Growing in a crowded field

Brewery perseveres in the face of increasing competition

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“I think we will be fine in the long run,” says Kevin O’Connor. Photo by Mark Rhodes

O’Connor Brewing Co.

Kevin O’Connor admits he has more gray hair now than he did when he started Norfolk-based O’Connor Brewing Co. in 2009.

He attributes that change in his appearance, in part, to an oversaturated craft-beer industry. “We’re seeing a lot of fallout now,” he says of industry trends. “A lot of breweries have cut back, pulled out of markets. Lucky for us we are still growing.”

Currently there are about 15 breweries in the Hampton Roads area. Nine years ago, O’Connor Brewing was the only brewery in the Norfolk/Virginia Beach area, and there were only two others in Hampton Roads.

“This is a different world from two or five years ago,” he says. “There are more breweries, and also restaurants, hotels and bars today have a wider array of beers, so branding is more difficult. We have been resilient and persevered. I think we will be fine in the long run.”

O’Connor’s conservative approach to business has served the company well. The company is the top manufacturer in the Fantastic 50. “You have to keep an eye on the business side,” he says. “Ninety-five percent is business, and the other 5 percent is about beer.”

The company’s 45 employees work at its 35,000-square-foot facility in the industrial section of Norfolk’s Ghent area. In March, O’Connor Brewing won a gold medal for its Imperial Turkish Coffee Stout as well as three silver and four bronze medals for other beers at the Dublin Craft Beer Cup in Ireland. 

It has 24 beers on tap and hopes to add 20 more by the end of the year. New beers are developed in its seven-barrel pilot system. That system enables the company to make and test seven barrels of a beer rather than the 90 barrels of beer it makes in its factory tanks.

“This allows us to play around with new ingredients and new styles,” he says. “It’s a better experience for our customers because they can try new things all the time.”

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