Matt Tarpey of The Veil and The Craft Beer Hustle

by | Jan 24, 2023 | COMMUNITY, EAT DRINK, GOOD EATS, RVA ON TAP, SMALL BUSINESS

During our conversation with Matt Tarpey, the co-founder of The Veil Brewing Co., we delved into the exciting new project that he and his team are working on in collaboration with Longoven. We also touched on how the pandemic changed the game for everyone, how being in bands crosses over into craft brewing and his strategy for sharing and collecting his favorite brews.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Matt Tarpey. I’m the head brewer and co-founder at The Veil Brewing Company. Started it with my main partners, Dave Michelow and Dustin Durrance. I handle the brewing and production side of things, but I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of business experience. That’s where Dave and Dustin come in, they handle the admin and compliance stuff like payroll and ABC regulations.

All that fun stuff.

[laughs] Yeah, exactly. But for me, it’s all about the beer and getting creative with it.

You were in bands before brewing?

Yeah, I started playing in bands in the Hampton Roads area, where I grew up. I grew up in Chesapeake and lived in Norfolk for a bit too. I started jamming with my buddies in their garages when I was around 13 or 14. We would try to cover songs like Deftones, and it just kind of took off from there. My first band was originally called The Last Hour, but we changed it to My Synopsis. We played with some really cool bands in the Hampton Roads area, like Converge and Poison The Well, in the early 2000s. Then I got into different bands, less local ones.

Matt Tarpey of The Veil Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of The Veil Brewing Co. 

Is there a correlation in having a good band and having everybody tight and understanding what they’re doing and having a good crew in production and brewing?

Yeah, definitely. That’s a really cool analogy or comparison. A band is a cohesive unit and if one person is off, it can throw the whole band off. And that definitely applies here in production. We’re a very tight-knit crew, about 12 or 13 of us now. We all dabble in each other’s departments and roles, but we mostly stay in our own lane. If one person is off, it throws everyone else off. It’s a very symbiotic relationship, very similar to being in a band.

The Veil Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of The Veil Brewing Co. 

I brought that up because you said you didn’t have much business experience. But having a band, you have to do your own marketing, be creative and figure out what songs you enjoy. It must be the same process when you’re like, “Hey, we’re going to make this beer. Better be good, right?”

Totally. Yeah, I mean, especially when I was in bands, it was more of a hustle. Like, that’s not a style that you just start making money on. I don’t know if I ever even made any money, I mean, I made enough to pay my cell phone bill and still live with my mom. But it was definitely a hustle and grind. I was printing flyers and driving all over, putting flyers everywhere and making press kits and shipping them to record labels, all that kind of stuff. And yeah, I think the same kind of applies to brewing, you know, designing a recipe I’m proud of, but also something that someone’s going to enjoy and figuring out how to market it. Marketing comes in so many different forms, not just social media but also the space where people can come in to buy the beer. So, I guess I don’t have any formal business experience, but I have some street smart hustle experience from trying to grow those bands.

There is also a correlation between the music you play and a community. Obviously, beer craft beer people, that’s a community, was there a learning curve in kind of figuring out not only brewing, but figuring out what the craft beer community wanted to drink and have?

Definitely, yeah. Especially from a craft beer community perspective. That’s definitely a cool question.

Because they can be hypercritical just like anyone else.

Just like music lovers, I mean, like, their band and their favorite band drops a new album, and then they’re tearing it apart and saying, it’s not as good as the last album. [laughs] That happens here in beer, like, especially early on when we released one beer, we’d release it again and it’s not as good as batch one. So, very similar there. [laughs]

But yeah, there was a learning curve. I started drinking beer when I was 21. I started exploring alcohol and then I got into Belgian beer and a little bit into craft beer. I didn’t really dive deep into the craft beer community and the world of craft beer until I started volunteering at a brewery in Norfolk in 2010. That’s when I went headfirst and learned more about different styles, breweries that don’t even ship into Virginia, and started getting into beer trading and stuff like that. So yeah, there was definitely a learning curve there. And it took me a few years to really understand what different communities within the beer community like different types of beer. Like, there’s the old school traditional beer drinker that really only drinks craft lagers, straightforward West Coast IPAs, simple pub style beers, red ales, brown ales. And then there’s the crazy beer enthusiast that likes to trade for the most hyped small batch, hazy IPAs and fairleads Imperial stouts. They buy 10 bottles of it, aged and traded and all that kind of stuff. So yeah, there’s a lot to learn within the beer community for sure.

The Veil Brewing Co.
Photo courtesy of The Veil Brewing Co. 

I think for people like myself, from the outside looking in, it feels like The Veil was almost an instant success. I mean, was there a point where you’re like, hey, we’re gonna be okay. Was there like an event or like something that happened where you are like, hey, I think this is going to work.

For sure. Yeah. I mean, when we first opened, before we had opened, my business partner, Dave and I, we spent a lot of time traveling all around in Virginia, meeting with distributors, bar owners, restaurant owners, folks who own bottle shops, because we had anticipated that we were going to instantly distribute about 60 to 75% of our beer and that we’d sell hopefully 25% to 40% of our beer in house.

And then, almost immediately when we first opened, we started selling when 100% of our beer in house. And that was like, wow, it didn’t feel real, maybe this is gonna wear off. And it didn’t seem like it was wearing off.

We were starting to raise some money and like get back on our feet. We ended up buying the building that we’re in now from our partners who we have owned, we owned it 50 / 50 with them, we had a joint venture with some real estate partners on the building. So we bought that out from them.

And we ended up developing a pretty substantial amount of cash. So we were able to start doing all these other projects. We started at Norfolk. We started Forest Hill. We upgraded our brew house. We did a lot of different upgrades from an equipment standpoint, bought our own canning line.

Yeah, so that was really amazing in the beginning, but it definitely did trickle off. And then of course the pandemic like crumbled all of that. Now we’re almost like back to square one like in a place where we thought we were going to be before we opened. So we’re navigating that and it’s working and we’re having a good time with this still and doing our best to be a sustainable business for the long run.

Did you know there was a secondary market for collectors of beer when you started?

I did. I was actually a part of that market.

So you would go and collect beer?

Yeah, I was always a trading beer guy, big time. I got really into that early on, around 2010 or 2011. I did it all the way until The Veil opened. I would go wait in line with everybody else, even when I was working at breweries like The Alchemist in Vermont. I was still going to Hill Farmstead and waiting in line for the Farmstead beers or I was going to Lawson’s bottle drops and waiting in line and getting those beers.

But I am a beer lover, and I love to share and trade and all that kind of stuff. I think beer is a cool experience and a really cool social thing. You can really talk about life over a beer. So what I would always do is buy at least three beers – drink one, trade one, save one. That’s my plan with everything. Sometimes if I drink the one bottle and loved it, I wouldn’t trade the other one. [laughs] I would just keep the other two. But that was always my plan. Or sometimes I didn’t have that opportunity or I was broke and couldn’t afford it. But that was my plan – drinks one, trade one, save one.

[laughs] Just like sneakerheads. I will buy 2 pair and keep one in a box and wear the other pair. Try to not scuff them up!

Exactly. I also fell into that realm too. I did the same thing with sneakers, buying them, trading them, collecting them. I had a crazy collection for a while, but since slowed down my shoe game. [laughs]

Nokoribi concept Nokoribi concept
Nokoribi concepts courtesy of The Veil Brewing Co. 

Well, speaking of the communal aspect of sharing a beer. You have really good food at the Forest Hill location and now your team is teaming up with Longoven. It almost feels like an A team trying to bring Richmond the best beer and now the best food. At your new spot, can you speak on how that relationship started and how you are moving into a spot together?

So early on, when we first started the brewery, I was fortunate enough to go to one of Longoven’s first pop-ups. It was the second one I think they did at Sub Rosa, and I was blown away. It was really amazing. I had never had a tasting menu experience, especially in Richmond, Virginia, at that point in time. So it was really amazing. And I met Andrew Manning, one of the chefs, and we got along really well from the get-go. We started making some beers together and doing some cool events. They had a pop-up called Brasa and we would do it here at The Veil. It was one of my favorite Richmond pop-ups.

In our new space, we were originally slated for it to be a food hall. We were going to be the anchor tenant, and then there were going to be 10 or 15 different local food vendors. They were going to do Brasa in that space, but unfortunately, the pandemic squashed that whole plan. So they’re like, if you guys can think of something you want to do, let us know, and we’ll figure it out. So we started thinking about our Scotts Addition location and how it was kind of falling apart a little bit. We built the Scott’s Addition taproom with the last pennies we had and did the best we could with what we had, but it wasn’t built for the long run. So we knew that, and it was starting to show that in our opinion.

And then as we opened our Norfolk location, we realized that having in-house food is super important for sustainability and keeping people in chairs. You have only a food truck, and it’s pouring rain now, people really are going to have one beer and they’re going to leave, they’re not going to want to stand outside and wait for the food truck to get their food outside in the rain. And then come inside, most people. We realized the in-house component is important and if it’s quality and affordable, people will keep coming back for it and they’ll stay longer. So that was a lesson learned for us.

So as we started thinking about this building, we need a new taproom and we need in-house food. The guys from Longoven were supposed to be doing food at the food hall, and we’re like, “Hey, what do you guys want to do with your concept over here?” And they’re like, “Yeah,” but they ended up tweaking it. Brasa was more like just wood-fired, almost like Portuguese seaside, fresh seafood and all wood-fired real stuff. So they’re tweaking it into Nokoribi, which is all coal-fired yakitori and Japanese-inspired.

That sounds great. Are you thinking about ideas for pairing certain releases? Beer releases with food, is that like a concept within the concept?

We’re trying to do a thing where we’re trying to make two different kind of, almost always available, or at least one of them will always be available house beers at each location. So Forest Hill we have a Mexican style lager called Jackson Flavor, and we do a light version called Jackie Light. So almost all the time that you go to Forest Hill, you can get either Jackson Flavor or Jackie Light. That’s the new thing.

And then at Norfolk, with lil’za being pizza heavy we do a 4% Italian Pilsner called Little Dessert. So that’s the house beer there. And then we do a collaboration with Longoven already called Japanese Denim. It’s a really simplistic lager with koji rice and yuzu juice. Chef Andrew inoculates all the rice himself with his own koji. And then we bring it over here and put it into the brew. So we plan to have that available as frequently as possible, hopefully year-round.

Just got a couple more for you. You opened in 2016. That really starts to be the beginning of the peak of craft beer in Richmond. Do you have any thoughts on how the business has changed?

Yeah, I mean, I think when we started, we were like, right at the beginning of the peak of the boom, especially here in Richmond, which was wonderful for us, and for a lot of other breweries too. There were a lot of cool breweries that opened up in the interim, especially in Scotts Addition, like Vasen that does a great job with their lagers and of course, the OG Ardent. We love those guys and their beers, and a lot of other awesome alcohol producers here in our neighborhood.

It was really cool, really awesome. I think everybody was riding that wave, and then it slowed down just a little bit, and then a pandemic hit. And that impacted everybody, big, small, hyped or not. Unfortunately, a few breweries didn’t make it, but I’m very fortunate that we are one of the breweries that did make it.

The pandemic is what changed everything for everybody. I don’t think it was that there were too many breweries and all of a sudden it’s a different game. I think there was room for everybody, and there’s room for more. I think there’s always room for great anything in any type of industry, as long as it’s done well, and there’s purpose and vision behind it. If it’s soulless and not very focused, and there’s not a lot of love and attention put into the space and product, it shows. And I think that applies to anything, a restaurant, a brewery, a clothing store, anything.

So, yeah, the pandemic is what impacted everybody. I’ve seen some of my buddies, some of the most hyped brewers in the country, and they’re all feeling it. We’re still not 100% recovered from it, but I would say that we’re starting to see the light.

A reset for everybody.

Exactly.

And I think a reset on Richmond. For our end in media we are seeing who the new people are that are thought leaders of different industries, like how that’s been shuffled up because of the pandemic. That has been my experience meeting people again and doing these interviews. Last question, what are you excited about this year?

Yeah, oh, we’re really excited about a lot of different things. But I’d say obviously, the main thing that we’re excited about is our new project here in Scotts Addition and opening the new taproom restaurant. Again, this is something that we have been working on for about four years now and like I said, we started it as a food hall concept. That was about a two year period, and then shut it down. And then it was like a two year period of us designing and working on this space as well. So that’s something that we are really excited about. And we’re really focused on this project and property and the concept and bringing great food and a really cool space.

For Scott’s Addition area and kind of revamping The Veil experience is super important to us. So we’ve been working with Longoven on their new product and been really excited about the food. We were fortunate enough that they catered our holiday staff party, and did the test run on us. Everything was incredible. So it’s gonna be amazing when it opens up. And it’s gonna be a concept that’s not like anything here in Richmond, really a proper yakitori spot. It’s going to be awesome.

And then one thing that we’re doing is, hopefully, within the next three to six months, is we are going to start serving liquor at all of our locations as well. We are working with ABC to adjust our license to be able to be a mixed beverage restaurant, so it’d be able to offer liquor as well. We’ll be able to start a cocktail menu. Our goal is to make our spaces inclusive to everybody because not everybody likes beer. We want to still be hyper focused on beer, like you’re coming to a beer place but we want to offer something for everybody.

If you’re a gluten free, we will have cider or hard seltzer that we make in house. So if you’re into spirits, we will have something for you.

Really cool. Well, if you need a test subject to try your beer or taste test what sounds like fantastic dished, I will volunteer.

[laugh] Awesome. Yeah, I’d love to have you come by!

Follow The Veil Brewing Co. HERE
Follow Longoven HERE

For more information: theveilbrewing.com

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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