I'd Tap That! O'Connor Beer
James Finney | Assistant A&E Editor
The first thing that hits you on your way inside O’Connor Brewing Company, is the rich whiff of hops in the air. The scent is reminiscent of a countryside drive, filling your nose with the scent of cows on a farm, or how you can smell a cheese shop in Wisconsin from at least a block away. It’s the kind of scent that tells you that whoever is working here, must love what they do. Kevin and Penny O’Connor, and the team that stands beside them love what they do.
O’Connor Brewery is more than a just a one-stop shop for some unique brewing. O’Connor is a picture-perfect snapshot of the artistry, hard-work and community that form the recipe of Hampton Roads’ unique greatness.
The people of Norfolk each pursue their own element of what makes this city great, but everyone loves a good beer, and so each of these elements can be found at O’Connor Brewery.
The space inside of the brewery feels more like a city loft that just happens to make beer, rather than one of the fastest growing brewing companies in Virginia. There is an actual porch, decorated in an eclectic assortment of plants that lure you to the front entrance. Your eyes are greeted by the lovely sight of a fully stocked bar and a row of tables leading to a stage platform in the rear.
Together, sitting on a loveseat at the rear of the living space, Kevin and Penny make it clear that they, and O’Connor Brewing, are uniquely Virginia.
Kevin opens about the couple’s history in VA, “The first thing is that we are born and raised here. I’m a Norfolk boy and she’s a Virginia Beach girl. We are Hampton Roads through and through.”
Kevin’s words match the actions of the crew at O’Connor Brewing. Many of the specialty beers are named after local Hampton Roads spots. The rotating line of specialty beers, named Steel Battalion, is inspired by the Atlantic Fleet at the Norfolk Naval Yard. Their Norfolk Canyon IPA is a reference to the offshore fishing ground 60 miles off the coast of Norfolk. Some of the varieties of beer even use hops and malt locally sourced from around Virginia. The O’Connor team’s commitment to their roots grounds their passion for exceptional beer making.
Penny laughs thinking about it, “I feel like we really resonate with the local community, and it’s probably because we’re both from here. We appreciate all of Hampton Roads. We’ve been here since we were toddlers. So we really have a connection to the area, and I think it really resonates in our brand. We care about supporting them as much as they care about supporting us.”
This mutual commitment between individuals and their community has turned O’Connor Brewing into a house, where you can see firsthand what makes Hampton Roads special. As the cities constantly evolve and grow, the one thing that remains the same is the revolving door of talent that our home never fails to produce.
Kevin himself finds it interesting how much Hampton Roads has grown in even a short time, “I grew up in Larchmont right next to ODU. I mean we used to jump the fence at Foreman Field and ride our bikes and skateboards through ODU. To me, ODU used to be a commuter campus back then.”
Kevin eventually ended up attending ODU, where he didn’t get off to a great start, “Took a little bit longer than expected, not your typical four-year degree, but it lead to all this.” But that’s the beautiful thing about talent in Hampton Roads. Whether you’re a young singer looking for their shot, fresh-faced artists looking for their chance to be noticed or a trailblazing brewery on the rise, they never see you coming, and it’s a beautiful moment when we all see you make it.
What’s On Tap: The inspiration for an O’Connor Beer
Penny and her team manage the brand at O’Connor Brewing. They gather data, customer opinion and generally keep the gears turning. Kevin and his brewers have the technical know-how to produce the goods. However, it’s the combined creativity of the entire team and community that is responsible for the hail mary collection of beers that O’Connor has produced.
Kevin boils it down to a simple truth, experimentation,
“We’re kind of foodies, I know what I like and I know what goes good together. A lot of our local friends are chefs, and they put together a lot of ideas and we talk with them.”
Sometimes, making good beer is a team effort in the biggest sense. Other times, inspiration can come from the tiniest things.
El Guapo IPA is one of the mainstays of O’Connor Brewing. The beer makes use of agave nectar of all things, and you’d have to imagine there was some story involving a brewmaster’s keen eye and an interesting trip to Mexico. Nope.
“I use agave in my coffee, and that’s really how it started. When we first started off, everyone was looking for an IPA. We liked the hefeweizen beer that used honey, and we wanted to create something unique. So what that did for us was create an approachable, high alcohol beer.”
And it started with a morning cup of coffee.
The Prodigal Brew: Ibrik Turkish Stout
The Iron Battalion series of beers is more of a test space for new beer, rather than a fixed set of the product. Due to the size of the O’Connor Brewery, it’s easy for the folks at the company to regularly experiment with what beers work and don’t work.
Kevin goes into further detail, “Steel Battalion was a series of beers we wanted to make. At our original facility, we were at capacity making the same five beers. When we moved here, we wanted to wow everyone, so we created this new series of beer, Steel Battalion. We were gonna make thirty barrels at a time. Einbeck, doppelbock, bourbon barrel porter, just all types of beer. People loved it. Every month we were trying something new.”
The Steel Battalion allowed the O’Connor’s to have a ball making beer. Further expansion of the facilities at their new brewery allowed brewers to experiment with a new beer every single week, and from there Ibrik was born, a veteran of the Steel Battalion system.
“Our Imperial Turkish stout, its called Ibrik. We produce it every year on what we call black Saturday, directly after Black Friday. This is what the big beer geeks come out for. We take a portion of the base, package that off. We take a portion of that and age with vanilla bean and cacao nibs, then we put some in bourbon barrels and package them off, that’s when we have fun with it.” Kevin smiles, as he goes over the many different brews at O’Connor.
It’s clear that each unique creation carries an added sense of pride and joy for the team. Ibrik is a prime example of the artistry that O’Connor Brewing infuses into their work. Ibrik, El Guapos and a host of other beers are currently available at the O’Connor Brewing company brewery and at locations all across the greater Hampton Roads area. Hampton Road’s very own is producing some of the finest and most unique beer you could get your hands on. Don’t miss out.