Dining With Denise Neil

‘It’s been nuts.’ Nortons Brewing Company celebrating one year of beer, big crowds

Every now and then, when they peek out into their packed beer garden on another crazy Saturday night, Dan and Becky Norton get a little misty eyed.

On April 20, 2018, the couple finally opened the doors to their Nortons Brewing Company, a brewery and restaurant they’d been planning during late-night chats on their front porch for years. They were hopeful, but they had no idea how it was going to go over.

A year later, they have their answer. The couple plans to celebrate the brewery’s one-year anniversary on Saturday with an all-day party that will include new beer releases, lots of live music and people likely competing for seats inside the massive building at 125 N. St. Francis and in its giant, playfully decorated outdoor beer garden.

“It’s been nuts,” said Dan Norton, who jokingly describes himself as the businesses’ head beer maker and floor scrubber. “It’s exceeded all of our expectations. We’ve kind of found a new normal.”

Dan, who was the longtime head brewer at River City Brewing Co., had for years dreamed of opening his own place. His wife, Becky, had a degree in business management and had cut her teeth running the Gambino’s pizza restaurant in Conway Springs, which the couple owned for four years.

The Nortons envisioned a place where Dan could show off his brewing skills and Becky could create a whimsical food menu and an even more whimsical beer garden. The two were unwavering on their desire to have that big beer garden.

They spent years looking at properties and went back and forth and back and forth before settling on the 9,000 square-foot former boat dealership on St. Francis, which had the room Dan needed to set up his brewing tanks and the space Becky wanted for her beer garden.

The road to opening day, though, was bumpy. At one point, their brewery license was in doubt when it was determined that the spot might be too close to a church. Then, just before they opened, they battled with the city over parking.

Dan Norton worked as the head brewer at River City Brewing Co. for years before opening his Nortons Brewing Company. Courtesy photo

Both of those issues were eventually resolved, though, and the brewery’s reception has been enthusiastic. Customers love Dan’s thoughtfully brewed and playfully named beers, like Don’t Poke the Bear and Polka Dot Princess . And the food menu, which includes burgers, sandwiches candied bacon and funnel cakes, has been well received.

Some of the best parts of the past year, Dan says, have been getting to hang with some of his musical heroes — like The Reverend Horton Heat — who he’s managed to book for performances in the beer garden.

“Beccy’s and my favorite thing to do is go to live shows together,” he said. “For us to be able to book these bands and take care of these bands and hang out with these bands while they’re here is pretty awesome.”

This weekend’s party, which will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday and last until 1 a.m., will include 20 different beers on tap including the release of 12 new ones.

Music will start at 1 p.m. with Lizzie Tramps followed by Super40 at 3 p.m., Huffy and the Night Train at 5 p.m., Aage Birch at 7 p.m. and Kris Lager band at 9 p.m.

“We’re really just trying to focus on the beer and the live music and on providing a good time for everybody,” Dan said. “We’re thanking Wichita for such great support in our first year. It’s been a really emotional ride. Becky and I still get choked up when we stand on the edge of the beer garden on a busy night and look out at what we did.”
Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.