Following years of following hockey games with an ice cold Rolling Rock, Ryan Reaves eventually lost his taste for the watery brew.
Riding the twin waves of playing for the Vegas Golden Knights and the new and growing popularity of hockey in the desert, the nine-year NHL veteran launched 7Five Brewing Company in December with Training Day Blonde Ale, in collaboration with Vegas’ Able Baker Brewing.
Reaves was traded to the Golden Knights midseason last year, during the team’s magical inaugural season run to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to the Washington Capitals. He’s one of the most physical—and contentious—players in the league, but like many of the players who’ve made their way onto the Golden Knights roster, he’s come out of his shell. Not only that, he’s having the best statistical year of his career as the team looks to repeat its success.
We spoke to Reaves about launching his own brewery, his favorite beers, and what it’s like being loathed by much of the league.
How’d you get into beer?
Basically, I was in St. Louis with the Blues and I used to drink Rolling Rock all the time. I’d come home from a game and the first thing I wanted was a Rolling Rock. Eventually, every time I’d go out and try something with hops. Then one day I came home and just didn’t want that Rolling Rock—I couldn’t stand it.
I was with some boys on the road in Pittsburgh and for some reason I wanted to try to brew my [own] batch, got back to St. Louis and got hooked up with a brewery owner to point me in the right direction for ingredients and equipment. I was going to YouTube it, but he told me, “You can’t YouTube how to homebrew.” He had a homebrew kit in his basement and he let me do everything, and we bottled 48 bottles. I went back to Winnipeg for the summer and he called me and said, “This beer is good, can I sell it?” [Grim Reaver Red IPA] turned out to be the number-two selling beer at Center Ice Brewery. That summer I was traded to Pittsburgh and that was the end of that.
Then I was traded to Vegas and starting checking out the beer scene, and there’s not a very big one. It’s a little behind the curve. So I called up my friend Adam Coates, who, while I was playing hockey, he was learning the beer industry—worked for Labatt. He made his way up, working out East and working on acquisitions. We talked and decided there’s an opportunity here and that’s where it all started.
Do you any favorite beers, after Rolling Rock?
I had one favorite, Snake Oil from 4 Hands Brewing in St. Louis. It’s their seasonal IPA that’s a little grapefruity but not too hoppy. It was good, that was my go-to. Really, I would just make a point to buy different beers every time I went to the store, just to try to see what I like. I started drinking stouts four or five months after, and now I’m really into stouts and porters. I love a good oatmeal stout.
Beer seems like a quintessential piece of hockey culture. Are you finding your teammates enjoy it?
It’s not in cans yet, but I bought the growlers to them and they’ve tried it on tap whenever we’re around it and seem to like it. I’m going to try and grow a little bit with the hockey scene.
But beer goes hand in hand with hockey. Like, after a game the first thing I wanted was always a beer. Some teams have beer fridges in their locker room.
Why launch a brewery? And why do it before you’re done playing?
I think a couple of reasons. I want to grow with the Vegas beer market and stay ahead of the curve. It’s not as big as other cities for sure, so to be in there early and establish it while I also can leverage some of the popularity I and the Golden Knights have and grow faster than other companies might be able to. Plus, I know I want to do something when I’m done playing hockey, so why wait? Rather than scrambling to get something going after I’m down, this is something that I make a little time for now and doesn’t affect my hockey.
Both beer and hockey are, historically speaking, very culturally white. What’s it like being so heavily involved in both?
You know, I don’t know if I’ve ever thought of it that way. Hockey is definitely seen as a white sport and hockey and beer go together, but I’ve never really looked at it like that. I’m from Canada and my school was very multicultural and not a lot of racist stuff you really noticed. So I haven’t really thought about it.
I love being hated by other teams, especially in my role—I’m doing something right.”
Everywhere you’ve played, fans love you—but the rest of the league hates you! What’s it like being hated by every fanbase you haven’t played for?
I love it. I never would have thought coming to Vegas I’d be embraced like this, especially after the two first games when we lost two games in a row for the first time in a couple months and I took really bad penalties. The fans have warmed up and I love the fans. They bring it every night, so passionate and loyal, and I show them love when I can. But I love being hated by other teams, especially in my role—I’m doing something right.
You’re having your best statistical season, showing you have skill. Is that fun?
It’s nice. I’ve been able to celebrate a lot more than past years. It speaks to this organization. Guys who you’ve never heard of are having career years. William Karlsson had six goals the year before and then he hits the 40-goal mark. It speaks to the way the organization is run and [head coach Gerard Gallant] runs his bench. It lets all the skill shine.
7Five is launching with a blonde ale. What were you going for with that?
This one, we wanted to make something for if you drink light lagers and don’t want to explore too much. The name makes you go to try it. It’s light enough that lager drinkers won’t shy away from it—they can have two or three of them and it’s just easy—but there’s enough flavor and hops that people who are into beer would come down and crush them. I think we nailed the flavor aspect of it and it finishes very smooth. That’s the most important part, so it doesn’t leave a bitter taste.
What other plans are in the works?
Right now we’re working on a lager for the summer season, a good out-in-the-sun beer, and then we’ll work on a heavier IPA, but nothing too crazy. Then we’ll work on something for puck drop and playoffs next season. Those might be a seasonal stout.
We’re open to any avenue right now. The partnership with Able Baker Brewing is working out really well for us and it’s smooth. For right now we’ll work with them, but like any business we’ll look at any option we can as we grow.