Port City Brewing Toasts First Year in Business
Bill Butcher, president of Port City Brewing Company, showcases his latest beer “ONE” in Old Town, Alexandria during a pub crawl of local area restaurant and pubs
Many businesses never get off the ground, let alone survive 12 months. But Port City Brewing Company in Alexandria is not only surviving, but thriving. Founder Bill Butcher recently celebrated his first anniversary with a new beer and a pub crawl through Old Town and into DC.
“I don’t know that we could have done anything any differently to have had a more fabulous first year,” he said.
Butcher and his wife Karen invited a dozen well wishers and friends to join in celebrating a successful first year beginning at the brewery’s tasting room. It was a scene reminiscent of the grand opening two days before Super Bowl 2011, when 200 revelers filled the space.
A rented van then carried the group to Jackson 20 in Alexandria’s Hotel Monaco, Columbia Firehouse, Del Ray Pizzeria, Rustico and, in Washington, DC, Churchkey and Meridian Pint. Everywhere Butcher and his wife Karen warmly greeted neighborhood clientele, offering a limited-edition anniversary beer called simply ONE. It’s a Belgian imperial stout, dark, malty, and high octane, with dark chocolate and dried fruit notes infused with an orange zest flavor topped with an espresso-hued head. The new beer is rolling out in draft at local area establishments for the next few weeks until the kegs are spent, lead brewer Jonathon Reeves said.
“It is a strong beer at 9.2 percent ABV and is traditionally poured in smaller glassware, so people are hoping ONE will be around a bit longer as a result,” reports Butcher. But Port City brewed only 30 barrels so when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Port City, Old Town’s first brewery since the Robert Portner Brewing Company drained its brew kettle for the last time on Oct. 31, 1916, is doubling its current output with four more custom built fermentation vessels that will help boost output to 6,000 barrels in 2012, part of Butcher’s “quality-first” expansion plan. The brewery’s 20,000-square-foot building can ultimately house 19 fermenters “giving us the capacity over the next seven years to produce up to 25,000 barrels of beer annually,” said Butcher.
Port City has plenty of time to expand as they grow the business to reach that figure. “In 20 years I will be 65 and in good health, I hope and plan to be doing exactly what I am doing today but in a bigger way,” said Butcher. “These new tanks will enable us to keep up with demand in the market right now, focusing on growth of our distribution areas in Virginia, Washington, DC, Maryland and North Carolina.”
While many microbreweries tend to dabble in uncategorical kitchen-sink beers (Cherry banana saison, anyone? Chocolate chili bock?), Port City has stuck to a tried-and-true. beer lineup that currently includes: Essential Pale Ale, Optimal Wit, Port City Porter, and Monumental I.P.A.
Port City’s Porter is a style of dark ale that dates back to eighteenth-century London. George Washington enjoyed it (the general once owned a townhouse in Old Town and liked to bend an elbow at Gadsby’s Tavern). Given porter’s current popularity, 200 years hence our descendants will be probably sipping it as well.
Washington, who enlisted a Philadelphia brewer named Robert Hare to keep him supplied at Mount Vernon, would have enjoyed making the acquaintance of Port City lead brewer Jonathan Reeves. The porter Reeves has perfected is generating a consensus among connoisseurs that it’s one of the best around. Beer Advocate voted Port City Porter number 52 in its Top 100 New Beers of the Year, and The Washington Post featured it in a superb article, 40 Dishes Every Washingtonian Must Try, on Dec. 30, 2011.
“It’s our bestseller this year,” said Butcher. At 7.2 percent alcohol by volume, the porter draws its quality from the ingredients that Jonathan sources the world over, including “the most expensive malts in the world as its base,” he added.
Butcher, an Alexandria native whose family has lived in town for over 100 years, is generous in the credit he gives Reeves. “Our lead brewer has 17 years of brewing experience … he produces delicious, easy-to-drink, well-balanced beers that will enhance a meal or stand alone, while possessing a complexity that will hold the drinker’s interest and invite another sip,” Butcher said.
Butcher also credits world-class engineering with Port City’s success. The made-in-the-USA stainless steel brewing vessel tanks, welded to food-grade quality (including hinges), are intended for a long-distance run instead of the short tear afforded by the all-too-popular Chinese off-the-shelf tanks, according to Butcher.
Butcher’s career turned a bend after an 18-year stretch as an executive in the wine business. He began with the Mondavi Family Winery of Napa, Calif., where he served as the Mid-Atlantic sales and marketing director, covering Pennsylvania to South Carolina. After Mondavi’s sale to Constellation Brands in 2004, family patriarch Robert Mondavi’s son, Michael Mondavi, set his sites on Butcher to lead a business management team overseeing the Mid-Atlantic market at a new wine import company he started called Folio. (For a great read, curl up with House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn Siler.)
During his tenure at Folio from 2005 to 2007, Butcher traveled to vineyards in Tuscany, Northern Italy, Austria and Spain before deciding that his own little cobblestone village of Old Town, Alexandria, a scenic riverfront community known for its one-of-a-kind antique shops and boutiques, was in dire need of its own local, first-class brewery to uphold its reputation further. From 2007 until his brewery’s opening early last year, Butcher, who had always enjoyed craft beer, was doing meticulous planning, assisted by Reeves, who worked as a consultant formulating recipes until Butcher hired him as brewmaster.
Port City tries to make its brews easy to find. Their beers are available in over 450 locations: 220 restaurants and 230 retailers within their four state distribution area.
Port City was recently selected by the Craft Brewer’s Association as part of a select group of brewers that will pour at this year’s SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC on June 8 and 9.
Before then, Port City will pour its beers at the 8th Annual Brewers Ball, an annual micro-beer and food tasting gala at Nationals Park at the Stars & Stripes Club, in D.C. benefiting Cystic Fibrosis coming up March 3. They have been patrons at several benefits for the National Zoo in Washington, DC, including this Saturday’s Woo at the Zoo event for Valentine’s Day.
They regularly conduct tastings and beer dinners in the DC area, too numerous to mention individually. “One that comes to mind occurred at 3 Restaurant in the Clarendon section of Arlington where Monumental Ale made its debut in cask,” Butcher added.
“The most important event we were involved with this past year was at the annual Great American Beer Festival (GABF) in Denver, Co,” he added. “I was so happy to have our beers on a national stage where we had a chance to share them with 40,000 craft beer drinkers from all over the U.S.”. Butcher is also extremely excited about the Brewer’s Association’s Craft Beer Conference (CBC) being held in DC in the spring of 2013.
You can visit the bustling production brewery, which occupies a three-story-brick building at 3950 Wheeler Ave. in Alexandria. Port City welcomes you to come visit, make some new friends, tour the brewery and taste some of their beer. The friendly staff will make you feel like family.
When you take what was voted DC’s "Best Brewery Tour” in Washingtonian Magazine's Best of Issue; (July 2011), you will be fascinated with Port City’s modern, world-class brewery operations. Wednesday and Thursday from 5 to 8 p.m. are great nights for growler fills and after-work meet ups with your co-workers for tastings. After you purchase 10 fills, your 11th fill is on the house.
Friday’s TGIF club beats the weekend rush for grower fills and makes time for the new 6:30 p.m. tour. The 1 p.m. Saturday tour is the less crowded of the day. The cost is $7 and includes a tasting glass to keep and a generous full tasting of all of the beers on tap. The new +1 Program gets you a free tasting as a thank you for sharing the Port City Brewing Co. experience when you visit the Tasting Room bringing a friend, family member, co-worker or even your boss.
Growlers (take-home, reusable containers) can be filled with your choice of craft brew selections to take home for sharing with friends. Port City has a supply of its own, and they’ll also fill growlers from other breweries, for a wee fee. The tasting room has cases and six-packs of all Port City beer varieties lining the walls for easy pick-up. You can even purchase kegs of your favorite Port City craft brew directly there.
The Tasting Room is open: Wed and Thurs 5-8 p.m.; Fri 4-8 p.m. (Fri tour at 6:30 p.m.); Sat and Sun noon-5 p.m. (Sat tours at 1:00., 2:00., 3:00. and 4:00 p.m., with one tour on Sun at 2 p.m.) For more information, call the new Tasting Room manager, Jenn Chance, with any questions about private tours, tastings and other happenings at 703-797-2739 ext. 3, or send an email.
Port City’s Tasting Room is quickly becoming one of the area’s community centers. One of my female acquaintances let me in on an additional little secret about it. “Good men drink good beer,” she said, “and Port City's Tasting Room is hands down the best place to find them in Old Town.”