We recently got out to Hardywood for an interview with one of their Lead Brewers, Nick Walthall. Nick was kind enough to show us around and answer a few questions.
Q. What is your favorite beer to come along from here at Hardywood?
A. Favorite beer would be, I think the easy answer would be chocolate heat, but I’m a big fan of our Berliner Weisse. Pilsner of course, the German Pils is my day-to-day drinking beer, but I think Berliner Wiesse is my favorite so far.
Q. How did you get into brewing beer?
A. Homebrewing, personally I was doing a lot of cooking and then I liked the idea of making wine. So, I got into wine making and I was not very good at it – like fruit wines, blackberry wines, stuff like that. Then I bought a home-brewing kit at a yard sale and got into it. Just like everyone else it was really terrible at first, like everyone makes awful homebrew and everyone tells the story about how their first home brew is awful, so I made it and it was bad. It was a brown-ale, like everyone else makes a brown-ale. Then I just started reading and started getting really fascinated with the culture of beer and stuck with it and just pursued it.
Q. For the many beers, the tastes that people find are byproducts of the fermentation process and the amount of time spent aging. But here you guys often use local and carefully sourced ingredients for many of the iconic beers you produce. How do you approach the sourcing of these ingredients?
A. For all of our reserve series, the Sidamo Coffee, the Hoplar, the Blackberry & Raspberry Stouts, the Gingerbread Stout, and things of those nature. All of those, the featured ingredient is local. For Sidamo, all of the coffee is roasted at Lamplighter, cause I mean, nobody in Virginia is growing coffee. For the Raspberry Stout and the Blackberry we get a bunch of our berries from Agriberry Farm, and then we supplement what we can’t get locally through other reputable sources. So, the idea is to keep as locally as possible whenever we have the opportunity to do so, and to try to find those opportunities to do so.
Q. When using these ingredients how do they actually play into the brewing process, is the beer fermented with the products, or is it typically aged with them?
A. Most of them are aged, so like in a secondary process. Some are added in stages so it might be in the hot side in the boil-kettle, and then going through the entire fermentation process and then added on the cold side also – so some things are two stage. We’re constantly experimenting with fruit additions and how to do it. How to tweak it to make it better for our process and for our flavor profile that we’re going for. So depending on the beer, or even the year-to-year, it’s a constant evolution of trying new things; so, really anywhere from hot side to cold side.
Q. One of Hardywood’s most well-known beers around Richmond is the Great Return IPA. Can you speak a little as to how the inspiration behind this particular beer came about?
A. Great Return was fun; a co-worker of mine Justin Anderson and myself came up with it. Basically, the owners came to the warehouse and said we want to make IPA, we don’t have an American West Coast IPA, so they came to us and challenged us to team up and brew the beer. Then whichever we decided as a group was the best, we would move in to production. So, Justin and I came up with this beer. We both have a similar palette for IPAs: typically pretty dry, ideally not much crystal malt, not a lot of caramel malts, and not a lot of sweetness. With a lot of late hop additions, a little bit of bitterness up front to balance it but mostly the focus being on the aromatic quality of it. We’d push a lot of the hop additions to the whirlpool, right after the boil is done, and also in secondary – dry hopping, pretty aggressive dry hopping. Then, a certain portion of the proceeds go back to the James River Foundation to help with cleaning the river.
Q. Richmond has seen exponential growth with regards to craft brewing and time and time again as a new brewery comes to town the other brewers seem welcoming of the new competition and the new styles that this newcomer will bring to the table. Even now with such a large craft brewer as Stone Brewing coming to Richmond everyone is welcoming. What are your thoughts on this particularly unique environment of “friendly competition” that is so common within the craft brewing industry?
A. Personally, as a brewer and not a business owner, it’s really exciting cause it offers more places to go hang out. I’ll get off work sometimes and go over to Ardent cause I’m friends with those guys and they make good beer. Same with Triple Crossing, I really like the IPAs they’re making. It’s fun to have something new, and even though on paper everyones competing and the final product on paper is the same, everyone is making beer – it’s all different. Everyones process is slightly different and everyones equipment is slightly different. So it’s fun from my standpoint to go check that out or like talk-shop with them, and say like “this is really awesome, how’d you do that?” People are usually willing to share, kinda give hints, and help each other out with ideas. There is a sense of community and solidarity, you know what everyone else is doing, and you just be supportive of it.
Q. Along the same lines as my previous question, what are your thoughts on the future of local craft beer, regarding Hardywood and just in general, here in Richmond?
A. I think the future is great for beer in Richmond. I’ve been here my entire life and when I turned 21 there we three place’s in Richmond, Extra Billy’s, Legend, and a place in the slip that is closed now. It’s great now what, there’s what a hundred breweries in Virginia and I don’t even know, twelve in Richmond maybe. It’s going in a good direction, big guys like Stone are gonna come which is going to be a really good thing. They will kinda elevate the level of what is accepted as good, so everyone will have to bring up their game and either be putting out unique beers or stuff of that quality. It’s great and Hardywood has found our area that we’re good at and we’re going to continue to push and making the best we can and just be happy doing it. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing. So we’ll just keep making more interesting things, and things we enjoy drinking.