VCU canceled branded beer partnership with Hardywood Brewery after product’s release

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Within just about 24 hours after Virginia Commonwealth University launched a branded beer with Hardywood Brewery, the school decided to put a pause on the project.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, Michael Porter, VCU’s associate vice president for public affairs, released the following statement:

“VCU’s branded beer initiative was created with the best intentions: to fund student scholarships. After hearing from members of our university community, including the family of Adam Oakes on Wednesday, we have paused this initiative. Although product is in market already, we will work with our partner to stop production, effective immediately. We value our community and have taken this action based on their concerns.”

However, public backlash against the VCU-branded beer is not new. A faculty member, Everett Carpenter, spoke with 8News on Tuesday, Oct. 25, highlighting a governing faculty commission’s stance against the project.

“It absolutely is the message,” Carpenter said on Tuesday. “The message that it sends to the community of putting VCU’s logo on a beer. Given recent events, I think it’s also just a message to the faculty and to the other constituents on campus that your voice doesn’t matter, your objections are irrelevant.”

Joey Johnson, general manager of the local business Corks and Kegs poses with the store’s dog Duke. Photo courtesy of Sierra Krug.

While many have expressed relief over the school’s decision to halt the partnership, local industry professionals explained the change came a little late.

Joey Johnson, the general manager of Corks and Kegs, is familiar with the work that goes into developing a new beer.

“The branding — you’ve got to come up with a design and a concept, get label approval with Virginia ABC in order to do so,” Johnson said, adding “that all happens before the beer even goes into production. Then you’re producing it, then you’re packaging it, you’re distributing it, then you’re releasing it, then in this case — you’re cancelling after all that.”

Because the beer’s official launch occurred Wednesday, Oct. 26, the product had already been fully developed, prior to VCU’s reconsideration. Therefore, the beer won’t be sold, but it’s still sitting in-house at the brewery.

Johnson noted partnerships like the one VCU and Hardywood had aren’t uncommon — the College of William and Mary, James Madison University and Virginia Tech all have similar brews. He added they tend to pique strong interest from the public, and particularly from alumni.

 “We have been getting calls already asking about the VCU beer and whether we’re going to have access to it or not,” Johnson said.

Virginia Tech partnered with Hardywood Brewery. Image courtesy of Zeke Barlow / Virginia Tech.

It is unclear at this time which party was impacted financially by the last-minute post-production decision, nor has it been confirmed what will be done with the beer that’s already been produced. The school did, however, confirm that it is working with partners to quickly stop further production.

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