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What began as a home-brewing experiment will soon become a 20-barrel craft brewing operation, as Toano-based Brass Cannon Brewing Company is preparing to relocate to a larger space in York County.
Phil Norfolk, president of Brass Cannon Brewing, said the business has grown significantly since he, CEO Tony Artrip and master brewer Scott Kennedy created an Oktoberfest-style beer in 2008 and sold their first keg of beer in 2012, noting how the trio has improved their brewing technique and enhanced their knowledge of the process.
“I think we started well but we’ve definitely improved and we’re excited to be growing now,” Norfolk said.
He said the brewery’s current location at 8105 Richmond Road in Toano is what they could afford when the business started. A larger budget now affords them the opportunity to expand Brass Cannon’s reach to potential distributors and customers, Norfolk said.
Brass Cannon’s new location, 5476 Mooretown Road, will accommodate a 20-barrel brewing system, an increase from its four-barrel system that includes a 1920s dough fryer. Norfolk said the system expansion will help the company “satisfy demand faithfully” by more reliably producing enough beer for their distributors.
“Restaurants get worried if they order it, will we have it ready with this size of production?” Norfolk said. “That level of production will really let us push out distribution more, get out to the local area and expand to the state.”
The new location will also have about 1,200 square feet of space for the tasting room, three times as much as Brass Cannon has now at its Toano location.
“Before, it was where we could find room up front. This time we’re planning the space with patrons in mind,” Norfolk said, noting plans for bar and table seating.
Norfolk said the new location is a “40-second drive” from AleWerks Brewing Company, but said the proximity of the two breweries will only help the businesses and the industry as a whole.
“One brewery has a good draw. Two breweries has a better draw,” Norfolk said. “Over the past few years, as Virginia beer culture is growing, we see more people coming through looking for breweries.”
Jim Noel, York County’s director of economic development, said craft breweries like Brass Cannon have dual benefits for the local economy.
“It’s a really good thing for the area because it is not only manufacturing but it’s also a tourist attraction because it is very, very popular with locals as well as those visiting the area,” Noel said.
Noel emphasized that York County does not try to draw businesses out of James City County or the City of Williamsburg. However, he said the county is taking specific steps to support the business interests of microbreweries, such as proposing a zoning ordinance that would authorize the operation of food trucks.
Next year, Brass Cannon, AleWerks and Virginia Beer Company will be based in York County.
While Russell Seymour, James City County’s economic development director, said it is “a shame” the only craft brewery in the county will be relocating, he said the entire region benefits from the burgeoning microbrewing industry and said James City County remains an appealing location for breweries to set up shop.
“We are by no means out of the market or out of consideration of other breweries,” Seymour said.
Norfolk said the goal is to open the new location by early March. The brewery and tasting room will continue to operate in Toano until the move is complete.