UPDATE: The Veil Brewing Co. will open Saturday, April 16, reports the Times-Dispatch. You can expect food trucks that day and a sampling of the beer varieties that it will offer.
07-28-2015: A specially trained brewer is about to take the phrase “taste of Richmond” to a whole new level at a Scott’s Addition brewery now under construction.
A year ago, at the small, family-run Cantillon Brewery in Anderlecht, Brussels, American brewer Matt Tarpey and fourth-generation brewer Jean-Pierre van Roy were walking around a barrel warehouse discussing spontaneous fermentation.
It’s a challenging process that involves making beer from wild yeast strains floating in the air — and it’s one of Tarpey’s favorite subjects. It also inspired the name of the new Veil Brewing Co. “There’s a protein-based membrane that grows on top of the beer in the barrel called the pellicle,” Tarpey says over coffee at Urban Farmhouse in Scott’s Addition. “Natural wines develop them as well, and Jean has friends in Italy who told him natural winemakers there call pellicles ‘the veil.’”
Fast-forward to 2015, and Tarpey, 30, is head brew master and co-founder of the new operation at the former Unity Baptist Church, on Roseneath Road across from an old Coca-Cola bottling plant. Although the renovation has been held up by asbestos removal, he and co-owners Dustin Durrance and Dave Michelow plan to open in November.
Tarpey says the Veil will have hop-heavy offerings, high gravity — that means high alcohol — varieties, barrel-aged beer, bourbon barrel-aged imperial stouts and kettle sours. The plan is to create a 3,100-square-foot tasting room, he says, and they’ll invite food trucks and encourage takeout. A small section will be offered for private events.
But the buzz in beer circles stems from Tarpey’s impressive pedigree.
The brewer spent the last few years at the legendary Hill Farmstead Brewery in Vermont — named the best brewery in the world two years in a row by RateBeer, the popular beer review and rating site. Tarpey also put in work at Vermont’s Alchemist, the brewery that produces the No. 1-ranked beer in the world, Heady Topper, according to Beer Advocate. And he says he’s one of very few Americans to intern at Belgium’s Cantillon, which opened in 1900.
“He’s brewed at spots that are home to the most sought-after beers in the most sought-after styles in craft beer,” says Jay Bayer, owner and general manager of Saison. “And he’s just a good dude. I’m very excited to see what he and his partners create.”
What Tarpey looks forward to the most is getting to work with spontaneous fermentation again. To that end, an open vat — or koelship — will sit on the roof of the Veil to be fermented by wild yeast strains in the Richmond air. Tarpey will fill French oak wine barrels with the inoculated wort and let the beer age for one to four years. “At year five,” he predicts, “I should have 450 wine barrels full of beer aging in that facility,” off-site near Dabney Road. If that sounds more like winemaking, that’s because it is.
“You can’t drink beer all the time,” he jokes. “I love the uncertainty of it — each barrel can produce a different character. And I love the challenge it creates to produce a product solely based off your palate, blending each barrel.”
Belgian lambic is the most recognized style of spontaneous beer. But you can’t call a beer lambic in the United States because it’s specific to Belgium. Tarpey’s beer “will probably just be called spontaneous,” he says, shooting down a suggestion of “midadlambic.”
Tarpey plans to return to Belgium every other brew season, he says. He has an ongoing relationship with Cantillon’s brewer, van Roy, who gave his blessing for the process to be repeated in Richmond.
As far as the exploding local beer scene goes, Tarpey is impressed by his neighbors Ardent Craft Ales, as well as Triple Crossing Brewery and the Answer Brewpub. His only hope is that more locally owned restaurants open in the hot Scott’s Addition area. That would mean more tap space for his creative endeavors — and he isn’t worried about entering into competitions.
“I’d rather see people enjoying my beer,” he says. “When you stop learning, that’s when you stop having fun. That’s when it stops being interesting.”