Sunday, May 20, 2012

Interview with a Brewery Owner: Port City Brewing

Several years ago, Bill Butcher recognized that there was a growing thirst for high quality beer in the DC area.  Further, upon assessing the landscape at the time he realized there was little in the way of local competition.  The result was the birth of Port City Brewing in Alexandria, VA.  You may consider him a savvy business man, but I say he's a local craft beer hero! Fortunately, Bill was kind enough to spend some time answering some of my questions.  Enjoy!

Holz: How did you guys get your start in professional brewing?

Bill: Jonathan Reeves is our Head Brewer. He has been brewing professionally for about 17 years, and has brewed up and down the East Coast. He has successfully managed startups in his career and has won 5 medals at the Great American Beer Festivals as well as dozens of regional awards. He is self taught, and got his start as an apprentice at a brewpub in Arlington, BARDO Rodeo, where many local brewers have begun their careers. 

Holz: Were you all homebrewers before going pro?  If so, how did you get started homebrewing?

Bill: Jonathan was a homebrewer before going pro. He found the flavors in craft beer fascinating and wanted to explore where they come from on his own.

Holz: So you all have been open for over a year now, what’s been the most pleasant surprise of running Port City to date?

Bill: We have had such a great response to the project from all across the DC metro region and the support of the local craft beer drinkers has been great. We have such great customers who advocate for our product and our brand, and it is truly humbling. We get calls from restaurants and retailers in DC, Maryland and Virginia who have told us that their customers have demanded that they bring in our beer. We are truly grateful for this support, and we are 100% committed to satisfying our customers.

Holz: What’s been the most significant challenge to date?

Bill: The financing of the project. Breweries are expensive to build and maintain, and the list of equipment that we need to continue to produce world class quality beer continues to grow. We planned this brewery in the midst of the credit crisis of 2008-2009, and it was very difficult even to get a bank to talk to us.

Holz: How did you go about deciding on Alexandria as the location for the brewery?

Bill: Before we opened, DC was the only major metro area in the country that did not have a packaging microbrewery. People find that hard to believe, but it’s true. I knew the business needed to be close in to DC, and inside the Beltway so that we can speak directly to DC area beer drinkers. We needed a location that was easily accessible to DC, Maryland and Northern Va., so that it was accessible to people across the region. Alexandria has significant brewing history as well, and pre-prohibition it was home to the largest brewery in the southern United States. I thought that it would be cool to revive, celebrate and continue this brewing tradition.

These are the business reasons, but I had personal reasons as well. Alexandria is my hometown, and my family has been here for over 100 years. My ancestors would probably roll over in their graves if I located the business anywhere else!

Holz: You guys currently brew four beers year-round, Optimal Wit, Essential Pale Ale, Monumental IPA, and the Porter, which beer has sold the best to date?

Bill: Optimal Wit is our best selling beer. The Porter overtook the top spot in January and February, but we sell more Optimal Wit than the others. Monumental IPA is a consistent close second.

Holz: My personal favorite is the Porter, have you considered changing the brewery’s name to “Porter City Brewing”?

Bill: Ha! I’ll take that under consideration…

Holz: When did you guys first conceive of the idea to open Port City and how long did it take, start to finish, to get the brewery up and running?

Bill: I first came up with the idea in 2008. My wife, Karen, and I have always enjoyed great beer. We try to purchase our produce from local growers and our meats from local farmers. It dawned on us that all of the beer we were buying was coming from the West Coast, and it seemed like we should explore more local options. As we looked up and down the East Coast, it seemed like the area could use more great local options. With more research we found that DC was the only top 25 metro area in the U.S. that did not have a packaging brewery selling to the local market. It took about 3 years to plan, finance, and build our state of the art brewery.

Holz: Do you all give tours of the brewery and are customers welcome to visit?

Bill: We love to entertain our customers! We conduct educational grain-to-glass brewery tours on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The tours are extremely popular, and we get over  500 visitors per week to tour the brewery and taste our beers. We were named in the Washingtonian Magazine’s “Best of” Issue as the Best Brewery Tour! We are proud to show off our facility and encourage people to come visit. Reservations are not needed, and the schedule is on our website.

Get Port City'd!


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