Richmond-based Hardywood Park Craft Brewery has opened a satellite tasting room and brewery on West Main Street, becoming the fifth brewery within Charlottesville city limits. At its grand opening last Saturday, 15 beers were on tap. The unseasonably warm afternoon brought out such a large crowd that five taps were off the list by 2pm. The taproom serves as a brewers’ playground and research center, in which varying small batches are brewed and the most popular recipes will be considered for wider production.
Head brewer Kevin Storm is especially proud of their new IPA, Tropication. He designed Tropication to deliberately depart from the wave of hop-heavy IPAs that represent the lion’s share of the craft beer market.
“I beat up IPAs,” Storm says. “I drank them until my palate was just roasted. …I wanted to make something that I knew I would appreciate. Tropication, we did all local hops. …You’ve got massive amounts of late-addition hops, and it’s dry-hopped with mosaic and nelson sauvin.”
Those mosaic and nelson sauvin hops bear most of the responsibility for turning the beer in my hand into something that tasted like it had come out of a juicer. Nelson sauvin is a new hop variety from New Zealand, so-named for a flavor profile similar to a sauvignon blanc grape.
Hardywood’s gingerbread stout nails the often-elusive sweet spot between making a flavored stout that is too gimmicky for its own good and something that one would actually want to drink an entire pint of. The ginger is mild, letting the round notes of the malt and hops speak for themselves. The beer is good on its own, but I found myself fantasizing about pouring it over ice cream.
“GBS has ginger, cinnamon, honey, all local to Richmond,” Storm says. “We get this gorgeous baby ginger every year. We have two [Richmond] farmers who supply us with that.”
The gingerbread stout also serves as a basis for other small batches of specialty beers. A variation on GBS with coffee added was aptly titled Kentucky Christmas morning (it was among the beers that sold out on Saturday and it may not be made again anytime soon).
A flagship of Hardywood’s draft lineup is its Virginia Pale Ale, or VIPA. But don’t let the name fool you. While the ingredients are largely sourced from within the state, this beer is definitely a pale ale rather than an IPA. Super smooth and perfect for a warm spring day; less hoppy and bitter than an IPA. This is an ale that IPA-lovers and lager drinkers may be able to agree on.
VIPA’s hops are Virginia grown, as is the two-row barley from Heathsville, which was malted in Sperryville.
Like the gingerbread stout, Hardywood’s brewers like to play with VIPA and add other ingredients for one-off batches. A mango-infused variety was on tap for opening day, as was a pineapple edition. Both will certainly be gone by the time this article is published but watch for other creative uses of VIPA’s sparse canvas of flavor profile.
Anna Warneke, a young brewer visiting from Germany for a three-month internship, has been working with Kevin Storm and learning about America’s craft beer culture, which is very different from the staunch traditionalist approach to making beer in her country. For more than 500 years, Germany has had a body of law collectively referred to as the Reinheitsgebot, or beer purity law. It effectively blocks German brewers from using unusual ingredients.
“I’m really excited to try stuff beyond the purity law,” Warneke says. “It was really weird for me in the beginning, putting sugar in a kettle. I can see it’s more creative. More fun.”
“You should have seen her face the first time we used rice hulls,” Storm says.
“Or when I had to put raspberry puree in a tank,” Warneke says. “I’m like, really? …I come from a traditional pils brewery built in the 1800s, and we have our recipe and we aren’t creative at all.”
Warneke was given the opportunity to design a beer of her own for Hardywood.
“I wanted my first beer to be a German style, but I don’t want to go with a pils or whatever, because you’ve all had it,” Warneke says. “We did a pilot batch, a weizenbock. Basically a weizen beer (brewed using malted wheat as well as barley) but made as a bock.”
The weizenbock is still awaiting tapping and a first tasting.