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At half past noon on Saturday, the tasting room at Brass Cannon Brewing Company was only four patrons shy of capacity. Phil Norfolk, the brewery’s president, counted 73 guests inside while a line was quickly forming outside.
Standing in 90-degree heat, Norfolk kept a head count, doling out tickets to the brewery’s grand opening at its new location on Mooretown Road in Williamsburg. Less than one hour after opening its doors Saturday, the brewery had surpassed the number of patrons it used to average in a month at its former location in Toano.
“This has met all my expectations,” Norfolk said. “There’s such a great turnout. Although, next time we probably won’t be handing out tickets. It’s pretty hot out here.”
What began as a home-brewing experiment between three friends, the company’s CEO Tony Artrip, president Phil Norfolk and master brewer Scott Kennedy, has grown into a 20-barrel craft brewing operation. The trio first created an Oktoberfest-style beer in 2008 and sold their first keg of beer in 2012.
“The big success for us is that we’ve been around so long,” Norfolk said. “We started small and a bit outside of town and we’re still here and growing.”
At the Toano location, the tasting room bar was made from wooden pallets, the mash tank for beer-making was a 1920s dough fryer, and the liquor and boil kettle were repurposed tanks from a pharmaceutical company.
“With our old self-built system we had to do a lot of reinventing the wheel — now there should be fewer self-imposed challenges,” Norfolk joked. “What we had before was a good ‘foot in the in the door’ set up, but now we’re looking to expand our sales a lot. We really hope over the next couple of years to go statewide.”
The new location is anything but a “foot in the door” set up. The tasting room features high ceilings with brushed copper fixtures and exposed wood. Norfolk said the goal of the design was to create a “rustic but modern – not old-timey” atmosphere for customers.
“I love the space in here,” said Kiki Knickerbocker, who attended the grand opening with her husband Mike and their four-month-old daughter Tori. “All the wood is beautiful and it’s so open with plenty of room to stand and sit.”
The brewery’s new taproom was built in part with a $15,000 grant from the state’s Virginia Tourism Growth Fund, which supports development projects aimed at attracting tourists to the commonwealth. The grant money helped pay for little touches throughout the space, Norfolk said, such as the copper-clad bar and the use of reclaimed wood.
For Kennedy, Artrip and Norfolk, the transition into the new space is less of a “grand opening” and more of a “grand arrival.”
“We were both early-comers and late-comers to craft beer,” Norfolk said. “We’re one of the older new breweries, but we aren’t well-known because of how small we’ve been. Now with our ability to bring more people in and push more beer out, we’re looking to be much better known.”