By: Tiffany Coe
Craft brew lovers in Richmond have been enamored with Hardywood Park Craft Brewery since its 2011 opening. Now, the good news for their brethren in the western part of the state is that Hardywood has opened a Pilot Brewery and Taproom in the heart of Charlottesville, offering much of what fans have come to know and love, along with some fresh twists. Childhood friends Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh founded Hardywood with the idea that its beers would be “brewed with purpose,” using local, quality ingredients and minimizing environmental impacts. In turn, its brews, ranging from pilsners and IPAs to their popular Barrel Series (which presents a wide range of styles aged in various spirits barrels) have won devotees and accolades. In a few short years, Hardywood has earned medals at the Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup, as well as a coveted 100 rating by Beer Advocate.
The new Charlottesville outpost opened on February 28, with the goal of introducing the western region of the state to Hardywood and also serving as a test kitchen of sorts. The 3600 sq. ft. space is located at 1000 W. Main Street between the Downtown Mall and the University of VA Medical Campus, near the bustling area of bars, shops and restaurants known as “The Corner.” It features a 3.5-barrel brewing system, visible from all parts of the taproom and dedicated in large part to experimentation and collaboration. Kevin Storm, who began his career as the youngest commercial brewer at Asheville Brewing Company, joined Hardywood in 2014 and serves as Head Brewer in Charlottesville. Working and brainstorming alongside him is Assistant Brewer Anna Warneke, a young brewer from Germany who is completing her work/study program with Hardywood. Pilot beers are the name of the game for Kevin and Anna, who focus on developing and honing new and creative offerings. For customers, this means the opportunity to try beers that may not be available in Richmond or on store shelves; in other words, they get to be guinea pigs in the best way possible.
The Charlottesville space is intimate by design and encourages patrons to chat with bartenders about the beers, as well as leave feedback (via comment cards or with staff) on the experimental styles they sample. “When a new style gets outstanding feedback or is followed up by a high volume of requests for its return, we generally know we have something that may appeal to a wider audience,” notes Marketing Manager Matt Shofner. “At that point, we begin perfecting the recipe based on customer feedback, then scaling it up for production on our 20-barrel system in Richmond, as well as developing the name and artwork for the brand.” Ultimately, these beers are released in limited fashion in both Charlottesville and Richmond, and are packaged in 16oz. cans as part of the Small Batch Series.
So far, two beers have “graduated” from Charlottesville experiments to become official members of the Hardywood collection: Road to Idaho (a single hop IPA featuring notes of orange peel, lemon, and apricot), and Edelgeist (a noble ghost white IPA with notes of honeydew, white grape, and pineapple). The brews in this series have been branded with the tagline "Small batch experiments gone right” to indicate that they originated in Charlottesville’s pilot brewery. On Hardywood’s ongoing dedication to the region, Shofner notes, “Our goal is to source as many local ingredients as possible, and we will continue to do so in the development of new brands in Charlottesville.” Both Road to Idaho and Edelgeist utilize wheat malt from Copper Fox Distillery in Sperryville, Virginia. In addition to a rotating selection of experimental and collaborative brews (including the forthcoming Peelin' Lucky Banana Creme Ale, in partnership with Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewery), Hardywood’s flagship Singel is always on tap in Charlottesville. The Singel is a Belgian-style blonde ale, inspired by the Trappist brewers of Western Europe—delicious on its own or paired with savory eats. In fact, Hardywood also incorporates this ale into a not-to-be-missed savory house-made pretzel served with beer cheese and beer mustard. In addition, local kombucha, sweet treats and nitro coffee are always on offer. Over the past few months, Charlottesville has welcomed Hardywood’s Pilot Brewery and Taproom with open arms. Locals, as well as tourists, have wandered in to explore, and in many cases, made return visits. The taproom’s vibe is casual and family friendly, with board games aplenty and an outdoor patio. Indoor details include a beautiful community table made by Wellborn + Wright from a reclaimed tree, and stools made by Ore & Fiber from a reclaimed fence.
In addition to great beer, tasty snacks and a welcoming atmosphere, Hardywood has also partnered with Open Heart Yoga to offer a weekly class at the taproom every Sunday morning. Other events are also in the works, including trivia night. Hardywood’s new presence is Charlottesville is a win-win for both customers and the brewery; it has already seen significant growth in brand awareness in the region. As noted by Shofner, “We love the opportunity to engage more deeply with our fans in the western region and are so grateful for the support we've received from restaurant and retail accounts in the area.” Experiments never tasted so good. Hardywood currently distributes beers throughout Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Eastern Pennsylvania. The Charlottesville Pilot Brewery and Taproom is open Tue.Wed. 2-10pm, Thu.-Sat. 12–11pm and Sun. 2-10pm.