Local beer startup set to tap a new market

Hardywood Park co-owner Patrick Murtaugh, left, and Justin Nelson. (Photos by Burl Rolett)

Hardywood Park co-owner Patrick Murtaugh, left, and Justin Anderson. (Photos by Burl Rolett)

Just weeks after stepping up production at home, a Richmond brewery is ready to take its show on the road.

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Monday announced plans to begin distributing its beers to the Arlington market in Northern Virginia, making it the first of Richmond’s new generation of local breweries to expand outside the area.

As the brewery pushes north, Hardywood co-founder Eric McKay said the sales pitch for the product will remain similar to the local campaign that has helped drive craft beer in Richmond.

“The approach we’re trying to take is ‘hand-crafted in Richmond’ and try to play up Richmond as being a creative hub in some ways,” McKay said. “I think we’re close enough that we’ll still be seen as a local beer. Everything within a one- or two-state radius currently seems to be perceived as somewhat local.”

Richmond-based Brown Distributing, which distributes Hardywood locally, will handle its expansion upstate. The deal was finalized about two weeks ago, McKay said, and the beers will hit the Arlington market Nov. 11. Hardywood will begin offering its Singel beer on draft and in bottles, as well as its Cream Ale and the newly released Great Return IPA in cans.

Hardywood has expanded its capacity since it opened two years ago, including adding larger tanks and a bottling system.

Hardywood has expanded its capacity since it opened two years ago, including adding larger tanks and a bottling system.

Hardywood can make about 4,500 barrels of beer annually at their Ownby Lane brewery. The company recently added six-packs of Singel to its offerings after investing about $500,000 in an automated bottling system. It also ramped up brewing capacity to keep up with an anticipated increase in demand for its packaged beer.

“The six-packs specifically weren’t critical to this expansion, but the rate of speed at our new bottling line was,” McKay said. “We were kind of at a bottleneck in terms of being able to get bottles to the market.”

Hardywood products will be limited to about 10 restaurants and 10 to 15 retail stores in Arlington. Jacob Brunow, head of Brown Distributing’s craft beer department, said Arlington made sense as a first expansion market because it has several independent stores that can hold a smaller inventory of Hardywood’s products and because the name has some recognition in the area.

“They are kind of banking on that people will know them a little bit,” Brunow said. “The good thing is that their notoriety here in Richmond has translated to some craft beer places [in Northern Virginia].”

Hardywood, which opened for business two years ago, joins incumbent Legend Brewing as the only local breweries to have their beers offered outside of Richmond. Legend, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, is distributed statewide.

Hardywood was the frontrunner in a Richmond beer rush that has seen the launch of several new breweries in less than two years. They include Strangeways Brewing Company in Henrico County, Center of the Universe in Ashland and Lickinghole Creek in Goochland.

Increasing capacity to meet orders is the key to expansion outside of the hometown market, Brunow said. He hopes that Hardywood will be an ambassador for other local beer brands – many of which Brown also distributes – and bring out-of-market beer business back to Richmond.

“It’s almost like a missionary direction up there – we get to preach that there’s a lot of cool stuff happening in our hometown of Richmond,” Brunow said. “Northern Virginia will get some of the small batch stuff as we carry on, but if people really want the full variety of Hardywood items, they’ll need to come back to Richmond.”

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C. Jay Robbins

Hardywood is one the best things to happen to Richmond, bar none. Best wishes to Hardywood in all of its endeavors.