The citys legacy as a shipping and brewing hub has faded with time, but by Christmas, Port City Brewing Co. plans to revive those memories one pint at a time.
Thats when the start-up microbrewery expects to have the first batches of fresh beer flowing from the taps at its facility on Wheeler Avenue. Those first draughts and bottles will not only help quench a growing thirst in the area for craft brews, but also fill a production-and-distribution void inside the Beltway.
Watching the craft beer business, it just looked like there was an opportunity in D.C. to add to the brewing scene, said Port City founder Bill Butcher.
The D.C. area has its brewpubs Capitol City, Gordon Biersch and Rock Bottom come to mind but the beers you can find in a six-pack are only quasi-local, with Old Dominion brewing in Frederick and Colorado-based Flying Dog producing in Frederick.
This gave Butcher, a fourth-generation Alexandrian and wine industry veteran, just the opening he needed to dive into the beer world.
We dont see ourselves becoming a large brewery we want to stay small and artisanal, and make great quality, hand-crafted beers for the local and regional market, Butcher said.
Their initial offering of four core beers an India pale ale, porter, white ale and a regular pale ale will be complemented by a rotation of season-specific brews developed by head brewer Jonathan Reeves.
Its all part of a humble return to brewing prominence for Alexandria.
One hundred years ago, the city was home to one of the souths largest breweries, the Robert Portner brewery. At its pre-Prohibition peak, the production facility spanned several blocks along Washington Street.
With Port City, Butcher harkens back to the citys past.
The name is a nod to Alexandrias history, he said. It was founded as a seaport and was one of the busiest and most important seaports in the colonial era.
Today, the only option for fresh beer in Alexandria is at Shenandoah Brewing Company on South Pickett Street, a brewpub where customers can actually make their own batches on-site.
Butcher plans to move into the facility in August and have beer for sale by winter. When Port City opens at last it will join roughly 1,600 other beer producers in the U.S.
And its local impact could be sizeable, since Virginia currently ranks 30th in breweries per capita with one for every 242,000 Virginians, well behind Vermonts national-best mark of one brewery for every 33,000 residents, according to the Brewers Association.
In the area immediately surrounding Alexandria, though, real estate costs and varying regulations from place to place have, over time, left a small, active brewing footprint, according to Reeves.
The growth of the craft brewing industry over the last two decades gives Butcher reason to believe Port City can establish itself and thrive.
Theres a lot of examples of successful craft breweries out there and everybody does it differently, Butcher said. I think every brewery has its own personality and vision.
The Port City vision will play out in the glasses filled with Reevess brews.
Im looking to produce beers that have a distinct character to them thats different than the local beers but I dont necessarily want to go the extreme route, Reeves said.
I sample other beers I like, but the most important thing to me are the ingredients, he said, explaining the finer points of how he develops a beer. I want there to be balance in the beer and complexity.
Originally, Butcher was just looking to have the IPA and pale ales stand as Port Citys staples. But after getting to know Reeves and his work (His recent brews for Ruddy Duck brewpub in Solomons Island, Md. won a gold medal, two silvers and three bronzes at the 2009 Maryland Governors Cup competition.) he had to rethink.
The Belgian [white ale] and the porter were not originally part of the lineup but when I tasted his style it just really blew me away, Butcher said.
About $1.5 million was needed to set up and purchase the brewing and bottling equipment. At its peak, Reeves said the facility should be able to produce 120 barrels a day, or about 29,760 pints.
And for Butcher, the pairing of the the citys brewing past and his own roots in town, those pints were always going to have to start here.
It made a lot of sense to locate the brewery in Alexandria, Butcher said. I think my ancestors would be rolling over in their graves if I went outside the city.