From the founders of Hardywood, Richmond’s newest craft brew uses real fruit to bring the light, sweet taste of the great outdoors to adventurers everywhere.
Hardywood Park Craft Brewery founders Patrick Murtaugh and Eric McKay have brought sunshine to Richmond in beer form, launching their new brand, Suncrush, in Virginia last week.
When Murtaugh and McKay returned from weekend trips with Great Return, a strong and bitter IPA, they agreed that it hadn’t been well-suited for long days on the beach or hiking in the mountains.
“And so, we started thinking about the ideal beer to have for any outdoor adventure,” McKay said.
With cornerstone attributes in mind, they crafted a beer that was low in alcohol, carbs and calories, and had natural caffeine and antioxidants from the green tea and real fruit components. After eight months or so of Murtaugh brewing and tweaking pilot recipes, they settled in on the recipe found on shelves today.
“We just wanted it to be, really, the most refreshing thing you could drink outside,” Murtaugh said. “Starting from the base recipe through adding fruit and green tea, every aspect of this was designed to be that ultimate outdoor-activity beer.”
Because Suncrush serves as a strong brand on its own, Murtaugh and McKay decided to separate their new brand from Hardywood to appeal to a new wholesale environment: grocery stores. Hardywood is intended to have a billboard effect, where multiple Hardywood brands can be seen side by side on the shelf so that customers shopping for Hardywood can see all of the beers together, McKay said.
“With Suncrush, we saw it as a strong enough brand to stand alone,” McKay said. “Many grocery stores are starting to establish a new category that’s currently led by hard sparkling seltzer, and some wine-based brands and kombucha-based brands — typically it’s a prominent space before you even access the craft beer section.”
Suncrush is for people who might typically reach for a hard seltzer. This new beer brand, however, is also another option for customers who may be avoiding gluten in their diet, or might find seltzer drinks to be too watery and lacking in flavor.
“For us, Suncrush is the first that we know of the separate beer brands that’s really targeted to appear in that part of the grocery store,” McKay said. “Our hope is that there may be people outside of the craft beer-drinking community, and maybe outside of the beer-drinking community altogether, who would really be attracted to a beer like Suncrush.”
Before launching Suncrush in Virginia, McKay and Murtaugh tested the waters at their taprooms in Richmond. Although it wasn’t heavily promoted when it was first made available, it quickly became one of the best-selling beers in the taproom, Murtaugh said.
“Our taproom has been a great place to test-market various varieties that we produce to find things that really resonate with people,” Murtaugh said.
Although Suncrush is brewed in Richmond along with Murtaugh and McKay’s Hardywood beers, they now have the task of educating customers who are unfamiliar with the connection to the popular local brewery
about the new line of products. Suncrush may even be sold past Hardywood’s current distribution footprint.
Locally, however, Murtaugh and McKay said that they had designed Suncrush to be good for grocery stores, convenience stores, and event venues — including places where Hardywood is yet to be sold.
“We do think it might open up some opportunities to sell beer in places where we’re not currently selling a lot of beer,” McKay said. “Because it’s so different from a lot of beer in our portfolio and really any other beer on the market currently, it might open some windows of opportunity for us, and we’re eager to find out what those are.”
A main difference between the Hardywood and Suncrush lines of beer is where ingredients are sourced. In order to use high quality crushed fruit, some Suncrush ingredients are sourced from Oregon.
This variation in production was another factor that encouraged McKay and Murtaugh to separate the Suncrush and Hardywood brands.
“With Hardywood, we put a big focus on using local ingredients whenever possible,” Murtaugh said. “Last year we used close to 40,000 pounds of locally grown agricultural products, from grain and hops to raspberries, blackberries, pumpkins, honey, and ginger. With this series, we don’t feel the need to focus too much on sourcing the fruit locally.”
The fruit component of the beer makes it especially challenging to adapt to seasonal flavors — which are a cornerstone for the brand. Although Suncrush may be the ultimate beach beer, Murtaugh and McKay aim to offer flavors reminiscent of colder seasons as well.
“The message we wanted to convey was that this is a beer meant for outdoor adventures,” McKay said. “It’s just fun, simple, and approachable. Anyone who likes doing any sort of outdoor activities might find this beer enjoyable.”
Murtaugh and McKay can be found enjoying their own beers straight off the slopes or after a good hike.
“It makes you feel good about drinking a beer after a workout,” Murtaugh said, after describing that moment when you get to the top of the mountain and crack open a beer while enjoying the view.
McKay brought the cranberry and tangerine brews on his most recent ski trip, citing their popularity among his friends.
“Everyone agreed that they were the perfect after-a-ski beer,” McKay said.
No matter the spring adventure that lies ahead, there’s a Suncrush beer to celebrate with. Flavors to look forward to: lemon raspberry, grapefruit, ginger lime and southern peach.
Photos via Suncrush