A visit to Hardywood as the brewery turns one

They Came. They Brewed. They Conquered. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery celebrated their one year anniversary this past weekend and let Richmonders join in on the party.

It’s always a momentous occasion when a local business flourishes and survives its first year–especially a business that gives a burgeoning beer city its fair share of craft beer and has the locals wanting to help by growing hops or drinking their newest brew. Richmonders have welcomed Hardywood Park Craft Brewery into their hearts, and have every intention of asking for more.

A visit to the brewery before their one-year anniversary festivities helped me see firsthand what goes on behind the scenes of the growing business. Although having stopped by a few times for the occasional tasting of their seasonal brews, it was a different atmosphere when they weren’t entertaining customers. Like an adult Willy Wonka factory, there were bright and shiny fermentation tanks with 12 or so employees cleaning and doing their jobs (happily and busily). Co-founders Patrick Murtaugh and Eric McKay had no problem showing off the place to me.

We first checked out the fermentation tanks, which have doubled in quantity over the year, and they are expecting another one soon. One of the tanks came from Legend Brewery. Patrick said they have a supportive relationship with the older brewery, and they help each other out, even borrowing grain from them. He said “it’s like borrowing a cup of flour from your neighbor.”

Going around from the boiler room (the best place to go in the winter, according to Patrick) to the freezer, you can tell that it’s a business in transition. It was a setting of organized chaos, as there were stacks of grain being moved, hoses on the ground, and no one seemed to mind the various puddles by the tanks.  These were in the process of being cleaned, where people actually have to get inside to scrub. It looked fun, but I left the task to the professionals.

It was a casual atmosphere, but there was no goofing off. Even though It’s a small business, it’s a popular one, and Hardywood keeps up with the high demand. It seems that they’ve found the medium by using tools for efficiency, yet there is still just as much love and care put into each bottle. Workers use machines to bottle the beer, yet the corks are still put in manually with a bit of help from a “corking mechanism” (my phrase for it) that held the bottle, and with pulling the handle, pushes the cork inside.

Eric and Patrick took three days to spread out their business’ first birthday party. Thursday had the biggest Food Truck Court turnout with around 1,500 attendees. Add that to the fundraiser with Nectar Sunglasses, West Coast Kix, and River City Segs for wakeboarder and two-time cancer survivor, Justin Caskey on Friday, which brought in around 700 supporters. Lastly, the big party on Saturday welcomed 1,400 people despite the pre-Sandy weather. It featured the bands People’s Blues of Richmond, The Threeo, and River City Band, who played on a stage surrounded by the fermentation tanks. The brewers even brought out a special anniversary beer, a blend of the popular Virginia Blackberry and the 2011 and 2012 bourbon barrel-aged Milk Stout.

Saturday’s party gave the perfect example of how a business should be with its customers. The co-founders and Head Brewer, Brian Nelson, were able to mingle with family and friends, where it was hard to determine who was a friend or just a fan of the beer. There was a mutual appreciation from brewer to consumer that has helped Hardywood gain so much popularity in its first year.

As for future plans? Eric says they’ll “take them as they come.”

Expansion is in the works. Fortunately, there’s an empty building and lot next door that Hardywood plans to add to the brewery for office space and extra storage. Another goal of the business is to introduce more people to the art of beer. They’re going to host a Cicerone Certification exam later in May. This will help those in the beer business learn to be an accredited beer expert, from learning how to properly store the product to knowing which food to pair it with.

They’re also excited about the Redskins training facility that’s due to pop up behind the Science Museum in 2013. Eric hopes it’ll bring in out-of-towners.

Craft brewers care about the product they put out, and Hardywood is no different. They put the time and effort into creating something that they are proud of and to educate others about the magic behind beer-making. With a growing interest into how craft beer is made, as well as buying up whatever Hardywood places on the shelves, it is obvious that Richmond has an affinity for the finer things in life. With the collective success of last week’s events, it seems Hardywood is here to stay.


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Scotti Cutlip

Scotti is an aspiring stunt driver, trophy cat mom, and stand-up comedian. But for now she writes and drinks a lot of coffee.

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