The dream of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery began with the co-founders’ first taste of handcrafted beer at an Australian farm bearing the brewery’s namesake over a decade ago. Since opening in the fall of 2011, the brewery has been driven by the desire to introduce others to the incredible taste of craft beer. Richmond’s own Hardywood Park Craft Brewery served as the location for our photo shoot for the first collection of Short Run Shirting of 2013. After our photo shoot, the brewery’s co-founders, Patrick Murtaugh, who serves as Hardywood’s Brewmaster and Eric McKay, Hardywood’s President, spared a moment to speak on their experiences in the beer industry before opening Hardywood, the growing interest in microbrewery culture, and their mission of crafting the best beer.
How did you get into brewing and what led to the opening Hardywood?
[P]: It all started at Hardywood’s namesake, Hardywood Park, a sheep farm in Bathurst, Australia. Eric was out there studying abroad and his host family for his orientation lived on this farm. I was backpacking through Australia at the time and Eric asked the family if he could invite a friend out, so I came down for about a week. We were put to work delousing sheep and at the end of the day we would finish up with a glass of home brewed beer. Both of us were just amazed that beer could have that much flavor and taste that good.
This was quite an enlightening moment that would shape the rest of your lives. How old were you at the time?
[P]: I was 22 and Eric was 21. The guy who owned the farm showed us a couple of things about home brewing, and right then we decided to go home and start home brewing on our own.
It sounds like your friendship goes pretty far back, even before Australia.
[E]: We have known each other since we were toddlers. I have distinct memories of us being 16 and brainstorming about starting a business together. It all kind of clicked when we started brewing. We always wanted to do something creative, or make something. It was a matter of figuring out what it was going to be.
After you returned from Australia, what was next for you?
[E]: Around the time that I graduated from college, both Patrick and I got jobs as sales reps for a beer distributor in New York City. This was a very innovative company and was one of the first Anheuser-Busch distributors to start selling craft beers very aggressively. They bought a phenomenal craft beer portfolio and started competing against other Anheuser-Busch distributors in New York City. Both of us were working in Manhattan and got to see many approaches to selling and marketing craft beer. At the time we would go into the best restaurants in New York City and try to sell craft beer and they would say, ‘We are not a beer place, we’re a fine wine place, and show us the door. Now the best restaurants in New York City all have phenomenal beer lists. It was amazing to be there during that time of transition.
Brewmaster is an impressive title that I’m sure anyone would want to have on his or her business card; what schooling was required to receive this?
[P]: After I left the beer distributor, I tried to get as much experience and education as I could before opening up this brewery. I enrolled in the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, which is brewing school that opened in 1872, and the same brewing school my great grandfather and great uncle went to. After Siebel, I went to Doemens Academy, which is a brewing school located outside of Munich, Germany. The biggest thing I learned in brewing school was how little I knew about brewing.
You both took many of the right steps along the way. Did you know that when you had your first taste of home brew in Australia that Hardywood Park Craft Brewery would be the end goal – or did everything just fall into place on your path to opening Hardywood?
[E]: We knew we wanted to start brewing beer as a hobby, but once we learned that we were capable of making pretty good beer and people were experiencing a similar feeling of enlightenment as we did at Hardywood Park – that’s when it all clicked and we realized that doing something we were truly passionate about could provide so much long-term fulfillment.
It’s amazing that Hardywood Brewery has achieved its level of success for only having been around for a year and three months.
[P]: It’s been an incredible year; Richmond has been unbelievable in their level of welcome. Looking back, we’ve gotten a lot more done than we’ve anticipated from the number of employees, number of beers we are brewing, name recognition and little accomplishments along the way such as getting a perfect score for our Gingerbread Stout in Beer Advocate and receiving medals for our beers.
Much of this success is justified by the quality of beer you produce. When you are creating an award-winning brew, what do you look for?
[E]: It all starts with an idea and our ideas come from all over the place. One of the central components to coming up with these ideas is making sure that no one has done it before and then doing it really well. Some of this has been inspired by what we can source locally.
After receiving the inspiration, and then going through test batches, when do you know that you have it right?
[P]: Eric and I are both BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) Certified Beer Judges. Between the two of us, we’ve tasted thousands of different beers when we worked for our distributor over the years. We definitely have an idea of what good beer is and what certain styles should taste like. We’ve done a lot of sensory analysis training and know what flavors to look out for. We certainly have a good idea of what to look out for but the ultimate test is how the public reacts to it and if our customers like it.
There are multiple microbreweries opening in our region and the popularity of craft beer is on the rise, what do you think is the cause of this?
[P]: I think one small part of it is the boom of social media that has allowed the small guys to compete on a certain level with the larger, foreign-owned brewers that produce millions of barrels per year. We don’t have Super Bowl ads but now we all of the sudden have a way to have a dialogue with our focus market and customers. We don’t have to advertise on a national level because we aren’t selling on a national level. There have also been a lot of legal changes that have lowered the barrier of entry and have made it more attractive to start a brewery.
I saw a video that the governor of Virginia had a press event here during the summer.
[P]: The governor signed Senate Bill 604, which allows breweries to sell glasses of beer at the brewery without having to start a restaurant. This is something wineries have been allowed to do for a long time. This law has made it a lot easier to start a brewery on a smaller scale where you can sell a glass of beer for $5. You have to make a decent amount of beer in order to achieve the economies of scale to have your prices even remotely competitive.
Going back to what you were saying earlier about the bars in New York and now with the passage of the bill in Virginia, it’s very interesting how the perception of beer has changed overtime.
[P]: Wine has always been appreciated on a different level than beer but it is finally starting to level out a bit. One thing that has contributed to the success of craft beer is that people are looking for value in whatever they buy. If they have a choice between a $4 light lager with little flavor or an extremely flavorful interesting beer that they can pair with their expensive meal for a dollar more, they will gladly pay that extra dollar and feel like they are getting a better value.
Within the city, there seems to be a collaborative spirit among the breweries.
[P]: I think that is what is going to make Richmond a successful city, collaborating with other businesses. We collaborate with local farmers to create beer, allowing people to come pick hops with us off vines, and work with several other local businesses. Businesses talking and eliminating the feeling of competition will help everyone succeed. The people from Legend Brewing Co. [a Richmond brewery that opened in 1994] came over and dumped our first bag of malt and then put our beer on tap at their brewery.
If someone cannot make it to the brewery, where can they find your beer?
[E]: We are in quite a few stores, specialty bottle shops and supermarkets, as well as in 130-150 restaurants.
It’s been a great year and three months for you guys, any big plans for the coming months?
[P]: We are still finalizing the recipe for our hot chocolate stout. It has a nice chocolate flavor with habanero peppers providing a bit of heat on the back end. We are also using scotch bonnet peppers in this, which have a fruity flavor to them. We’ll also have some interesting small batch brews as well as maybe more Reserve Series releases along the way.
After learning of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery’s approach to the craft of beer making and the many years that led up to its opening, it is no surprise that they have achieved their level of success in a relatively short period of time. They have acquired an almost cult-like following, proven by the mass of the crowd that assembles at the brewery on any given beer release. For more information on Hardywood, please feel free to visit their website and ‘like’ their Facebook page. We wish them many more years to come!
Our first collection of Short Run Shirting for 2013 is now available.