There are very few places in the U.S. quite like the city of Alexandria, VA. Just a hop, skip and a jump across the Potomac from Washington D.C., Alexandria is a city of many faces. It’s a place that’s constantly changing yet has many neighborhoods that haven’t changed in centuries.
Surrounded by massive cranes that never seem to stop building the latest and greatest condo development, Old Town is one of those aforementioned neighborhoods that’s literally cut out of a story book from the ‘90’s – the 1790’s that is. The historic epicenter of Alexandria, Old Town is littered with landmark homes, buildings, shops and monuments, all of which have survived in their original brilliance through the Colonial, Revolutionary and Civil War eras.
But it’s not just the architecture that makes Alexandria unique. It’s the city’s sensibilities. That cutthroat K Street mentality of “the District”, whose power culture has permeated its surrounding suburbs, is absent here. In its place is a mashup of Northern Virginia-style Southern hospitality and Northeastern metropolitan mentality. You’re not going to hear any drawls or y’all’s, but you will be treated like a Southern gentleman or woman when sitting down to eat at that newly opened farm to table restaurant.
And that mashup of cultures extends beyond just the making of a dinner reservation. It’s literally ingrained in the fabric of the city. Right down the street from Gadsby’s Tavern, where John Adams and Thomas Jefferson famously enjoyed their hospitality on numerous occasions, is Market Square, the former site of one of the largest slave trade markets in the United States. Blocks from a row home previously owned by George Washington also sits a monument to the Confederate army featuring a lone Confederate soldier whose bronze body faces the South with his back defiantly turned towards the North.
And in a town which features many homes and locations that adorns Washington’s name, the single most important figure in the creation of our nation, the same town also contains the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee, the famous General of the Confederacy who led the charge to separate it and has become the symbol of the Lost Cause.
It’s these two men whose names you’ll come across most when in Alexandria. Washington and Lee. Lee and Washington. North and South. South and North. North mixed with South. South mixed with North. Over and over again.
However, in 2014, it’s not adversarial, but rather symbiotic. And that’s Alexandria’s many faces in a nutshell. Two different sides of the same coin melded into one over time in a very beautiful way.
Therefore, it should come as no shock that in a land where men are separated by the medals that adorn their chest that Alexandria has a craft brewery with some pretty significant medals of their own.
Opened in January 2011 by Bill and Karen Butcher, Port City Brewing Company has brought back a proud tradition of brewing in the region that started way back in 1866 via the Robert Portner Brewing Company.
Like many new craft breweries these days, the brewery and tasting room is located on a non-descript, industrial road just on the outskirts of town in what seems like a warehouse/office building hybrid. However, that familiarity goes right out the window the minute you open the door at Port City.
Vibrant blue and yellow colors adorn the tasting room walls and a glossy steel bar and lighting fixtures give the space a really clean, modern and sleek feel. The crowd is a mixture of locals and first timers and the moment you meet Tammy, Rob & Dan, Port City’s tasting room team, you can’t help but ensconce yourself in wherever you’ve set up shop for the remainder of the afternoon.
While I was there, I got a chance to talk to all of them, mostly Dan, the tasting room manager. A relatively recent transplant from Nebraska who is about to celebrate his one year anniversary at the brewery, Dan sported the prerequisite brewers beard and exuded the passion about beer that makes people in the craft beer industry some of the most genuine and down to earth people you’ll ever met in your life.
Even though the tasting room was gaining steam with a steady flow of eagerly thirsty craft beer fanatics, Dan took the time to walk me through everything regarding the brewery, including Port City Brewing Company’s current offerings which include multiple GABF medal winners.
Simply put, Port City’s current portfolio of beers is solid in every regard. Each offering’s aroma, taste and texture are perfect examples of a craft brewery that takes quality control very seriously. Every beer sampled that day showcased a veteran brewer’s hand.
While none of the beers available that day would be considered risks, which craft beer geeks have recently jumped all over as a brewery’s badge of worthiness, not everything in the craft beer world needs to be extreme. It’s a breath of fresh air when a brewery follows the simple method of success, which is learn to make really great beer, then make that really great beer each and every time out.
Tale of the Tasting Room
Optimal Wit (Belgian Style White Ale, 5.0% ABV) – Brewed with raw wheat and oats, and steeped with coriander, orange peel and grains of paradise, Optimal Wit was a Gold Medal winner at GABF in 2013 and with good reason. It might be the most balanced, drinkable and sessionable Belgian Wit I’ve had in a very long time. The beer is just a solid example of the style and extremely approachable for anyone just getting into the craft beer game.
Essential Pale Ale (Pale Ale, 5.5% ABV) – This pale ale surprised me. Deep golden in color with slight bitterness, it’s a blend of German and English malts with American hops. Anytime I hear English anything, I think deep malt flavors. Yet it’s the German malts I believe that really come forward here as Essential is fruity, refreshing and even somewhat bright.
Monumental IPA (English IPA, 6.3% ABV) – Normally, as I mentioned before, I’m usually not an English IPA fan due to the malt forwardness. But Monumental is a rarity for me. Resin and citrus dominates the profile, mix in those malts, and you have a really well balanced beer. Definitely made me think twice about being so hard on English style IPA’s. Clearly GABF judges feel similarly as this beer won bronze at the 2012 festival.
COLOSSAL TWO (Smoked Imperial Porter, 9.0% ABV) – Remember what I said about taking risks? Well, COLOSSAL TWO is one that would fall somewhat into that category and Port City delivered. Smoked beers are polarizing, but the style is one of my favorites. This is a tricked out version of their porter and it’s super chocolately with the right amount of smoke. I can always go smokier, like grilled meats on a campfire smokey, but this beer fits the bill rather nicely.
Ways and Means (Session IPA, 4.5% ABV) – Session IPA’s are all the rage these days and Ways and Means might be one of the best I’ve had. Brewed with rye, Ways and Means is the perfect IPA for a summer day when mowing that overgrown lawn. While I’m probably still partial to Stone’s Go To or Founders All Day, this beer definitely deserves to have a seat at the table.
Port City Brewing Company
3950 Wheeler Ave
Alexandria, VA 22304
Tasting Room Hours: Monday 6-9pm, Tuesday & Wednesday 4-9pm, Thursday 3-10pm, Friday 12-9pm, Saturday & Sunday 12-6pm
By Max Madler
The Craftavore is Max Madler, writer, marketing professional , and lover off all things craft, especially beer.
Born and raised in Irvington, NY, namesake of the famous American author Washington Irving, Max is also an avid homebrewer, cook, and aspiring electric guitar player.
Twitter – @Craftavore