By Irvin B. Harrell | Illustration by Wes Watson
It’s a Tuesday, about noon, in popular Scott’s Addition, one of Richmond’s fastest-growing neighborhoods. Peacefully, a crowd assembles outside the front doors of The Veil Brewing Company.
Slowly the monster forms, a line so long it snakes down the sidewalk and around the block. Some in the crowd seem shocked by the turnout, looking back and forth disbelievingly.
But the experienced come prepared, dressing for the weather and the long wait, bringing chairs and large coolers. Some bring pets. Some bring their babies.
They’re not here for a concert, or a rally, or any special event. All of them have come to stand in line for hours, awaiting the 4 p.m. release of The Veil’s latest canned beers.
The popularity of craft beer is not news. There are now more than 6,300 breweries nationwide, according to the Brewers Association, up from almost 1,600 just 10 years ago. And while overall beer sales by volume were down by 1 percent in 2017, craft sales continued to grow at a rate of 5 percent, accounting for about 12.7 percent of the market.
Virginia has more than 200 craft breweries, more than 30 in Richmond alone. But even in the capital city, a beer standard-bearer since craft exploded, The Veil stands out. Owned by Dustin Durrance, Dave Michelow, and Matt Tarpey, the brewery opened in April 2016. Tarpey, its head brewer, provides the street cred, having worked at famous breweries The Alchemist and Hill Farmstead in Vermont, as well as completing two apprenticeships with world-renowned brewer Jean-Pierre van Roy at Cantillon Brewery in Anderlecht, Belgium. The Veil’s popularity has blossomed so much that it is expanding to a new location in South Richmond. And while it’s not the only brewery to enjoy long lines for releases – Equilibrium Brewery in Middletown, New York, enjoys similar popularity for its releases, with people coming from Massachusetts’s and New Jersey – it is the best example of that kind of popularity in the commonwealth. The Veil’s near weekly releases regularly attract beer lovers from out-of-state, some of whom drive hours to stand in line.
They don’t come blind either. The brewery announces its Tuesday releases every Sunday on its main Facebook page. They usually release four at a time, in four-pack, 16-ounce cans. And depending on perceived popularity, the options may have purchasing restrictions.
Prices aren’t cheap, ranging from $14 plus tax to about $25 for a four-pack. Many people purchase the full complement allowed, whether it’s for themselves or someone unable to make it.
For many craft beer connoisseurs, unique beers are currency: to be traded across state lines adding uniqueness to beer shares across the country. Many of those trades take place in The Veil line itself. One father, who brought his baby along, had a stash of tradable beers in the bottom compartment of the stroller.
Chance Brewington (yes, that’s his real name), second in line, had a prime spot on this chilly Tuesday. He has been making the three-and-a-half-hour trip to The Veil from Aberdeen, N.C., every couple months for the past year. He says he’s particularly fond of the IPAs and usually brings his wife. “We get a hotel and make an overnight trip of it,” he says.
For Jan Berry, 66, The Veil’s new releases are not about distance and not about her. The Richmond retiree’s daughter is a certified cicerone in Austin, Texas. So Berry regularly heads to The Veil and buys beer to send her. One of the pluses she says are the “beer friends” she’s made.
“They are very knowledgeable and nice,” she says. But the weather, that’s another thing. “One Tuesday it was so bitter cold and rainy that it took me two hours to thaw out when I got home,” she says.
There’s a lot of bonding between the long-timers. Berry can point out several people in the line and can tell you a little bit about them and some of the things she has learned about craft beer from them.
John Moore of Herndon heard about the beer releases about a year ago and has been making the two-hour jaunt every week since. He boasts being first in line about 70 percent of the time, which means arriving at the brewery between 10 a.m. and noon.
“I’m a fan of all of the beer,” he says. “I’ve been out here when it’s been sub-freezing.”
As for their Tuesday unveilings, the co-owners appear to be tight-lipped when it comes to interviews about The Veil’s strategy and how it has turned into something akin to a cult following. Several attempts to interview them for this story received no response.
Regardless, you only need to show up at one of these gatherings to recognize the potential of their game plan. Most breweries release beers on Fridays and Saturdays. The Veil’s releases create a high-volume day to kick off each work week.
Norfolk’s Chris Bailey has been coming to Tuesdays at The Veil since summer 2017. He says he heard about them through a hometown buddy in Rochester, New York., who has bartered with beer mules (those who buy beers for others) returning from Richmond.
“The key is to get there by about 1 p.m.,” he says. “I’ve been five times and my longest wait has been a little more than three hours.”
Luke and Jasna Krispinsky of Chesapeake hit the brewery a couple of times a month. They watch for details on Facebook. As a bonus, they visit antique shops along U.S. 460 during their drive to Richmond. This particular day, the couple brought along their new puppy – a goldendoodle named Penny.
“We heard about the releases from a friend,” Luke Krispinsky says. “We like their sours and IPAs. We sometimes buy them for people in our neighborhood.”
Responding to demand, the brewery over the past several months has been increasing its production and consequently its maximum purchases for its latest brews. When there’s more product and availability, Tuesday lines can shorten.
“The lines also vary depending on what beers are offered and what the weather looks like,” says Bailey, who has been collecting, trading and enjoying craft beer for about eight years. As for the Tuesday release date, it somehow evens the playing field for beer nerds like himself, he adds.
“It rewards people with odd schedules,” he says. “If they did it on a Friday or Saturday, when a lot of other breweries release their new beer, I might not stand a chance.”