In 2010, Kevin O’Connor and his wife Penny unarguably changed the Virginia craft beer industry forever. After turning to craft beer brewing as a hobby while in college, O’Connor decided that the corporate life that his college career was leading him into wasn’t the one for him. Instead, O’Connor found himself endlessly thinking of making his own beer and was determined that he could revolutionize the not-yet booming industry of craft beer. Not only did Kevin and Penny make his dream come true by founding O’Connor Brewing Company in 2009, but O’Connor later went on to help lobby a bill through the Virginia Senate that allowed breweries to have tasting rooms, a landmark bill for the industry.
O’Connor Brewing Company was the third stop visited on the Food and Beverage Media Tour, hosted by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. When walking into O’Connor Brewing, it was astounding to see how such a large space–which was once a warehouse–had been turned into an immaculate tasting room, hangout, and bar. The brewing tanks are well within sight, and sometimes reach, of patrons who sit at a long, beautiful wooden table placed directly center of the tasting room area. This design was purposeful; the O’Connor’s wanted their tasting room to be one meant for socializing, meeting new people, and enjoying one another. The brewery currently holds a 700+ person capacity within its walls.
To say that the brewery sources locally would be an understatement. Yes, they do source many of their ingredients locally, including the roasted pecans they use to make their Winter Pecan Porter, from Old Dominion Peanut Company. But they also do much more. They are one of the only breweries in Virginia that do outside collaborations within their community. While speaking about his collaborations Kevin O’Connor said, “We simply just like doing them. Camaraderie is alive and well within this industry.”
Some of their latest partnerships include the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center, who chose to partner with O’Connor for its 53rd Sensible Seafood Week. The brewery created a special brew called the Sensible Kolsch, a small-batch brew with subtle hints of pineapple and pear, meant to pair well with almost any seafood dish. A portion of the proceeds from the event and the sale of beer went towards the Sensible Seafood program, which promotes ocean-friendly seafood. O’Connor Brewing also recently partnered with the Norfolk Botanical Garden to create the Grain and Hop Garden, a place where the brewery now sources three different varieties of hops, barley, and aromatic herbs that are used in their brews.
Producing 15,000 barrels of beer in 2016, O’Connor Brewing hopes to up that capacity to 20-25,000 barrels in 2017. To date, they employ 38 people and are #3 in grocery chain brands throughout Virginia. You would be hard pressed to find a person who didn’t love this brewery once they’ve visited, with the majority of patrons requesting El Guapo, an Agave Indian Pale Ale, made with organic agave nectar as their beer of choice. On the tour, we were lucky enough to try a rum-barrel aged beer that was specialty on tap and were sent home with O’Connor’s signature Ibrik brew, an Imperial Turkish Coffee Stout with notes of cinnamon and rich roasted coffee. It was delicious and highly recommended to any future visitors!
The Food Channel toured O’Connor Brewing Company as part of an initiative sponsored by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.