Matt Tarpey, cofounder and head brewer of The Veil, selects a foundational six-pack that combines early experiences with the classics and those he still reaches for today.
For Matt Tarpey, cofounder and head brewer of Richmond, Virginia’s The Veil Brewing Co., early craft-beer experiences seared persistent impressions in his sense memory. Here, he builds a six-pack of beers that changed the course of his beer (and brewing) interests, as well as beers he still reaches for today.
While the brewery he creatively heads is best known for outlandish—and at times absurd—boundary-pushing experiments in ingredient additions, Matt Tarpey’s own taste in beer is rooted in the classics of Belgium and a few generations of the American craft lexicon. In this six-pack, he walks through his personal beer history and palate development, marking the key turning points where beers made an indelible mark on his tastes and even his career.
“Holy crap. Cantillon was the one that took me from ‘I don’t like sour beer’ to ‘I love sour beer.’ It was actually Cantillon Fou’Foune that did it, but that opened the door to Cantillon Gueuze, which is something I could drink daily. Lambic in general showed me that all sour beer isn’t one dimensional lactic or any single character—not all of them are. But Cantillon Gueuze is one beer that I could drink all the time and a beer that was important to my career in general. The path my career took—I started to work, ask questions, and volunteer in places that focus on wild beer because of Cantillon.
“The beer itself is musty, like damp cellar. Slightly acidic and definitely funky, of course. Every time I think of Cantillon, and lambic in general, the words damp and musty come to mind. Relative to other lambic, Cantillon Gueuze has the perfect acid level—some are too acidic, some don’t have enough acidity for me, but the acid level designed by Jean’s palate is how I love beer to present itself. Also, the carbonation level—a lot of other lambic and gueuze are too effervescent for me. Sometimes, if a beer is too carbonated, you can’t drink a lot of it. Your throat gets scratchy, you start getting belchy and bloated. I’ve always preferred Cantillon’s carbonation levels because I find them more balanced to my personal preference.”
Chimay Grand Réserve
“Chimay Grand Réserve [a.k.a. Chimay Blue] is the beer that made me see that there was more than just the fizzy yellow stuff. It opened my eyes to Belgian beer in general and got me to start trying quads, tripels, and witbiers, and that kind of stuff. It was an entry beer for me into everything that was not the fizzy yellow stuff that our parents—or friends in college—drank.
“I’m pretty sure the first place I had it was at this place called the Taphouse in Norfolk, Virginia. I drank a bunch of Belgian beers there—they used to have beers like Gulden Draak, La Chouffe—all sorts of stuff—and I would try all the different beers.
“I remember Grand Réserve being more full-bodied and sweeter, and it had raisin-y character—dark fruit, and a little bit of bubblegum and pepper—your standard Belgian characteristics that are nothing like the yellow fizzy stuff. I was like, ‘Holy crap, I can’t believe that this is a beer.’”
“Allagash White is a crusher. It’s available everywhere, and I never get tired of it. It’s a beer that, when you’re out for your aunt’s 65th birthday and the family is going to Ruby Tuesdays, that’s your saving grace. You can get Allagash White at franchise restaurants or dive bars—it’s easy to obtain. Every time, it’s, ‘They’ve got Allagash White? Okay, I’ll take that.’
“I’ve been drinking it for years, too—the first time I had it was probably around that time I started drinking Belgian beers. At The Veil, we do so many things to extremes, so I appreciate subtlety more than I ever have. I appreciate subtlety more and the drinkability of Allagash White even more.”
3 Floyds Dark Lord
“Dark Lord is the beer that got me into beer trading back in 2010. It was the one that helped me learn about all these different breweries all around the country that I didn’t have access to in my local market. The Virginia beer at that time was limited, and the breweries we had were limited, and there were all of these other breweries across the country that didn’t distribute outside of their own state but were making these incredible beers that were influential on me that I wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
“I joined Beer Advocate, Ratebeer, and the beer-trading forums, and Dark Lord was the one beer that got me into it.
“I’ve always been a metal guy—I used to tour around in metal bands and stuff like that. Three Floyds always had this metal vibe with their branding and their beers, and I gravitated toward Dark Lord. That was the pinnacle of beer trading—people would go to Dark Lord Day every year and get the bottles of Dark Lord. I actually went to Dark Lord Day, once, in 2011—I drove from Virginia to Indiana.
“I don’t know if I could drink a 22-oz bomber of Dark Lord right now. I recently had the barrel-aged version with vanilla—Marshmallow Handjee—and thought it was amazing. So good for a barrel-aged, adjunct stout.
“But Dark Lord was an important beer in my development, learning about all these breweries. Without it, I probably wouldn’t have learned about Kate the Great and Portsmouth Brewery. It was the beer that, when I got on the forums and started reading about it and learning about it before I tried it, that was the beer that everyone was trying to trade for—Dark Lord.
“I ended up trading for it and getting a whole vertical. I had 10 years of Dark Lords, and I ended up opening a bunch and trading a bunch. I always took them to bottle shares because I just had a stockpile of Dark Lords.
“I learned so much about beers across the country from beer trading, and I developed my palate that way—from trading and doing bottle shares and stuff like that. I learned about The Bruery, about Half Acre—all these breweries around the country that weren’t distributing much farther than one to three states in their area, if at all.
“I’ve always dug 3 Floyds—Zombie Dust, Alpha King, Gumballhead, Dreadnaught—I used to have a beer-trader guy who was local to 3 Floyds, and I’d send him stuff from my local store, and he’d send me fresh bombers of Arctic Panzer Wolf, Behemoth, and all the stuff that 3 Floyds had, since they were one of my favorite breweries at the time.”
Dogfish Head 90 Minute
“Dogfish Head 90 Minute is beer that showed me what hoppy beer can be—the beer that got me excited about hops, hoppy beers, IPAs, and pale ales. The flavor profile and the aromatics drew me in—I had never experienced something so hoppy in my life. And the alcohol level—I’d never had an imperial IPA. I think it was 9 percent ABV? I think that’s how they do it—60 Minute is 6 percent, 90 Minute is 9 percent, and 120 Minute is like 75 percent alcohol or something?
“I’m not going to lie to you; I still like 120 Minute. I have a lot of cool stories and experiences involved with it. I respect the heck out of 120 Minute. But 90 Minute—that was me drinking the yellow fizzy stuff, then going into drinking Belgian beer, which is not hops-driven at all and more yeast- and malt-driven. To go into something like 90 Minute, it was like, ‘Holy crap, that’s a lot of hops.’
“Figuring out what those could be—asking, what is an Imperial IPA?—that got me more excited about IPA and pale ale and hops in general.
“Recently, I have been going back to making mixed six-packs, going back and trying all these nostalgic beers that I used to drink on a semi-frequent basis and asking myself, ‘Does it hold up?’ I grabbed a 60 Minute, and I actually grabbed a Burton Baton—that beer is what, a blend of oak-aged IPA and some barleywine? But I did have Burton Baton, and it did hold up.
“Dogfish has done a pretty good job, being as large as they are. I don’t see a lot of their beers tasting different now than when I had them back then. My palate has evolved, but the beer isn’t different. I’d argue that they’ve been consistent, and 60 Minute probably tastes the exact same to someone who has had it for the past 10 years because they are so focused on quality.”
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
“As cliché as it might sound, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is the one—the beer that you can find anywhere, drink any time, at any point in the year. You can have one, you can have five. It’s the perfect balance of a little bit of hops and a little bit of malt but without being too easy drinking or lager-ish or too IPA. You don’t want to be drinking tons of 75-IBU IPAs over and over—you’re just going to destroy your palate and be burnt out.
“Pale Ale is super-accessible and super-drinkable—the perfect balance of hops and malt. I have it in my fridge right now. I don’t really drink a ton of my own beer—I taste it constantly, but I’m not bringing home cases of my own beer. So, if I want beer at home and I’m at the grocery store, I’ll usually just get a six-pack of something from Sierra Nevada. Sometimes it’s Dogfish Head, but it’s usually Sierra Nevada.”
Illustration: Jamie Bogner