We Love Drinks: The Birth of a Brewery

Photo courtesy of
‘Port City Pale Ale’
courtesy of ‘rabid_c’

I obviously think the world of DC, but there’s one thing I’ve always thought the metro area lacked: a brewery.  There are a myriad of beer nerd restaurants, places like ChurchKey, Brasserie Beck and Birreria Paradiso, that quench the appetites of a pretty decent sized population of aficionados. Small, well respected breweries make it a point to export to the DC area because the market is so ripe for well crafted beers.  It seems like the perfect place to open a brewery.  More over, it seems like the sort of place a local would start brewing on his own, generate a following and eventually establish a successful brewery.  Thankfully, Port City Brewing Co. is making this a reality.

Port City is the brain child of Bill Butcher, a successful wine distributor.  The idea for a brewery was born in 2008 while he was taking a two year hiatus from work to spend more time with his family. “My wife and I sat down and formed a small company to explore future business opportunities,” he told me. They looked into the beer industry and found that it had evolved drastically over the last ten years. “It’s actually very similar to wine, these days,” Butcher says. “There are tasting dinners, people are thinking about how food pairs with beer, the philosophy behind brewing has really changed.”

With this in mind, his experience in the wine industry seemed like a good segue into brewing beer. Butcher, having a four generation family history in Alexandria, saw it as the perfect place to start a brewery, particularly because of it’s proximity to DC. “Washingtonians are very open to new and better things, so it makes sense to be near the DC market,” he said.  Once he made the decision to start the brewery, Butcher began looking for a brewer to head up the operation.  He solicited the position on a beer industry message board and received over 100 responses.  After sifting through them all, Butcher settled on Jonathan Reeves, another DC area native.

Photo courtesy of
‘Bill Butcher’
courtesy of ‘rabid_c’

Jonathan Reeves grew up in Maryland and DC and has around 15 years of experience at small breweries and brew pubs up and down the east coast.  He spent his most formative brewing years working at Sweetwater Tavern under the tutelage of brew-master Nick Funnell, a man he considers his mentor.  Over the years, Reeves developed a number of successful recipes which have one him awards at regional competitions.  He told me, “I’m particularly proud of my Belgian Wit,” a beer he developed for his wedding and to suit his wife’s taste.

This ready catalog of recipes is what Butcher and Reeves based Port City’s selection around. They plan to offer a pale ale, IPA, robust porter and the aforementioned Belgian wit as their flagship line up.  “I’m making small tweaks to recipes I’ve used over the years,” says Reeves.  “I’m only really still dialing in on the Pale Ale, but that recipe should be ready soon.”  When I asked Reeves about his personal taste in beer he said “I’m actually pretty well rounded.  I’d say like hoppy beers, but wouldn’t consider myself a hop-head.” From the sound of things, this should be fairly apparent in his IPA.  Reeves says that he plans to use west coast hops to make a highly aromatic, yet not overly bitter beer.  “Balance is really important,” he says.

Reeves is using a few distinctive yeasts to give Port City beers an unique flavor. “Everyone uses Chico, so I’m not going to, just to be different.” Instead, Reeves plans to use a yeast strain common to abbey beers, as well as an English ale strain.  He’ll use a German malt and English, West Coast and Bavarian hops, depending on the style he’s brewing.  What really matters to Reeves, though, is that the beer is high quality and fresh.  “I can forgive some flaws in beer, just so long as I know it’s been well made,” he said. Accordingly, he’s obsessed with cleanliness during the brewing process.  “Jonathan and I really connected over his obsession with quality, and it really reflects in his beer,” Butcher told me.

Photo courtesy of
‘Monteith’s Brewery in Greymouth’
courtesy of ‘edwin.11′

The brewery itself has not been built, yet. Butcher takes possession of a building in August and expects to require around 3 months to install the necessary gear.  Once all the equipment is in place, Reeves will go in and adjust his recipes to mesh with the equipment and make the tweaks required for large quantity brewing.  “It takes me about three batches to get it just right,” he said. Butcher plans to have Port City’s beers on the market in time for the holiday season.

For now, it will just be Butcher and Reeves working the brewery. They plan on producing around 3000 barrels in the first year, with the majority being sold in kegs to local bars. Butcher’s plan is to grow slowly, building loyalty in the DC market and gradually expanding to the rest of the mid-Atlantic region as their operation becomes more established.  “We’re here for the DC market,” Butcher told me.  Thus far, Butcher says that the community has been very supportive.  Alexandria City government is excited about having a brewery in town, local small batch brewers and beer aficionados have voiced their support, even ABC hasn’t been an obstacle.

Once Port City is up an running, Butcher and Reeves plan on offering tours, tastings and other educational events at the brewery.  There won’t be a pub or any food associated with the brewery, but you will be able to buy beer on premises. The brewery will be located in Alexandria on Wheeler Ave, near Duke St. We can look forward to Port City beers by Christmas.

Kirk is a Maine-born, military brat who moved no fewer than 12 times during his childhood. He came to the DC area in 2004 for his undergrad and decided that it was the place for him. Since graduating, he’s nabbed a job with the Fed and spends most of his free time hunting for cheap thrills in the city. Find out why he loves DC.

10 thoughts on “We Love Drinks: The Birth of a Brewery

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  2. I hadn’t heard of this before–sounds pretty awesome. The name is similar to Port Brewing Company out of California though.

  3. nice article, but it should have given at least a passing mention to the existing breweries in the DC area, including my favorite, Franklin’s in Hyattsville.

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  9. Whatever happened to Foggy Bottom beer and the old Heirich Brewery? That was dc beer!