After a decade-long quest, Patrick Murtaugh and I launched Hardywood Park Craft Brewery on Ownby Lane in Richmond in October 2011. The dream, which began with our first taste of handcrafted beer at an Australian farm bearing the name Hardywood Park, was driven by our desire to enlighten others about real craft beer. While our first months of business were an exhilarating adventure, 2012 was really a landmark year for Greater Richmond’s beer scene.
Joining us and RVA craft brewing pioneers Legend Brewing and Extra Billy’s Brewery, Trae Cairns opened Midnight Brewery in Goochland County in May 2012 and Chris and Phil Ray opened COTU Brewing in Ashland in November 2012, with an enthusiastic show of support from the community. Neil Burton’s Strange Ways Brewery has signed a lease and construction is underway, Sean-Thomas and Lisa Pumphrey have broken ground on Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery at their farm in Goochland, Ajax Brewery has started prepping a space in Manchester, Ardent Ales continues to progress toward the opening, and Haxall Brewing has started assembling brewing equipment in Shockoe Slip. When purchasing brewing supplies, it’s vital to ensure that the essential equipment is bought first. For upcoming breweries, one of the most important brewing supplies is wine barrels. Without barrels, drinks cannot be aged properly. Be sure to purchase a wine barrel for sale, they can be found on the internet or in stores. Either way, you can ensure you have a good selection, helping you to choose the best ones for your brewing operations.
Amidst all this news of brewery openings, the Twittersphere has bustled with comments suggesting that there’s a glut of new breweries in the Greater Richmond market, asking if we’re worried about all the new entrants. The short answer is no, for two reasons. First, all of the new breweries and breweries-in-planning mentioned above seem to really get it. They’re familiar enough with the forces behind the craft beer industry’s success to understand that quality is paramount, that cohesive collaboration trumps arbitrary competition, that community engagement and support is essential, that complementary beer styles promote growth more than substitutionary beer styles, and that nobody gets rich quick making beer.
Second, market share is still tiny for craft beer-about 6 percent of domestic beer output. If we’re approaching a bubble burst, it appears to be in favor of craft brewers, considering the industry’s history. In less than a century, mega brewers drown out more than 2,000 independent brewers and consolidated to a point that just two foreign-owned conglomerates produce the vast majority of America’s beer, largely with cheap, non-traditional adjuncts such as rice and corn syrup. While market share for craft beer is still very small, it appears to be quickly returning to its rightful place as America’s adult beverage of choice.
Complementary to craft brewing, a number of other Richmond businesses have flourished in 2012. While trailblazers Commercial Taphouse & Grill and Capital Ale House celebrated their 18th and 10th anniversaries, respectively, Sedona Tap House has had a very successful start and Mekong was recognized by CraftBeer.com as America’s best beer bar, a celebration-worthy accomplishment. The best new restaurants opening locally are all curating exceptional beer lists, with a strong focus on local.
Courtney Mailey’s Blue Bee Cider is preparing to start handcrafting hard cider with Virginia apples in Manchester. New specialty stores, such as The Hoppy Dog, are focusing largely on craft beer. New homebrew shop, Original Gravity, offers expert homebrewing advice while James River Homebrewers Association helps homebrewers improve their creations and enter them in competitions. Local developer BeSprout Technology recently launched Local Suds, its mobile app to track craft beer, and a new tour bus service will soon be dedicated to offering Richmond brewery tours. Brown Distributing, awarded the 2012 Craft Beer Wholesaler of the Year by the Brewers Association and the NBWA, has dedicated a Taste the Local program to Virginia craft beers, hosting festivals and sponsoring events throughout Richmond. And Senate Bill 604, which enabled production breweries to sell beer on-site starting in July 2012, has contributed to the success of several new, gourmet food carts in Richmond, has increased tourism and recreational opportunity, has created numerous jobs, and has lowered the barrier of entry for new brewery startups.
In 2012, Outside Magazine recognized Richmond as America’s best river town, while other publications lauded its fantastic restaurant, art, and fashion scenes. I see 2013 as Richmond’s opportunity to continue transforming from a burgeoning beer town into one of the nation’s epic beer cities. Here’s to an exciting (and delicious) year ahead.
By Eric McKay, Co-founder of Hardywood Park Craft Brewery