by Marty Nopper, Tastemaker in Residence
Well, I seldom write blogs about places I have been to quite a few times before, especially when they are local. I know, I know, I write about Virginia breweries a lot. I live here. It’s my home turf and Virginia has some of the best beers in the country. In fact, so much beer gets consumed here that two of the top microbreweries in the country actually set up shop here (Green Flash and Stone). But here's the point: maybe I haven't actually captured the true essence of these native offerings...maybe it’s more about the community rather than the buzz…yeah, right. I will attempt to capture some of that essence here as I have visited this mega micro-brewery in Richmond for the 6th time and never told you all how good it really is. With over 30 brewers in the Richmond area vying for your brew bucks, this is truly a diamond in the rough as far as local creators of malted mash go and well worth some of your time (be sure to take some home!).
Hardywood Brewery Park is located in the industrial section of Richmond near The Diamond. With 2 facilities side by side, it's understandable why they make a crap load of beer. The Brewery & Warehouse Taproom on one side and the Tree Bar & Gallery Bar Taprooms with exterior Garage Bar next door make up most of the grounds where you can have group gatherings, sip samplers with friends or gather for an event (like tonight). There is also bocce and cornhole spaces in between the buildings if you’re feeling it. Started by 2 buddies who shared a home crafted beverage halfway around the globe and taking its name from a sheep farm where one of the founders worked, the idea for Hardywood was born.
Being that the main bar area was closed due to a private party, all tall boy traffic was asked to belly up to the brewery next door and to actually order from the warehouse bar. How cool- this is actually where they make these hoppy hallucinogens! Bram, my sudsy server for the evening, greeted me and proceeded to offer his take on many of the flavors and background of the ales offered. Incredibly, tonight’s legendary libations on the board went from ABVs of 4.3 % to 14 %. Ouch. Reminding Bram that I'm twice his age, I demand the Pineapple Great Return for starters. A light crowd is finding its way into the building and I step out to get a better look at the brewing process still underway.
The Pineapple Great Return is, according to an unnamed source, a delectable yet potentially flawed product here at Hardywood (shhhhh). According to this anonymous source, this libatory liquid doesn't really possess the fruity notations that the brewmasters anticipated when matched with this India Pale Ale. It's ok, my brother, experiment on. I’ll be your guinea! Anyway, that was just my first of many liquid sandwiches I enjoyed on my most recent trip to the Hardywood Heaven. Checking in at a debilitating 7.5 ABV, this West Coast style India Pale Ale tastes really hammers the buds. Citrus notes are easily detected once the frothy white foam from Brams pour subside. Sporting a 70 IBU score and a hazy tone, I know that once I get into this, it’s gonna be good. I’m a sucker for that sweet spot for IPA’s in the 50-75 IBU range and this one doesn’t disappoint. Sure, I could use some more pineapple (or grapefruit, tangerine, whatever-I like ‘em citrusy). The third one is definitely as good as the first and drinks a little faster. By this time, Bram and I have gathered a small crowd as I accidentally let it slip that I write a beer blog for a hospitality website. Next thing I know, I got a brewmaster, the head production guy and the chief canner all at the bar swapping stories and letting me know about their products (did you know that drinkers in France can’t get enough VIPA, that Singel is still their best-selling product and that Richmond Lager is their version of PBR? There was also a full-on discussion about flocculation-swear- that I didn’t understand at all but they just kept pouring so I was agreeing).
Well, the sun went down a while back and it may be time to get my ride back home. Everyone here couldn’t have been any nicer. After sampling many of the tapped torpedoes (you have to try the Bourbon Barrel Cru on your next visit), I decide it may be wise to take something home and share. I initially grab a 500ml Hopkeeper as it was one of the more potent ones that I enjoyed yet didn’t need to make a meal out of it. I also noticed a 4 pack of the 16-ounce Road To Idaho pounders, a 6.6% IPA that caught me by surprise whilst sampling. Tackling this IPA brewed with the Idaho 7 hop varietal is another charred oak barrel challenge, but I managed to sneak it in as the weekend arrived. This creamy concoction was equally as citrusy on the palate as the Great Return although the ABV was much less. They can mention hints of lemon (I get that), orange peel and apricot but I’m not sure if I’m experienced enough (or care enough) to detect those subtle flavors. I tend to smell a little more pine in this beverage and think it more closely related to a Pale Ale than an IPA. Poured into a pint glass, this clearish, golden hop rocket leaves a white, foamy lace that is quickly erased as I hoist the hoppy liquid gold to my beak. Released just about a year ago, some have reviewed it and state that it is a bad hop to make brews with. I didn’t find that at all. This small batch wheat malted mayhem was perfectly slotted for the 19th hole or however, you like to spend your mornings. I just couldn’t help myself so I had to have another. And wouldn’t it be a shame to leave one alone in the fridge? Pretty soon I’m calling Bram to see if they deliver. It’s that good.
The Hopkeeper is a wickedly easy drinking pub juice that taps out at 8.5% ABV. What? 8.5, Marty? Isn’t that too much alcohol? For most, yes…I have to tell you, though, it is one smooth drinking brew. I really did not get the kick in the teeth I thought I would be experiencing from this high potency hand grenade (remember, I just sampled it before and was a little less than abstemious upon my exit from the mecca). According to its brewmaster, Hopkeeper is “A Double IPA with a Touch of Virginia Honey, Hardywood Hopkeeper is brewed with Virginia-grown malt from Copper Fox Distillery in Williamsburg, VA. Our Double IPA is hop-forward and approachable with a proprietary blend of hops lending lush notes of juicy pineapple, fresh orange zest, and citrus fruit.” Now, it pours more amber colored and has some of the flavors they described above but none is overpowering or makes you feel like you’re in the fruit section at Kroger. Not really catching the honey addition but maybe I’m just not refined. A couple more of these and I may be.
I can’t thank the guys at Hardywood for hosting me the other night. They offered a great time coupled with some great conversation and made this beach boy feel at home. Stop in and say hey to the guys for me and make sure you grab something to enjoy at home. And, as always, drink responsibly…