The new O'Connor Brewing Company facility is huge, especially compared to the old building the next street over. Standing on top of the roof you can see for miles over the low rooftops of the industrial area, past the neighborhoods and beyond. Taking in everything around the building, getting a bead on the location. What caught my interest was the old coffee roasting plant a couple blocks away. It used to house First Colony Coffee & Tea, the 109-year-old business closed it's doors in 2011. I asked brewer Skylar Sickles what he thought about the new place.
“I love it.” he said.
I stopped by O'Connor Brewing Co. to check out the new spot before the huge grand opening dubbed “O'Connoroo.” I was greeted by their marketing director, Hannah Serrano, who gave me a quick tour around the warehouse. She then handed me off to the brewers, James Moriarty, Brian Mandeville, and Skylar Sickles who were there getting the new tanks hooked-up. The 211 W. 24th Street location started out as a food processing plant, then furniture warehouse before being converted into a brewery. The wide, open space allowed O'Connor to triple the annual output to 15,000 barrels. The building houses a cooler and docking area too; this will allow them to produce and hold more beer in addition to convenient shipping. This all equals higher product output.
The extra space will allow the brewers to experiment with small batches. They've done this in the past, but they'll have more to share and they can test out barrel aging. Barrels are going to be brought in from distilleries in the surrounding area. The brewers said they're going to love the extra space and the large windows that line the brewery's walls can be opened to let air in. I remember spending a couple hours with the brewers in the old location a few years ago. It was summer and it was hot, damp—the new space will be a lot more comfortable. The old spot on 25th Street has been shuttered up and the tanks there will be going to Midnight Brewery outside of Richmond, another craft brewery that started in 2011.
Kevin O'Connor, said, “I just love the way the place looked, architecturally, and how the place felt.” I can understand the feeling. The space allows the brewery to add a lot more the O'Connor experience. There is a mezzanine “VIP” area above the taproom bar. The bar is housed in what was formerly a refrigeration area—you can still see the large doors that was used to access the units. Twenty-one taps will be behind the warmly lit, wood-worked and corked lined walls. For the curious, the cork walls are original to the building, insulation for refrigeration units. As I was leaving I couldn't wait see how this place would be put together in a week for O'Connoroo!
The weather was perfect. We showed up to O'Connoroo around 3:30 PM, this was the official grand opening of the new location. We missed the 2:00 PM kick-off—pipers, ribbon cutting and the small crowds. The place was packed already with lines for beer tickets winding out of the gate! The docking courtyard was lined with food trucks and pop-up restaurants. The trucks included Karnage Asada, CXB BBQ and Eats, Granby Street Hot Dogs; the pop-ups were from Waffletina, Belmont House of Smoke (the brisket was very good!), Cogan's Pizza, 80/20 Burger Bar and Colley Cantina. In the center were spots to hang out and play cornhole. Speaking of games, if you go inside, there is a gameroom. They still have their oversized Jenga from the old joint and there is a shuffleboard court to boot. More games will be added in the future.
A proper stage has been built in the brewery to host their weekly performers. The O'Connoroo had four bands to check-out: The Framers, DJP and MrT, The Dahus, Big Virginia Sky. Between the stage and taproom are long tables and a bar with stools that runs the length of the lined-up tanks. The seating allows patrons to check out the brewing area and equipment in addition to anyone on stage. We moved around the facility a bit and made our way up to the mezzanine. A smaller bar was up stairs to cater the VIP area. A good number of people from the area's craft beer scene were there to help celebrate O'Connor's big day.
Approximately there were 5,000-6,000 people who walked through the gates to attend O'Connoroo. This made for long lines for beer and the brewery posted an apology and promised to make good in futures events. They will definitely honor any beer tickets people held onto. So if you have some, don't throw them away! All the tickets O'Connor had available were sold by 8:15 PM that night. 42.5 barrels of beer was consumed, which roughly translates to over 10,500 pints poured! So much beer was pulled that the tasting room will only be open Friday and Saturday the week after O'Connoroo to allow them to refill the kegs.
Even though there were lines for drinks, everyone took it in stride. It was great seeing the community come out and support the area's spearhead unit into the craft beer scene. They've come a long way since opening in March 2010. Here's a little traditional Irish toast to close:
May you always have walls for the winds,
a roof for the rain, beer beside the fire,
laughter to cheer you, those you love near you,
and all your heart might desire.
I changed that a little bit, hope you don't mind. See all the photos from the event here.
(Special thanks to Michael Palfrey Jr., OBC Tasting Room Mgr., who let me ping him for information.)