Located in the heart of Shockoe Slip, 7 Hills Brewing Co. has had to work in order to make its way onto the radar of the city’s craft beer lovers.
Located in the heart of Shockoe Slip, 7 Hills Brewing Co. has had to work in order to make its way onto the radar of the city’s craft beer lovers. They’ve got plenty going on, though, and we felt like the time was right to give them some shine. We spoke to head brewer Jeff Metz about 7 Hills’ upcoming offerings and what it’s like to be the “new kid on the block” in an increasingly populous RVA craft beer scene.
This article was featured in RVAMag #24: Spring 2016. You can read all of issue #24 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.
Your core lineup is an interesting mix of styles, and of nationalities. What inspired that?
Jeff Metz: These beers are great representations of what everybody might be looking for. So, there’s somebody that likes maltier beers; we’ve got the brown ale, and we’ve got the stout. Somebody wants hoppier beer; we’ve got the pale ale and the IPA. And the blonde ale just appeals to anybody who wants to drink a beer, or people who are not really familiar with craft beer. It’s like a starter craft beer. All five of these beers are kind of designed to be approachable. They go great with food — since we are a brewpub, we want to make sure our beer goes well with food. Then we have our special release beers that kind of go off in different directions. We’re planning on releasing fourteen new beers this year, so we’re just going to hit a little bit of each style [from] around the world. We’re going to do some German lagers, some Belgians… all kinds of stuff. We’re trying to meet a lot of demand in the market, which kind of limits us in terms of how many we can have on at a certain time.
I’d also imagine that the size of this place sets limits on what you can and can’t do.
We have a seven barrel system. It lets us brew a lot of different kinds of beer, but when we have a lot of beer that needs to go out the door for the market, we’ve got to brew multiple batches of certain beers. So that kind of ties the tanks up a little bit. It’s really just a balancing act of getting beer out in the market and having fun. We have a lot of IPA going out to the Church Hill Irish Fest, so I’m brewing IPA for the next few weeks. After that, we’re getting back to fun stuff. We’re going to work on our first sour beer.
So I’d imagine you’re getting souring bacteria in, not doing a coolship [open fermentation] type thing?
We’re not doing a coolship. We’re actually going to be doing a kettle sour for our first sour, just because it’s a really quick turnaround. I’m contemplating adding a Brett [wild yeast] lineup in the summer. I don’t think there are a lot of breweries in Richmond doing Brett beers. I’m really excited about doing it. It just depends on if I can afford to have a tank set aside for that.
What kind of hops are in this pale ale?
That’s East Kent Golding and Cascade. It’s more of a balanced pale ale. A lot of the pale ales I’ve found in the market have been fairly hoppy. I love hoppy beer, but I think a pale ale should just be a nice balance of malt and hops. Our IPA is definitely hoppier. It’s not a very bitter IPA, but it’s smooth and easy-drinking. We’ve got a rye pale ale that we brewed yesterday, that’s going to be pretty spicy and piney. A lot of resinous hops in that. We’re using a new yeast strain from RVA Yeast Labs. We’re also going to use that yeast strain in our double IPA that comes out at the end of March. We’re shifting from the malty stouts to the hoppy beers for the spring, then we’re going to go to light, bright summer beers. We’re going to do a saison, and a berliner weisse. We’re going to do a German Helles lager. I think that comes out in July. That’s a nice easy-drinking lager. A little bit maltier than a pilsner, but a great style.
How did you get hooked up with Loveland Distributing?
We were originally approached by Brown, but later we entertained the idea of going with Loveland. After a couple of meetings with them, I decided that they were just a better fit for us. They give a little bit more focus on us. When there are festivals in town, we can sell a lot more beer. When Brown has festivals, they split it up between the fourteen or fifteen [local] breweries that they have distribution rights for, so they’re only selling a few kegs at each festival, where we sell forty or fifty kegs at a festival. That exposure is really what I want. Instead of having to share the spotlight, I’d rather get more of the spotlight.
I know Loveland does a lot of the big national brands. I didn’t know they did local stuff.
Originally when we signed on with them, we were their only Richmond brewery. Stone is part of their portfolio. They also acquired a lot of other craft breweries when they purchased Hop & Wine’s distribution rights, so they also have Sierra Nevada. I think they have Sam Adams as well. Founders, Bell’s, Lagunitas.
So a lot of big hitters in terms of craft breweries.
They’ve got some big breweries too, but I think we’re still one of five Virginia breweries that they distribute.
There are a lot of established breweries in Richmond. What’s it like being the “new kid on the block”?
We’ve had kind of a rough start. I don’t think we’ve seen a lot of the welcome that the other breweries have had from the city. I think a lot of that comes from taking so long to open. I think it was originally announced that we were going to open in 2014. That was just poor planning. Making announcements early, putting signs up early. It took so long to actually open that people lost faith in it, I guess. Or they just kind of forgot about it. I think once the city recognizes that we’re pouring great beers, serving great food, it’ll start picking up. Saturdays are always very busy here.
You worked at Legend before this, right? What were you doing there?
I originally started there working in the kitchen, then I worked my way up, and worked in the brewery there for a couple of years–really honed the commercial side of brewing. I’ve always done home brewing, and people had told me that I made some great beers, but I decided that I really needed to learn the commercial side before I said, “Let’s do it.” I learned a lot from those guys, so I’m pretty thankful for everything [they’ve] done. Even when I moved over here, they helped me out, let me borrow some equipment. We are new and small, so there’s not a lot we can offer them, but it’s nice to have that relationship.
Do you have any collaborations lined up?
We are throwing around the idea of collaborating with some local restaurants. I’ve also been talking with the James River Homebrewers Association. We’re thinking about getting a contest started this spring; the winner of the contest would get to come in and make a beer with us. I’m definitely open to doing collaborations with other breweries. I’ve got buddies at just about all of the breweries around town, so we always throw around ideas. I’ve just been super busy with getting our schedule knocked out, some little projects around here. By the end of March or early April, we’re hoping to start canning. We’re gonna can our Belle Isle Blonde in six packs, and we’re going to do our 42nd Street Stout in nitro cans. We’re throwing around the idea of doing a session IPA exclusively in cans, for the summertime. Canning is definitely something we’re excited about. All of our beers are named after different parts of the river, so we want to stick with the outdoor-friendly theme of having cans as opposed to glass.