It’s a common dream among homebrewers to open their own craft breweries, but in Richmond, VA a couple in their twenties are leading the charge on opening a new type of brewery; one that doesn’t even serve beer. With the sudden, explosive popularity of hard seltzer, Richmond Seltzer Co. Vanessa and Iain are opening Richmond’s first hard seltzer taproom serving hand-crafted hard seltzers made with locally sourced ingredients.
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Before we get started, let’s do some quick introductions:
Vanessa comes from a Marketing background and found her passion for small businesses while taking up internships around the city. The craft beverage industry became of interest to her when one of the clients from her internship was Virginia Cider. She then became the Marketing Manager at a local Richmond cidery, and decided she was going to make her own business within the industry, but she knew she wanted it to be new and exciting.
Iain comes from an Engineering background with entrepreneurial dreams and tendencies. He loves the craft beverage industry as well, so when Vanessa came to him with this big idea he was quick to jump in. He took it upon himself to experiment with different recipes and ingredients to create the perfect handcraft hard seltzer.
Let’s start the interview!
Thanks for joining us, Vanessa and Iain!
Tell us about Richmond Seltzer Co.
We love Richmond, Virginia (RVA), but we think the city was missing one thing…craft spiked seltzer. So, we decided to open RVA’s first seltzer taproom! We started with crafting and bottling our own homebrewed hard seltzer in a tiny apartment kitchen, but now we’re looking for space to open a storefront! Our plan is to have a space with a production area to be able to produce more seltzer as well as invite people in to a small tasting room area to enjoy the craft beverage straight from the taps! We are planning to open our commercial space in August of 2021. We hope to get our taproom location in the next couple of months and begin renovations so that we are able to open by next year. Our taproom will be similar in size to a tasting room–it will be small but mighty!
We are currently in the process of finding our location and taproom. It’s definitely been a challenge finding a small space that will also be able to support heavy brewing equipment, but we are still optimistic! We are trying to make sure our taproom is located in an area with heavy foot traffic and that it is accessible to as many people in our area as possible.
We’ve been fortunate enough that the person who will be helping us a little with our brewing process in the future is also helping us in so many different areas from sourcing the best equipment, to the right ingredients, to the best distributor for our small-batch scale. We are currently funding our taproom process with our own money and money raised through our merch sales. 100% of the proceeds from our website sales go back to help us fund our business and open the taproom. An investor will most likely be one of our next steps.
What made you decide on brewing seltzer as opposed to beer or cider?
We decided seltzer because there are already so many options for beer and cider and breweries and cideries but there really aren’t many options for seltzer, especially craft seltzers. There also aren’t any seltzer taprooms in our area where people with a similar interest in seltzers can get together and drink. Since we are only serving seltzers and no additional alcoholic beverages, our taproom will be the perfect spot for seltzer enthusiasts.
When Vanessa was working at the cidery she realized that the craft beverage industry in Richmond is oversaturated with breweries and cideries and that a lot of her friends were now drinking seltzers. With the newish drink becoming popular and with so many fun flavor ideas, we saw a demand without a sufficient supply and decided that we wanted to brew seltzer professionally to fill that gap. Vanessa decided that she wanted to open a seltzer taproom in the next 3-5 years but when she was laid off due to COVID-19 shut downs, she thought there was no better time than now to get it started.
What makes your seltzer unique?
Our seltzer is unique because we are brewing and fermenting the alcohol ourselves and using natural and local ingredients for flavoring. Many other places brewing their seltzers are using a beer or cider base, while we are making a true seltzer so it will taste as close to what someone has in mind that seltzer is supposed to taste like, but better because it’s craft and made in small batches.
We are really focusing on fan-favorite flavors, but also unique flavors. For starters, we are playing around with sour seltzers. We are also making the first seltzer using AR’s Hot Southern Honey for a sweet and spicy seltzer. Lastly, one of our favorite seltzers is our Passion Fruit Guava & Orange seltzer. We’re still working on a name for this one, but we expect it to be our best-selling flavor. We are using fruits typically used in other parts of the world and bringing those flavors to the states!
Describe the atmosphere that you’re planning on for Richmond Seltzer Co.
We are definitely a very funny, laid back couple. We’re both 24 years old so we hope our brand comes off as chill and vibrant. We are also experimental over traditional, so we want the brand to reflect that. The atmosphere will be unique in that it will be a really chill, laid back place to hang out. Customers will be able to see the tanks that we brew in and may even be able to catch us brewing while they visit. As the owners we will most likely always have one of us in the taproom to get to know our customers and interact with them. We will be doing guided flights and customers will be able to ask us questions so that we can continue to help grow the craft seltzer movement.
Are you planning on distribution, or only taproom sales?
We plan to do distribution on a small scale. Most of our sales will be from onsite taproom sales, but we do have plans to get some distribution going in specific areas and are interested in selling at farmer’s markets.
We will be opening in Richmond, VA and will be only focusing on this area for a while. Our hope and goal is to get as many local customers as possible and gain their loyalty. We have plans to do some sort of community involvement. We’ve been thinking about collecting our bottle caps and donating a percentage of our profits from each bottle sold to a local charity or non-profit. We’ve also received a suggestion to organize glass or trash pick-ups in our community so that customers get a discount if they bring us a bag of trash or glass bottles.
We hope to grow quickly but we understand that on average it takes a brewery around five years to fully get good growth. When we hit our 5 year mark we will most likely open a distribution warehouse where we can produce more seltzers and do more distribution.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves!
When and how did you start brewing?
We actually started brewing during quarantine! We are a little nontraditional because decided we wanted to open a seltzer taproom before we started brewing. We then began homebrewing after watching some videos online and buying our equipment. Our hope is that we can move to a professional setting by the wintertime so we can produce better quality seltzers. We have been in touch with other brewers who have given us great advice and we will be working with one here and there to get the perfect recipe.
Our first homebrewing setup was pretty basic. It consisted of a 5-gallon Stainless Steel Pot, 5-gallon fermentation chamber, a couple of simple measuring instruments, and of course a great environment to brew in. We’re currently looking at commercial, production-level equipment for when we find our location.
We basically took a crash course in brewing and decided to give it a shot. Vanessa came from a Marketing position at a local cidery where she worked for a year. Before that, she was an intern at Big Spoon Co. where Virginia Cider was one of their clients and she did a lot of their social media post planning and event planning for cideries. That’s when she fell in love with the industry. She was laid off during the pandemic, but wanted to stay within the craft beverage industry. Iain is an engineer and took it upon himself to learn the basics of brewing. Since then, we’ve been in contact with other brewers and we are working on perfecting our recipe. We’ve had some great turnouts, but we want it to be absolutely perfect.
We don’t have any formal brewing education but I do have an engineering background with some experience in biochemistry that has set me up well to develop my brewing skills as we grow. Vanessa’s background in the craft beverage industry and learning from other brewers helped us grow and understand what works and what doesn’t, which really helped us get to this point so quickly. But as a team we are striving to make the perfect seltzer, so we have also begun coordinating with local brewers in the area to add some professional experience to our team.
We started off by making sure we could craft a good seltzer and then started planning out our short term and long term goals. We wrote up our business plan and we are currently touring places in our area to open our taproom. It also took a lot of networking with people within the industry and getting those good connections.
How do you make your seltzer?
To make our seltzers, the first thing we do is sanitize all of our brewing equipment. This makes sure that there won’t be anything in our fermentation chamber that could cause the batch to produce unwanted byproducts.
Next we bring some distilled water to a boil, add in sugar, and stir for about 15 minutes. Then we add in yeast nutrient and let the mix cool to room temperature before pouring it into our fermentation chamber with some additional distilled water.
Next step is to add the yeast and let it sit for 2-4 weeks to allow fermentation to take place. Once fermentation is complete, we add a vegan clarifier to our mix to clear it up and then we transfer it into a container where we add in our flavorings.
Finally we either force carbonate our seltzers in small kegs or we add priming sugar and bottle it directly, allowing natural carbonation to take place over two weeks.
What advice would you give someone else interested in opening a seltzer taproom?
What challenges did you face?
We were already aware of how challenging this process was going to be for first-time brewers, so nothing has been very surprising to us. If I had to pick one thing it would be that I wish we had come up with the idea earlier so we could have opened a few years ago!
Our greatest success would be how fun, engaging, and supportive our future customers have been! We also feel that our Passion fruit seltzer is also a great success for us because it’s the first seltzer we crafted that has gotten thumbs up from everyone we’ve given samples of it to.
Our greatest failure was thinking that we knew everything. There have been so many things that we are learning from our homebrewing friends and other professionals that we would have never thought about.
I think a common myth is that many of these breweries come from people who already had a lot of money, but there are several small scale breweries and cideries that are start-ups and need your support to get to that point of being super successful. The community is super important when it comes to small business breweries.
What is your number one tip?
Our number one tip is Practice, practice, practice. You aren’t going to get a good batch of seltzer on your first or even fifth try. It takes a lot of practice and A LOT of patience. Seltzer is a super clean beverage with a clean base. While ciders and beers have stronger smells that are typical for those beverages, seltzers are clean and people expect them to smell clean and look clean too. It takes a while to get that perfect recipe, and it’s even something we are still working on. Better quality seltzers will also come when you scale up your brewing equipment (a tip we learned from our awesome contractor!), so don’t fret if your homebrewing batches aren’t perfect right away.
We’re really excited about our seltzer taproom and the stereotypes we hope to change about the brewing industry. It’s no secret that the industry is primarily white and we really want to break those norms and start making a change for the industry by implementing better hiring practices when we open. Vanessa is Latina and hopes to keep the taproom diverse and welcoming to everyone.
Where can people connect with you?
Thank you so much for sharing your story with us! Best of luck to you in the future!
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