Richmond, VA (The Diamond and Hardywood Park Craft Brewery)

The Diamond

Team: Richmond Flying Squirrels

Affiliate: San Francisco Giants (AA)

Ballpark Basics: Large concrete monstrosity in the middle of nowhere but with newly improved seats, food and team as of 2010.

The Ballpark Breakdown:

The only thing about this stadium that makes the visit worthwhile is the team that plays there.  Richmonders have been fighting about where to put and how to pay for a new stadium for so long the Richmond Braves (AAA Atlanta Braves) who had called the city home since 1966 finally gave up and moved to Gwinnet Georgia in 2008.

Enter the Flying Squirrels.  The AA affiliate of the San Francisco Giants. They have taken the dilapidated lump of concrete that is the Diamond and proved that Richmond can, and is interested in supporting a baseball team. There are a lot of new food options, a skinny superhero looking squirrel mascot and many easy and slightly dirty references to nuts.

The Diamond is basically a concrete block, the Squirrels swapped out the swag trailer with a legitimate (and open even in the off season!) gift shop and replaced the seating in the entire lower bowl.  Up above, they have covered the top half of the upper deck with advertising and in the lower half, the metal bleacher seats still remain to serve as the general admission area.  Placed ill-advisedly in an industrial park, with the exception of two restaurants, there is little to do pre or post game.  The current contract the Flying Squirrels have signed has them in a new stadium by 2012, so stay tuned, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

To their credit, the Flying Squirrels are really making the best of the situation, and combining that with a solid presence in the community – have attracted quite a lot of support in their opening 2010 season.  One of the best things about this park is team is the creativity, which really ups the entertainment value.  The groundskeepers come out during one of the half innings in Merry Maids costumes and do a choreographed dance in the middle of dragging the infield.  Also, the owner wrestled an alligator this year as a promotion.

And as a side note, the excellent magazine Mental Floss has given the Squirrels an occasional mention.  Aside from covering them in their May 2014 article “5 secrets of Logo Design“, Here’s a link to a somewhat older article which educates you on the origins of the team name.

For the 2014 season, the Squirrels also added their own official beer, Chin Music from Center of the Universe to their local line up.

 

 

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery

Visited: November 2011, and many times since

Rating: Grand Slam!

Guest Reviewer: Isaac, Renee, and Jason

Brew Basics: The brainchild of some local boys who ventured out, learned good beer and returned to give Richmond the benefit of their expertise.

After the 2010 closing of Richbrau Brewing Company, Richmond’s craft beer scene was left with a hole.  Don’t get us wrong, we love Legend Bewery, and their other traditional brews, and we will drink an Extra Billy’s beer if given the chance, but the dearth of options, and lack of adventure (or risk) was cramping this up and coming beer city’s style.  Enter Hardywood.  A brewery that needed to be great.   There was talk of having to like this place even if it wasn’t that good just to keep the options open.   Happily there is no reason to pretend.

With a 20 barrel brewhaus, 40 barrel fermenters (4 primaries, 2 brites) and a bottling line that’s run entirely by hand – this brand new brewery, with two full time employees and one part time employee had not yet officially been open three weeks and was already working overtime to meet demand.   Thanks to some very supportive volunteers they are meeting that demand, and exceeding expectations.

Even the building is the type of hang out this typically sit-down restaurant style kind of town needed.   Located an industrial park, the converted warehouse that houses Hardywood has a good sized tasting room (which will hopefully be getting a few bar tops in the near future) a long bar, and swag corner.  At this point, there are no plans to procure an ABC ON license that would allow patrons to buy full beers, but samples are freely poured by the friendly skeleton staff, which is quickly turning their tasting room into a popular meeting spot.  Informal tours are given just about every day at 6, and are more frequent on Saturdays.

Although still just starting out, co-owners Eric and Patrick, and head brewer Brian have set their sights high.  There is obvious room for expansion, and with the kegs already flying out the door and restaurants increasing demand, we look forward to drinking in everything this place has to offer.

Update (December 2012):  What a difference a year makes!  We were excited when Hardywood opened as you can tell from our original post.  However, fresh off of celebrating their first anniversary Hardywood has exceeded all expectations.  What started out as a small brewery with a small tasting room has grown into an example of how a small business can transform and fill a void that you didn’t even realize was there.  On our first visit there was a small bar for their tasting room with a window looking into their brewery.  Eric and Patrick soon realized that this would not be enough space for the growing desire for their local and imaginative beers.  The tasting room has since expanded to the area where their offices used to be and they have also added a growler filling station in the brewery.

Part of the reason that the tasting room has become so popular is because of the passage of Senate Bill 604.  The bill passed in March of 2012 and now allows breweries to sell their beer for consumption on premises (before breweries in Virginia cold only give tastings or sell growlers or bottles to go).  Hardywood and the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild were instrumental is getting the bill passed and Hardywood even celebrated by creating a beer in honor of the bill, aptly named SB 604 – Special Bitter, an American style Special Bitter.

Hardywood has taken the local part of their brewing to another level.  They have used hops grown from friends and local beer fans that grow hops for their first IPA, locally roasted coffee in their Belgian Chocolate Porter, Virginia strawberries and blackberries in their Belgian-style White ales, as well as Virginia bourbon barrels for their barrel aged beer.  Another beer making news in their first year was their Gingerbread Stout.  It received the high honor of a perfect 100 rating from Beer Advocate.

On top of using local ingredients in their beers, they have gone out of their way to make the brewery itself feel like a community.  As mentioned in our original review, they had room to expand – and have taken advantage of it.  Gone are the original office walls and in are new tables, and even a second bar/growler filling stand.  With the expanded tasting room they have added picnic tables, comfortable chairs, and even a cornhole game.  On our first visit, there were a handful of people surrounding the bar in the tasting room.  Today you will find people getting pitchers to share with friends; other people are lounging, playing games or dancing to the many bands that grace the brewing room floor.  Rumor has it, they are now planning on expanding into the building next door.  Think that sounds fast for Year One of a business plan?  Just come visit Richmond and see all the locations where Hardywood is on tap.  Then talk to any of the bartenders about how hard it is to get the kegs, and keep up with the demand.

Hardywood has also tapped into another popular theme “taste the local” in support of local businesses.  To that end, they host community events at the brewery such as the Famer’s Market every Wednesday, the Food Truck Court as well as special events such as New Year’s, the 4th of July or their recent 1st Anniversary party (Side Note:  Get to Hardywood for one of their special events if you get a chance.  You will have the opportunity to try some of their more inventive and experimental brews that will not disappoint).

This time last year we were thrilled to just have a new brewery in the town we call home.  Now we are ecstatic to see how much they have grown and what they have accomplished in such a short amount of time (we actually thought it was their second anniversary this past month due to all they have done in year one).  We can’t wait to see what they bring to the ever increasing beer scene in Richmond.

And one last update (summer 2014): Hardywood’s beer effect on the city of Richmond is undeniable.  Now home to more than 8 breweries, this city has a lot to offer on the craft beer front.  Hardywood isn’t hurting from the competition either – they’ve expanded into a second warehouse next door which they’ve turned into two more bar areas (one with garage door outside access), with various seating and are always having one event or the other.  Plus, their Gingerbread Stout earned a perfect 100 in Beer Advocate magazine.  Keep up the good work ‘gents!

 Beer Breakdown:

Their ales are all unfiltered and run the gamut of style and abv – from their signature Belgian blonde, to a Pumpkin spice and a highly anticipated soon-to-be Gingerbread milk stout, set to make an appearance December 1.

Singel Belgian Saison – (6.2 ABV/30 IBU)  As of now, the only one that is on tap year ‘round.  Golden brown in color, with a soft, sipping flavor.  The Singel has earthen hops, and a light wheat aroma and taste.  At first, we were disappointed that a traditionally warm-weather beer was going to be the all year tap, but the citrus –spice notes, slight tartness and dry finish make you appreciate this Saison for more than just a fruity beer.

Hoplar – (8.5% ABV, 100 IBU) Another addition to the ever increasing line of higher gravity Hardywood Beers (not that we’re complaining).  This is also one you’re quite likely to find on tap around Richmond.  Strongly hopped as the name implies, the Hoplar is a dry hopped imperial beer that according to the Hardywood site is “Conditioned on Virginia Tulip Poplar Wood”.  Lots of palate killing, delicious flavor.

Hardywood Cream Ale  (4.4% ABV, 18 IBU) – Sold in distinctive kelly green cans, this was the first of the Hardywood beers to come in can form, and is perfect for a day on the James River (aka, the Rivah).  Smooth, light, but with good cream ale flavor that’s not at all watered down.  It’ll keep you cool on those humid southern summer days.

Farmhouse Pumpkin – (8.5 ABV/21 IBU)  Brewed in the traditional unfiltered farmhouse style, Hardywood’s  addition to the increasingly popular pumpkin beer category has just the right mix of hops and spices to create a wonderful aroma, and distinct, yet not overpowering pumpkin ale taste that is just right for fall.  With a rich caramel color, strong pumpkin pie, nutmeg and molasses aroma this beer is one of their Reserve Series, and therefore comes corked like champagne.   Originally very highly carbonated, they have since toned it down some to improve how it flows from a tap.

RVA IPA – (7.0 ABV /80 IBU)  An IPA with a bit of a fruity aroma.  The RVA IPA is a deep brownish gold color and was not as carbonated as the first two we tried, but was very unfiltered – to the point that when we mentioned it to our guest reviewer Isaac (a new initiate into the world of craft beer) he said “so, is that why I’m chewing pulp?”.  While this may be a turn off to some, we didn’t find it detracted at all from the beer that was a bit fruiter that we had originally expected at first, followed by hops that come through with a crisply tart, slightly bitter taste and wet finish.    Possibly the most interesting thing about this recipe is that, as Hardywood terms it, it is a “community hopped” beer – with a portion of the hops being donated from the fresh crops of local growers.

Chocolate Heat (9.0% ABV, 50 IBU) – Strong milk stout whose creaminess is cut by the fact that’s also brewed with locally grown Chile peppers. Jim liked it a lot, but Gillian wasn’t a huge fan of the burning peppery addition.  *Since our original posting, Hardywood has retired this beer.

Raspberry Stout – (9.2% ABV, 50 IBU) Mostly chocolate malts, but sweet finish that is the raspberry.  This beer was available Feb 15th 2014, but had a sweet dessert quality which would have made a good end to a Valentine’s Day dinner the night before.  Overall not our favorite, but solidly malted and full bodied.

Imperial Porter – Not officially named, but still delicious.  This ale was a dark, semi-thick honey porter with a sweet molasses smell.  Most of the malted taste is upfront with this one, with a good portion of the flavor coming from chocolate malts.  They had this available only in very limited quantities the day we were there, and will keep an eye out so we can enjoy (and review) further.

Sidamo Coffee Stout* – (9.3% ABV, 55 IBU ) – Possibly our favorite Hardywood, second only to the Gingerbread.  A rich, delicious coffee stout that is not to heavy but a solid blend of malts and coffee.  This cellars wonderfully, so consider buying an extra to try later, or have a tasting party and compare last year’s vintage to this years.

Gingerbread Milk Stout* – (9.2% ABV, 55 IBU) Once upon a time, while not yet ready to be released upon the thirsty masses, we were treated to an early tasting.  Now lines stretch around the building hours before their release.  We are sure the perfect 100 Beer Advocate score doesn’t hurt either.  This milk stout is a silky beer, with distinct ginger aroma and smooth palate.  A huge favorite that’s worth hunting down a bottle or two for this year, and cellaring at least that many.   Upon staff recommendation, we tried mixing this one with the Farmhouse Pumpkin; a recommendation we pass on with the hope that you’ll get to try this interesting mix that doesn’t drown out either flavor, but actually combines and accentuates some of the best things from each.

*Also available in bourbon barreled stylings.

 Hardywood Park Craft Brewing

2408 Ownby Lane

Richmond, VA 23220

804-420-2420

 


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