit and enjoy.
La Chasse (Saison, 5.7% ABV) was an interesting testament to Brewmaster Hughes’ penchant for hopping everything (Unholy, for example). La Chasse used a smart application of a lightly floral hop to bring an interesting twist on a refreshing and simple style.
After enjoying all of these light beers, we decided to throw caution to the wind and went for Common Curse (English Barleywine, 12% ABV), a barleywine that had a small amount currently on tap. The rest of the batch was immediately sent to barrels to age for a release later in the year.
As absolutely wonderful as that will no doubt be, the unnamed one was great. Both Kent and I agreed on how deep the flavors of plum and raisin were in this beer. I’m sure that, over time, the flavors will only get deeper and more rich. can’t wait for that.
It was a great time at Coppertail. They have, over their short existence, built a brewery not only built for scale, but built to scale some great recipes. It will be nice to see more of Florida enjoying their beers.
It will be nicer if they remember to keep their clothes on.
Drink Florida Craft,