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US. New craft brewery opens in Richmond

Two local entrepreneurs have opened a new craft brewery in Richmond 10 years after they were inspired by an Aussie home brew.

Hardywood Park Craft Brewery started brewing its first major batch of ale Wednesday, a Belgian abbey-style blond ale expected to hit some local restaurants and stores in October.

Co-founders Eric McKay and Patrick Murtaugh are hoping to tap into a growing consumer taste for craft beers, a trend that doesn't seem to have been doused by the weak economy.

"We want people to taste a new beer and say, 'I can't believe there is so much flavor in this,' " McKay said. "That is what's so exciting about this."

Hardywood Park Brewery has set up its brewing operations on Ownby Lane in North Richmond. The brewery does not serve beer.

On Wednesday morning, Murtaugh and McKay invited friends and business associates, including representatives from Richmond's Legend Brewing Co. and Brown Distributing Co., to celebrate the brewery's opening by emptying sacks of malt into a mash tun, officially starting production of its first major batch.

Friends since they were boys in Connecticut, McKay and Murtaugh were inspired to become brewers when they visited Australia in 2001.

The Hardywood Park name comes from a sheep station in New South Wales where McKay and Murtaugh first tasted an amber ale home-brewed by the Crawford family that owned the station.

"At the time, it was the most incredible beer I had ever had," McKay said. "It was this moment of epiphany. We decided then, we wanted to have our own brewery someday."

It would take a decade of work in the industry first. "That gave us time to really work and get experience," said Murtaugh, who comes from a long family line of professional beer makers. He studied brewing in Chicago and Munich, earning a master-brewer certification.

McKay worked in sales and marketing for a craft-beer distributor, earned an MBA and founded two social media platforms devoted to beer.

The business partners say now is a great time for specialty beers.

Sales of craft beers in the U.S. rose 12 percent in 2010 compared with 2009, according to the Brewers Association, a Colorado-based industry trade group. That growth has come as overall U.S. beer sales fell 1 percent in 2010.

"The time has definitely come when you have a big enough consumer base, and a growing consumer base," McKay said.

The company's flagship brew, Hardywood Singel, is expected to be available locally in October. The brewery also plans a series of reserve ales, the first being Farmhouse Ale, a seasonal brew spiced with locally grown pumpkins, and cinnamon, brown sugar and ginger supplied locally.

"We will always focus on using local ingredients whenever we can," McKay said.

9 Sep. 2011

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