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Silhouettes profiles Kent Bailey

Kent Bailey

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2017 edition of La Gaceta

By: Tiffany Razzano

Though he carved out a successful career for himself as an attorney, the law was never Kent Bailey’s first love. Instead, deep down, he had always dreamed of one day being a published author.
But law wasn’t even his second or third or fourth love. (Those would be beer, music and business, not necessarily in that order.)
The Virginia native – he grew up just outside Washington, D.C. – initially studied English and creative writing at George Mason University. He only went on to earn his law degree from the University of San Diego because “it seemed like one of those jobs where I could actually support myself,” he said. “It had nothing to do with a love for the law.”
So in 2011, nearly a decade into his career, his mind began to wander to more creative endeavors. He had been experimenting with home brewing for a couple of years at that point, and toyed with the idea of starting a brewery. “Every home brewer dreams of running a brewery as soon as you brew that first beer,” Bailey said.
But he pushed that thought aside and decided he would finally write his novel. The brewery plan kept calling to him, though. “Every time I sat down to write this novel, I got stuck,” he said. “So I started writing a business plan for the brewery instead. I would sit down to write and I would think, will it be the novel or the business plan? And I would always go with the business plan. I took that as a sign that I should go in that direction.”
That business plan became the foundation for Ybor City’s Coppertail Brewing Co.
Like many, Bailey fell in love with beer as a college student. A study abroad trip in Europe introduced him to new styles and expanded his knowledge of beer. “While backpacking, that was my first time really experiencing beer that wasn’t Bud Light, Miller Light, that kind of thing,” he said. “I loved encountering things that seemed so exotic, but are common to me now, like Guinness.”
After returning home from that trip, he brewed his first batch of beer. “It was horrible,” he said. “I hated it. My friends hated it. I decided I don’t really need to brew it; I’ll just drink it.”
He spent a year working in the Washington, D.C., area before following his parents and brother to Tampa in 2002. He took a job as in-house counsel for a private investment firm.
In 2009, he discovered Cigar City Brewing. “That really opened my eyes to what beer could be,” he said. “I started to get excited about craft beer.”
Everywhere he went, he would try a new brand. “Dogfish Head, Victory, my love affair just grew. But it produced in me a desire to see more Florida beer on store shelves,” he added. Often, he’d go to the supermarket and would only see one or two local beers available.
It wasn’t long before he began brewing beer with a friend, and, eventually, on his own. He brewed those early batches on his kitchen stovetop before being relegated to the garage by his wife. “She didn’t like me constantly spilling things, so she kicked me out to the garage,” he said. “I decided that meant I should buy more and bigger equipment.”
In 2013, he “took a leap that to me makes such perfect sense, but to so many people was unbelievable” and put his business plan into action. He connected with Casey Hughes, head brewer for Flying Fish Brewing Co. in New Jersey, and hired him to work for the newly founded Coppertail Brewing. Hughes, an award-winning brewer, had started his career with Key West Brewing and always planned to return to Florida. This was a fortuitous meeting for both of them.
Bailey knew he would need to create an imaginative brand, something that would stand out to beer drinkers. The company’s name came from a story his daughter told him when she was 5 years old. Coppertail was a sea monster who lived in Tampa Bay, she told her parents. “I loved it immediately, and it became a running joke in my family,” he said. “I loved the sound of it. I loved that we could have a lot of fun with the sea monster theme with the beer names and labels. I really wanted the brand to be about Florida and water and all the things that make this place unique.”
So he and his staff built the brand around “this mysterious and elusive beast that’s out in the water, that nobody knows anything about, but every once in a while you just see this copper tail,” he said. Each beer they brew tells the story of “an encounter or sighting of Coppertail.”
He hired artist Evan B. Harris to create the labels. “I really wanted the artwork to be distinctive,” Bailey said.
Other brewers were mimicking popular beers on the market. So he decided to take Coppertail in the opposite direction. “It felt like everybody else was going with cans that were brightly colored and looked exactly like Cigar City,” he said. Coppertail, on the other hand, was sold in glass bottles and its label art boasted a distinctively dark and moody look. “I wanted people to be able to say, ‘Hey, I knew this [beer] was from you guys because it looks like it’s from you guys.’”
Next they established their “core four” beers, Bailey said – Free Dive, Unholy, Wheat Stroke and Night Swim. These are their most popular beers, he added, though Wheat Stroke will soon be replaced with the Independent Pilsner.
“Free Dive was one of the first beers we ever made and it was all about not trying to be like Jai Alai. The idea was, let’s be the opposite of Jai Lai,” he said. “Cigar City already makes Jai Alai better than anybody else. Why compete with them?”
Coppertail began brewing beer on a larger scale and opened a small tasting room in an historic building on East 2nd Avenue during the summer of 2014. The building has served many purposes for more than a century, but many of Ybor City’s older residents are most likely to remember it as a Hellmann’s mayonnaise factory and an Avila olive packing plant.
He had fallen in love with Tampa, Ybor City especially, and wanted to do his part in preserving its history. So he restored the older building as best he could, though the roof needed to be raised and the concrete floor strengthened.
That first tasting room didn’t fit many people, maybe 40 or 50, at best, he said. “I remember walking into that little room and seeing it jam-packed and realizing there was a market for our beer.”
He scrambled to borrow money, and not only expanded the brewery, but also built a larger tasting room and restaurant. “Ever since we opened this area, it’s been a good decision, because it brought a lot more people in,” Bailey said.
He had planned on this growth from the beginning, he added. He realized that the number of breweries per capita in Florida was lower than in other states though demand was rising. “There really wasn’t enough of them,” he said. “Craft beer was underrepresented in Florida. From day one, we were pretty focused on wanting to grow and being ready to grow when that happened. We figured why not? If we grow, we’ll be ready, and if we fail, then it doesn’t matter anyway.”
He hasn’t forgotten about that unfinished novel, though. “Maybe one day I will actually write something worth publishing,” he said. “But for now, this is a whole lot of fun and it takes up all of my energy and creativity. Making beer is a fun and creative practice.”

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