By Jeff Maisey
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery is developing a sort of three-tier system of its own, but it’s not what you’re thinking.
They’re not getting into the distribution business, but exploring both extremes of beer production.
Co-owners Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh opened the Richmond brewery in October 2011. Since then the brewery has garnered numerous awards and legions of fans. With this popularity has come the need to expand, and they are taking a multi-prong approach.
While Hardywood Park plans to maintain its current brewery in RVA, it announced plans to build and operate a large production brewery in rural Goochland. The new brewery will allow for increased production of its core brands such as Singel, but the facility will be a craft beer geeks dream allowing self-guided tours, and lots of live music. The Goochland location is expected to open in the fall of 2017.
On the other extreme, Hardywood Park is opening a satellite nano brewery in Charlottesville, located between the University of Virginia campus and the downtown Mall. Hardywood plans to brew small batches of one-off experimental recipes.
In theory, a beer recipe could be developed as test batched in C-Ville, become popular enough to expand production in RVA, and then if demand is evident be boosted to Goochland for mass production.
To learn more about Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s bold brand expansion plans, I joined head brewer Brian Nelson for an early morning beer. Nelson has been Hardywood’s top brewer from the beginning.
Why was Charlottesville chosen for Hardywood Park’s first satellite location, and do you plan additional satellites?
The Charlottesville location sort of came up very quickly for us, but we had already made a decision to expand our brand within that market. It is a good beer market. There are a lot of other great breweries there. We felt that in order to get some traction in western Virginia and create brand loyalty we need a place to do some one-offs and create some interesting beer styles while giving people a place to hang out and experience Hardywood.
I think Richmond and Charlottesville align culturally as far as live music, and the outdoors.
There’s going to be a 3-barrel system (in Charlottesville). In our current facility, 20 barrels is a lot of beer to go through if we just do one-offs, which we do in the tasting room to keep relevancy. Charlottesville is like a test kitchen location. We’ll keep rotating one-offs and really stretch our creativity from the brewing side. Some of those will graduate to a bigger release.
Who currently develops Hardywood Park’s one-off recipes and will that same person, or people, develop the recipes for the satellite test kitchen?
I think the way we get involved in designing new recipes is it’s not just one person. We pull from a lot of different creative minds. Our brewers have no shortage of ideas. It’s more of a collaborative setting, and then we dial it in to the direction that ultimately we think Hardywood wants it to go.
The way I see Charlottesville doing it is to have a meeting every month and say these are the styles we want to do. Let’s develop that and put some notes on paper and get a direction. I think that’s reflected in our Brewer & Artist series that allows autonomy for our brewers to get from the ground-up, design their own beer and take it all the way to a production level.
The 3-barrel size is something that’s not going to hurt us if something doesn’t come out the way we want it to. One of our brewers did a smoked sour beer. Everybody was, like, “Ah, not really sure about it.” It did turn out fantastic and was well-received at Savor. This really did hit the mark for a lot of people, though we didn’t expect it to.
When we do brand development, beer development, it starts from piloting and then marketing, and making sure those two things correlate. Then if we need to do revisions on it and find where the ABV goes or IBUs – that’s a collaborative effort.
A lot of the inspiration for our beers comes from locally sourced ingredients. Now that we’re going out to new terrain and have new options for creating new styles we’ll see what inspiration comes from the Charlottesville and the mountainous region.
Will the beers developed at the C-Ville satellite location be entered separately into competitions as Devils Backbone has done for the Outpost and Basecamp locations?
Yeah, I think there will be an opportunity there. Stylistically, when we do enter beers for this location verses that location you’re able to do – since it is a different brewhouse – you’re able to submit those for whatever beers come out of that brewhouse.
Our core brands – our pils, our Singel – we always enter them and get good feedback, we’re just waiting to get a medal for them and get that recognition. We’ll continue to do that. But on the pilot side, we’ll throw whatever sticks, and if it does get some traction we’ll move it up to the larger systems.
Will the C-Ville location use Hardywood Park in its name for brand consistency?
We haven’t really determined that. It’ll still be the Hardywood Park, but it’ll be like an outpost thing or something of that nature.
The building’s a little bit behind schedule so it’ll be September or October before it opens. There will some build-out and getting the brew equipment in there, but we’re not looking for anything extravagant. It’s going to be like the feel we have in our current tasting room in Richmond – comfortable, unpretentious. We’ll be making pretzels out there and serving some cheeses to get that comfortable vibe going.
Are you looking at other markets for additional satellite locations?
Not right now. The opportunity just came up and we’re going to see how it works. If it does work then it might be a potential in the future. I think we have our hands full with all that’s going on right now with current production in Richmond and the Goochland facility gearing up.
Where are things currently with the Goochland facility?
We just broke ground with cutting the road in, clearing trees in order to lay the foundation. Things are starting to pick up and happen very quickly. We’ve locked-in a brewhouse manufacturer that’s going to provide all the brewing equipment for us. We’re finalizing some details on the architecture.
Mostly, we have a 90% plan in there so now it just needs to be executed and done on time, which is always the hard part.
We’re still looking at 2017 in the September/October range for the opening.
Which Hardywood Park brands will be produced at Goochland?
Primarily we’re looking at flagships: Singel, Pils and other core brands that we’re doing in higher volume. It will be more efficient.
I’m trying to design the brewhouse so we’re capable of adding pumpkins into the mash and all these sort of things, where a lot of automated systems are just there to turn out flagship stuff.
We’re starting out with a 60-barrel brewhouse. It’ll be a 4-vessel made by BrauKon. It’s been fun working with them and trying to get over these challenges of when to add spices, how to do this, and how to put purees in the things we do here all manually. That’s a fun engineering challenge.
There will be some overlap between that facility and the Richmond facility to start. We may do bottled beers at the new facility but keep the canned beer in Richmond until we get up to speed.
Did you look at breweries such as Sierra Nevada or New Belgium and how they designed their Asheville, NC facilities while planning Hardywood’s Goochland facility?
Yeah. The building, layout of the brewery and equipment is done basically to have one of the best brewing experiences for the customer ever. That’s our target.
You’ll come into our tasting room as the customer. You’re going to see the brewing equipment on display. You’re going to see people working.
It’s going to be behind the stage. We’re going to keep the live music aspect of it indoors as well. The stage will be right in front of the brewhouse where you’ll see the vessels. As you pan to the right you’ll see the fermentation.
It’s going to be a unique experience. We’re hoping you’ll see some of the pipes, which I think is cool. But we’re going to keep it nice and neat.
A lot of breweries you go to you’ll see it from the outside or from behind the glass.
Taking some notes from Troeg’s – they have a self-guided tour – we’ll have an area where you can walk past the fermentation hall, past the laboratory we’ll have, and go all the way down to the packing hall. You’ll see the bottles coming off the line, the kegs and barrel storage.
All of that was very much in the forefront of how we designed the building.
What are the best selling flagships for Hardywood, and why do you think these styles have performed so well in the marketplace?
To start off, when we opened our doors we made a conscious effort to release something that not everybody was doing; that was our Belgian-style blonde ale, the Singel. It’s not an entry level beer like an amber ale. It has a lot of complexity to it coming from the yeast we used. That was somewhat of a gamble, I think. But we decided we’re not going with a pale ale right out of the gate, or an IPA. The Singel still is our biggest seller.
Pils is our next biggest. That’s been ramping up very quickly. It’s a very well crafted beer. That’s going to outpace Singel probably this year.
Beyond that Great Return, our IPA, is probably our next biggest seller as a flagship. There’s just a wild amount of hops in there, and overall just a great beer.
There has been a lot of attention in the craft beer scene given to over-the-top IPAs and extreme beers, but do you see a sort of reverse trend where people just want a solid, traditional beer as their go-to after work beverage?
I think the IPA and pale ales are still going to be there for a very long time. It has been the dominant style in America for the last ten years. I don’t see that going anywhere, but I see the pilsners and these lighter, more sessionable beers with 5% alcohol – something you can have one or two of and not be palate fatigued, and is also good for food pairing – resonates with a lot of people.
Coffee beers have a certain place, but nobody’s going to drink a coffee beer year-round.