Port City Brewing arrives on the craft beer scene

After months of anticipation, Alexandrias only microbrewery recently began crafting a storm of quality suds on Wheeler Avenue. 

Motorists passing down the street might catch a whiff of hops and the sight of a pineapple propped up outside an otherwise nondescript building. Its a seafaring tradition, said Bill Butcher, the owner of Port City Brewings. Captains would announce they were home and ready to greet old friends and neighbors by spiking a pineapple in front of their home. 

These days, Butcher plants the fruit out front as a way to let beer lovers know the tasting room is open for business. 

For the past several weeks, Butcher, a lifelong Alexandrian, has been welcoming area residents with samplings of the brewerys inaugural beer selection. For the fans of Belgian-style wheat beer, theres the Optimal Wit; ale lovers can try the Essential Pale Ale and stout fans are encouraged to sample the porter. Brew master Jonathan Reeves is working on an Indian pale ale, too.

From the zesty witbier to the bright pale ale, the flavors are balanced something Butcher takes great pride in. 

Theres this trend of moving to the extremes as alcohol gets higher and the beer gets more intense, but you leave behind a portion of the market, Butcher said. A similar think is happening in the wine industry. It gets out of balance and it tends to be too strong.

A fourth offering, Port City Brewings Monumental IPA, is expected to hit the taps by Presidents Day Weekend. 

Bright, clean flavors, fresh and balanced, Butcher said, describing the beers on tap. Thats one of the things we agree on: flavorful, but balanced.

A scant few feet from where Butcher and his employees fill growlers and hand out samples, the brewery is mixing ingredients local and exotic. While the water comes straight out of Alexandrias system, the hops are shipped from the area near Heidelberg, Va., and the malt comes from all over. 

When theyre finished brewing, a Fauquier County farmer stops by to pick up the spent ingredients for use as high quality feed for his livestock, according to Butcher.

If youre going to make great beer, you need great ingredients, Butcher said. 

So far, area beer enthusiasts agree. About 600 people showed up for the brewerys open house earlier in February, many of them in the industry, he said. On Friday, Butcher and Reeves were trading notes with fellow brewers between tours of the budding facility. 

Already several city bars Pizzeria Paradiso, Jackson 20, Rustico, Evening Star and Columbia Firehouse are serving Reeves brews on tap, plus craft beer hotspots in the District. While the brewery has the capacity to brew 5,000 gallons of beer, there is plenty of room for expansion, Butcher said. 

As they prepare to launch their bottling plant, Butcher is optimistic Port City Brewerys craft beers will find a niche in the market. The Washington area isnt home to a lot of microbreweries, but its suds-seeking inhabitants expect quality in their pints and Butcher aims to please. 

They expect very good quality and thats our obligation, he said. We expect to be judged alongside beer from everywhere else.

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