Tucked into nondescript brick buildings in a gritty, industrial neighborhood between Richmond’s The Diamond and Fan neighborhoods is a Virginia company that does everything right. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery, in just four years, has become — in our minds — Virginia’s signature craft brewery, defined not only by the tasty, “I’ll have another, bartender” quality of its craft beers but also by its business model.
Hardywood Park is that rare combination of entrepreneurial business that produces top caliber products — when our own co-founder Rudy Heinatz discovered their Gingerbread Stout he met his sudsy soul mate — while being an economic generator for the local economy and at the same time pouring its profits into good works by supporting local charities and non-profits.
Besides all that, the Hardywood Park team is just great people. Here at Marker Nine, we took them up on a recent invitation to tour the brewery and get an insider’s peek at the Hardywood Park culture. They are fabulous hosts, extremely generous and the insight we gleaned was invaluable. From our perspective, as far as a workday goes, it doesn’t get any better than spending a couple of hours touring Hardywood Park Craft Brewery.
Our hosts for the day were Hardywood Park employees Ben Petty, head of sales, and Matt Shofner, marketing manager. Among our first impressions is that Hardywood Park does a lot of little things right, like using reclaimed wood for bar tables, beer taps, signs and elsewhere. The Hardywood logo says it all: A live oak. Using reclaimed wood “fits what we’re trying to do here — make the world a better place,” Petty said.
Making the world a better place plays out in other ways, such as supporting local non-profits like FeedMore, a Richmond food bank. “It’s cool that we can do things in our own little way to help out,” Petty said.
They use locally grown ingredients as much as possible such as pumpkins, hops, berries, ginger, spices and honey, the produce often coming from farmers who approach Hardywood Park with their products. In 2015, Petty said, Hardywood Park was the largest consumer of Virginia-grown agricultural products in the beverage industry, using 11,000 lbs. of local ingredients to make their beer. The trickle-down effect has even led to a local farmer adding more employees and offering health insurance benefits, virtually unheard of for farmworkers.
In addition to using reclaimed wood and converting its beer barrels into rain barrels, the company gets all of its electricity through renewable energy sources courtesy of Dominion’s “Green Power” program.
The Founders’ Passion
The Hardywood Park story is really about a lifelong friendship with a shared passion that blossomed into a business. Friends and co-founders Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh had a revelation in 2001 when they discovered hand-crafted beer at an Australian sheep station called Hardywood Park.
McKay and Murtaugh had a shared passion for beer, with McKay working in sales and marketing for leading craft brew makers and Patrick studying beer making first in Chicago and then for training at Doemens Academy in Munich, Germany. The two launched Hardywood Park in the fall of 2011 and by 2015 it was rated the top brewery in Virginia on here.. (You can read more about Hardywood Park
The Hardywood Effect
A remarkable thing about Hardywood Park is its crazy growth. Its popularity has zoomed in a state and region that was slow to embrace the craft beer trend, despite Richmond's history as hosting a bevy of brew makers thanks in large part to its German community.
A game-changer for Hardywood Park came in 2012 with the passage in Virginia of Senate Bill 604, granting brewers’ the right to sell beer and offer tastings on premises. Hardywood Park took full advantage and if you’re heading down there on a weekend for a beer straight from the source good luck finding a parking spot. It’s a good problem to have.
Everything about Hardywood Park is impressive, from its quality control to its community first mindset. While we might be impressed the most by the taste — trust us, you won’t find a better craft beer in America — we’re equally impressed by their ambition. “We want to make world class beer,” Petty said. “We want to be the most respected beer in America.”
Hardywood Park has our vote.