New Beer for the Old Dominion

In Alexandria, Port City Brewing is producing beers that pass the taste test.

I love beer. So when I heard that a new brewery had opened in my old Northern Virginia stomping ground, I decided to investigate. I would learn more about the brewery, and even sample their beers. I felt that I owed it to you, dear reader, to make a thorough report.

I am pleased to report that Alexandria’s own Port City Brewing (PCB) is a Virginia-based business that any beer lover would be happy to support.

PCB is the brainchild of Bill Butcher, a veteran of the wine business who decided that the keys to building a successful wine brand in the Mid-Atlantic could also be applied to beer. In short, as Butcher says, “Beer drinkers in this market are very sophisticated, know their stuff and appreciate quality.” So, why not apply his experience in the wine trade to a brewery?

To that end, Butcher hired brewer Jonathan Reeves and opened PCB in January 2011. They’re off to a flying start. Since selling their first kegs in February, PCB has expanded from the Washington, D.C. market and is now available throughout Virginia—with a long-term goal of distributing throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

“Our philosophy is to produce great, quality beers in styles that people like to drink,” Butcher says. “We use the highest quality ingredients we can find, and produce beers that celebrate these raw ingredients. We’re very proud of our beers, and the market has responded very positively. We know that the business starts and ends with the quality of our brew.”

To date, PCB has produced four beers: a pale ale, an India pale ale, a Belgian-style “white” ale (or “wit”) and a porter. “We have been focused on trying to do only a few things, and doing them exceptionally well,” Butcher says. However, they are now rolling out their first seasonal brew—an Oktoberfest lager—and have plans to release a Holiday ale (in the Belgian Triple style), and specialty brews next spring and summer.

Now, for the important part: is their beer any good? In a word, yes. I sampled their four flagship brews, and was impressed. Here’s a brew-by-brew review:

Port City Porter, at 7.5% alcohol by volume (ABV), is a dangerously quick-drinking beer. An opaque, dark chocolate brown that is light on the palate, with a smooth finish and a lovely cocoa aftertaste. Normally I’m not a fan of porters in warm weather, but this one slipped down rather easily. It would be a perfect match for a flourless chocolate cake, and I’m really looking forward to having one with beef stew this fall. Frankly, this is one of my new favorite beers.

The Monumental IPA is a sandy blonde India pale ale that has a floral, hoppy character without the bitterness often associated with IPAs. Also, at 6.3% ABV, it’s not overwhelmingly strong—which is a good thing if you want to have more than one (and you probably will). This beer has a satiny mouthfeel—rich and smooth, without being heavy. It’s intense flavors would hold up well against the bite of an arugula salad or the spice of Thai cuisine. Yum.

The Optimal Wit is a cloudy, honey-colored white ale. It has a prominent honey flavor, a cottony mouthfeel (that I’m not crazy about) and comes in at 5% ABV. It’s a good representative of the wit style, but it doesn’t have a distinctive character that sets it apart.

The Essential Pale Ale is a sweetish ale with a strong hops flavor, a hint of spice and a fruity finish. As my friend, and deputy beer taster, Greg Andres put it: “I really like this one. A little apricotty, but well-balanced. Not too sweet, not too hoppy—a versatile session beer.” He nailed it. The Essential Pale Ale registers at 5.5% ABV and would go great with the complex spiciness of good Mexican food, or the strong, earthy flavor of a thick steak.

In short, beer drinkers, you have no excuse not to support a Virginia business the next time you’re shopping for suds.

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