Capital Brewers: Bill Butcher of Port City

Port City Brewing Company #14
Photo courtesy of Hans Bruesch

Tucked away in an unassuming former building supply warehouse in an Alexandria industrial park, a pineapple – a symbol of American hospitality since the colonial era – perches on the sign advertising Port City Brewery, one of several local breweries that have cropped up in the DC area over the last few years. As it turned out, the advertising is correct, and we were warmly welcomed into the brewery by its founder and owner, Bill Butcher.

The quintessential businessman, Bill is actually a wine guy by trade, having spent 18 years working as the Mid-Atlantic representative for the Mondavi wine empire. Prior to that, Bill got his exposure to the alcohol industry working as a shift and floor manager at The Wharf restaurant in Alexandria, where he would often have to sample wines as one of his duties. But it was that exposure to wine that got him interested in beer. As Bill explained, tasting wines all day made him want something different, namely beer.

Although it was Butcher’s career that brought him to his product, it was his family ties that helped him settle on a location. Butcher’s family has lived in the Alexandria area since 1908, and he stayed local as well, attending T.C. Williams High School and James Madison University. This combination of market knowledge and local sensibilities led to the founding of Port City just over a year ago after Bill asked himself why the growing American craft beer movement seemed to be passing over the DC area.

Port City Brewing Company #15Photo courtesy of Hans Bruesch

Since its founding, Port City has quickly grown into a successful brand. When I visited Bill, the tasting room was packed with people eager to sample one of Port City’s offerings. A planned run of 2500 barrels (35,000 cases) for the first year of production swelled to 3000 barrels (42,000 cases) as word spread about the new brew. This year, Butcher expects the brewery to pump out close to 5000 barrels, with an expansion of capacity to 6000 barrels in 2013 after the installation of two new brewing tanks.

Although Port City has experienced initial success, its owner is hesitant to try to do too much too quickly. The brewery is taking its time in expanding into the area – for now, it is only available inside the Beltway and in Virginia, but by the end of 2012 it will have expanded into Maryland and North Carolina, with a future expansion to Pennsylvania planned but not scheduled. Butcher doesn’t plan to take the beer much farther than that, preferring to be able to meet the local demand and keep quality high.

Port City Brewing Company #19Photo courtesy of Hans Bruesch

Quality is one of the key drivers that Bill has sought to implement in Port City Beer. His vision is a beer drinker’s beer where the the product sells itself with minimal marketing or gimmicks. Port City’s place in the community is also important to Butcher. Although the brewery is not able to source all of their grain locally, they have used wheat from the Northern Neck of Virginia and Maryland wildflower honey in two of their seasonal offerings. Additionally, Port City is working on an oyster stout using Chesapeake Bay oysters that will benefit the Oyster Recovery project.

That vision comes through in all of Port City’s offerings. All of the beers that we sampled were complex enough to appeal to even the most season beer drinker, but simple enough to not scare away more casual drinkers with exotic herbs and spices. Of these, the best, in my opinion, was the porter. Port City also does do a number of more complex, limited-edition beers, such as their first anniversary brew, which was only released on draft in a select number of bars.

Port City Brewing Company #17Photo courtesy of Hans Bruesch

Port City Brewing Company #22
Photo courtesy of Hans Bruesch


Port City Brewing is located at 3950 Wheeler Avenue, Alexandria, VA 22304. Public tours take place at 6:30 pm on Friday; 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 and 4:00 pm on Saturday; and 2:00 pm on Sunday โ€” reservations are not required. The cost is $7 and includes a tasting glass to keep and a full tasting of all of the beers on tap. For more information, please contact Port City at 703.797.2739 or visit the website at www.portcitybrewing.com. Port City’s beers are available at most local retailers and many area drinking establishments.

Addison is a fourth generation Washingtonian, actually born and raised within city limits of DC. He currently resides in Arlington and works in DC as a government lackey. Addison can be reached at addison (at) welovedc.com

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