Hardywood, Virginia farmers team up to produce seasonal beers

Hardywood, Virginia farmers team up to produce seasonal beers
From its beginning, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond has placed an emphasis on using local products in 
its beer.

“We’ve taken a homegrown, local approach to beer, especially with our Reserve Series, which features local, seasonal ingredients,” noted head brewer Brian Nelson.

Always up for experimenting, Hardywood has used blackberries, raspberries, peaches, honey, ginger, pumpkins—and even strawberries, cucumbers, watermelon and oysters in some of its brews. And they’ve teamed up with farmers whom staff have met at local farmers’ markets. They also use local hops when available.

 “We try to plan for our brew to coincide with the growing season,” Nelson said. “We are always keeping an eye out for Virginia ag products and what could be a new and creative beer ingredient. I really want to try to brew a pawpaw beer. We had a farmer bring us persimmons and plan to try that in a small batch.”

All of the ginger used in the award-winning Gingerbread Stout is from Castlemonte Farm in Powhatan County. Farm owner Bill Cox brought ginger to Hardywood to try.

The pumpkins in Farmhouse Pumpkin come from Virginia farms as well; the majority are from Grandma’s Pumpkins in Henrico County. 

“I was shopping at my local farmers’ market in Chesterfield County and asked the operator of Grandma’s Pumpkins if they’d be interested in planting seeds and harvesting pumpkins for us,” Nelson said. 

Using local ingredients can be challenging logistics-wise, and on occasion there have been crop losses or shortages, but Nelson remains committed to local sourcing.

“We definitely believe the local products help with the flavor of our beer,” he said. “We tried raspberries that were not from our local producer, and the flavor profile just wasn’t the same. It makes a difference.” 

Local berries help produce gold-medal beer

Hardywood has purchased raspberries for their award-winning Raspberry Stout from Agriberry Farm in Hanover County since 2014 and purchased the farm’s blackberries for its Virginia Blackberry Belgian-style white ale since 2012.

“The first year we worked on Raspberry Stout using Agriberry’s berries, we won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival, so it shows,” Nelson said.

He said the farm “has been a great partner. They’re very forward-thinking like we are and are focused on quality.”

When hand-harvesting the farm’s fruits, Agriberry workers grade and sort them. Berries with any marks, scratches or abrasions are pureed for Agriberry’s jams, jellies and applesauce—or sold to buyers like Hardywood. 

“We call it ‘second fruit,’ and Hardywood has been able to absorb by far the largest amount,” explained Pierson Geyer, Agriberry’s field operations manager. Blue Bee Cider, also located in Richmond, uses some of Agriberry’s blackberries and raspberries in their Mill Race Bramble cider.

Geyer acknowledges that craft beer has an eclectic focus, which is beneficial to farmers.

“You’re able to put blackberries, raspberries, peaches, ginger, chocolate, coffee and more into beer; it’s an increased ingredient list, and that’s where we see the biggest benefit to local farm partnerships. People are really interested in trying new beers, and so many are seasonally driven, which makes it a natural pairing with the seasonality of farming.”

Plans for growth, more local products

Agricultural plots are part of the plan for Hardywood’s third location in Goochland County, Nelson said. “We’re hoping to have a showcase of local products that we use in our beers and show customers that the same items they see in our plots are used in our beers.”

As Hardywood continues to grow, its need for more local products will grow as well. “As we scale up, it can be harder to do 100 percent local, but we hope to keep finding producers who want to work with us,” Nelson said.

Hardywood also is discussing options with a local food processor that could process locally grown products so they will be ready in pureed form when the brewery needs them.

“Having it processed and stored would help initiate more Virginia agriculture in the brewing industry,” Nelson said. “Anyone could use it. The processor would source from Virginia growers, process the product and it would be ready to use.”

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