The tap room at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery is a local haven for live music, food trucks, and community-driven events. Since opening their doors in 2011, Hardywood has created a downtown event experience for everyone from the craft-beer enthusiast to the casual fan to enjoy.
With a tasting room of our own in the works, we thought it fitting to talk with Tap Room Director, Alex Fuqua, on the nearly overwhelming growth of Hardywood's on-site tasting room since the passing of Virginia Senate Bill 604 in 2012.
Interview: Alex Fuqua
How did you get started in the craft beer industry?
My experience in the craft beer and service industry began in 2007 with a job waiting tables and eventually bartending at Capital Ale House in downtown Richmond. Tasting, selling and serving a few hundred craft beers from dozens of different breweries all over the world provided me with an opportunity to explore the variety of styles that were accessible, but not necessarily approachable, to the general consumer outside of your local brewery or craft beer bar. Over 5 years, I acquired an extensive knowledge of German, Belgian, and American craft breweries as well as some of the basics and history of beer and brewing.
Hardywood Park made a splash in the Richmond beer scene in 2011 when they opened and quickly developed a large following among the local craft beer enthusiasts. In early 2012, I had the opportunity to begin volunteering at Hardywood Park few days a week prior to my evening bar shifts at Cap Ale. Assisting on the bottling line and helping during release events provided an eye-opening and educational experience that I hadn't been available to me in the past. Being immersed in the creation of craft beer from production to service, all on-site.
I made the leap in July of 2012 from craft beer/restaurant retail to working part-time in Hardywood’s small taproom. I was eventually offered a full-time position to manage the growing taproom, staff, and wide variety of public and private events throughout the year.
How has the concept of the “tasting room” evolved since you began working at Hardywood in 2012?
When Hardywood opened it's doors in 2011, production breweries with tasting rooms were only legally able to sell growlers, bottles and merchandise with their retail license. Any consumption of our product in-house was limited to 2oz at a time and could not be sold.
Early in 2012, Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh - Hardywood owners and co-founders - along with the Virginia Craft Brewer's Guild lobbied for the passing of Senate Bill 604 to allow the sale of the beer breweries produced to be consumed in our tasting room. Hardywood quickly expanded its hours and staff from 3 days a week with a handful of volunteers to 4-5 days week and 15 part-time employees pouring and serving fresh craft beer from the source.
Our first official day on the job was certainly one to remember as we seemingly had all of Richmond out for our 4th of July celebration. Much of Hardywood's growth over the first few years can be attributed to the passing of SB604 and the success of the taproom and the constant variety of events.
What are the greatest benefits to having a tasting room?
The Hardywood taproom provides an approachable and welcoming experience to anyone walking in the door. We are able to educate consumers about our brand and what makes each one of our beers unique compared to the dozens of options that might be staring them in the face in the local market or bar. We are developing a relationship and creating a memorable experience that allows ours our guests to make an informed decision as opposed to just picking up a six pack based on a funny name or bright label.
The Hardywood tasting room has definitely grown into a Richmond staple for live music and events ranging from craft shows to record fairs. How has the decision to embrace Richmond’s creative community impacted the company culture?
We can attribute most of our taproom's diverse involvement in the Richmond music and arts scene to our Hospitality Director, Kerry Anderson. She's been enthusiastically involved in the community arts scene as long as she's been in Richmond and has an eye for creating events with like-minded creatives that get people excited and educate our guests about artists and performers that might not have the chance for exposure at galleries and larger venues in town. We owe a lot of Richmond's and Hardywood's success to the artists and performers in and being able show them off at Hardywood is an awesome, mutually beneficial way to showcase that gratitude.
The focus on diverse quality arts, music, and performances at Hardywood consistently challenges our entire staff to stay creative in everything they do, particularly in brewing, event planning, branding, and service.
How else has Hardywood’s tasting room managed to bring together or support local business?
Not only is Hardywood a hub for local musicians, artists and food trucks on a weekly basis, we have developed strong relationships with local businesses and non-profits like Casselmonte Farms, Agriberry, Lamplighter and Black Hand, CitiWood, Piedmont Hops, RichmondMORE, James River Association, FeedMore, and the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation. We're either sourcing ingredients from these local farms and businesses or partnering with groups of people that share our enthusiasm for our local environment, outdoors, and the community.
What are some of the most frequently asked questions your bartenders hear working behind the bar?
"How does this work?" is a popular one. The tasting room or taproom setting is still a fairly new experience for Richmond and most of Virginia. Being able to walk into a warehouse and order a craft beer straight from the source of production can be a little overwhelming to some first-time visitors.
Other than that, we constantly have people ask us why their favorite Hardywood beer isn't available to them year-round. We're then able to educate them about all of the fresh, local ingredients from local businesses and farms that we depend on to create and craft these unique or seasonal beers.
How frequently does Hardywood release a new beer?
Singel, Pils, Cream Ale and The Great Return are all brewed year-round. Outside of those styles, it feels like we release a new beer every week! Between our Reserve and Barrel Series offerings that are released every 4-6 weeks in the taproom, we also have pilot and one-off releases that might only be available for a few days to a week or so. Last year we introduced the Brewer & Artist Series as an opportunity for each of our brewers to create unique new brands from start to finish; choosing style and ingredients, formulating the recipe, pilot brewing and scaling up to production volumes, choosing and working with a local artist to conceive the labeling concept, and choosing the band lineup for the release day.
When is the next release?
We’re really excited to release Hardywood Tropication next Saturday, April 23rd. Tropication is bright, juicy and full of tropical fruit aromatics. We’re using more than 6.5 lbs per barrel of Mosaic and Nelson Sauvin hops. Since these hops are difficult to come by, Tropication will be brewed in limited quantities and released at the brewery only in 4-pack 16 oz. cans.
How will the new facility in Goochland act as an extension of the culture you’ve created downtown?
There are many event opportunities which we are not able to take advantage of due to schedule or space constraints. Hardywood West will provide more flexibility in offering an even wider variety of events and featuring of artists or musicians that we do not have the time or space for at the moment. Most importantly, we’ll be able to make more beer!
Where is the tasting room staff enjoying a drink if they are not at Hardywood?
A beer or two at the brewery after work is usually a given. If not, then Cask Cafe is definitely a staff favorite for an after work beer. Saison Market, Joe's Inn and Don't Look Back are typical hangout spots as well.
What can we look forward to at Hardywood in the near future?
We’re open to the public every Wednesday through Sunday and each day is unique. Our weekly Food Truck Court event on Thursdays requires a lot of preparation, and with summer coming we can expect to see lots of friendly faces on those nights. Also, we recently expanded our taproom hours to 10:00pm Thursday through Saturday. We offer free live music every Friday, Saturday & Sunday, and we’ll always have at least one food truck on site.
Some specific events coming down the line are the Spring Bada-Bing indie craft fair this Saturday, Tropication release on April 23rd, and A Good Day in RVA on May 21st, a music festival and fundraiser for the local film collective, Good Day RVA.
Photography by Kate Magee.