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Port City Brewing Draws Thousands for Its 13th Anniversary

Beer Enthusiasts and Devoted Fans Celebrate Alexandria’s Craft Brewery

Shivering but happy beer enthusiasts relaxing in the expansive outdoor space. (Photo: Judith Fogel)

Alexandria, VA – There’s something about Port City. The line of cars stretched for blocks on a brilliantly sunny Saturday, February 3, at the local brewery as people of every age descended upon their favorite craft beer hangout. It was party time, and Port City rolled out all the bells and whistles to commemorate 13 years in business. Tucked away on Wheeler Avenue off Duke Street, down the road from police headquarters, this charming spot on an unassuming street, miles from Old Town, has a cult following.

Bill Butcher, founder and CEO of Port City Brewing Company.
(Courtesy photo)

Thousands of people passed through the doors of the wildly popular brewery that Saturday, estimated founder Bill Butcher. Port City Brewing Company was the first brewery in the city in current times. What is its draw? Why is this place packed on a chilly winter afternoon, standing room only even outside?

“I think it all starts with the quality of the beer,” Butcher reflected. As he surveyed the crowded indoor rooms, he smiled. “We have a very dedicated team of brewers devoted to brewing the best world-class quality beer, and that’s where it starts.”

Port City Brewing is a festive and inviting space with twinkly outdoor lights strung overhead and heaters with vertical dancing flames casting a warm glow as craft beer aficionados huddle in the cold, chug beers, and laugh with their friends. Butcher emphasized connection to community. “We try to be a gathering place at the brewery where people can get together and enjoy great quality beer.”

One community that plays an outsize role in Port City’s success is bicycling groups. It’s become a thing in the last decade, bicycling and craft beer going hand in hand. On any given weekend, cyclists cruise up to the brewery and park their bikes for a long beer break, before strapping on their helmets, tightening up their shoe buckles, and zipping off for the trails. Port City offers Pedals and Pints on several Saturdays throughout the year, featuring a bicycle ride followed by a brewery social.

Sarah Osinski and Rachel Barth are Friday night regulars and bring their children. The kids have space to wander and play games while the adults sip craft beer. The tradition began with the pandemic when they were drawn to the spacious outdoor seating. (Photo: Judith Fogel)
From left, Jessica Rozek, Greg Obadia, and cycling friends. (Photo: Judith Fogel)

Port City Brewing also caters to other fitness groups. Runners gather every Monday night for Joggers and Lagers. Thirty-nine-year-old Jessica Rozek of Alexandria is an avid bicyclist. Zebra Press caught up with her as she was preparing to cycle off with her friends.

“Port City by far has the best customer service of any place you would go to have a drink in this area,” she said, and added there is ample outdoor seating where she and her friends can nurse a beer and keep an eye on their bikes. “They have bike racks. It’s a super easy bike ride based on where the trails are and how you would access it.”

Bill Butcher and his wife Karen are long-time Alexandrians with family roots stretching back to 1908. Butcher runs the brewery with his wife. He had no brewery experience but spent 18 years in the wine industry. Butcher worked in sales and marketing for a top California winery, covering the mid-Atlantic region. He already had a built-in base for alcoholic beverages.

Thirteen years ago, Butcher saw an opportunity. “I didn’t see it as a risk because craft beer had been growing year over year for over ten years. The more my wife Karen and I looked at the landscape, the more we found that Metro DC didn’t have many local options.” The duo stepped into the void. “Before we opened, Metro DC was the only major metro area in the country that didn’t have a local packaging brewery.”

Greg Petrilli used to live in Alexandria and returns to his favorite haunt. Petrilli admits he spends more time running after his two-year-old than drinking beer. (Photo: Judith Fogel)

Forty-eight-year-old Greg Obadia bicycled over from Rockville, MD. He didn’t know it was the anniversary. “My friends wanted to go drinking today. And have an excuse to go ride bikes.” Obadia doesn’t drink alcohol, but the food trucks lining the parking lot ensured he’d have plenty to eat as he joined his bicycling friends for beer and lunch before cruising off.

Business is good, Butcher said, but the pandemic dealt them a big blow. “COVID hurt our business substantially because 60 percent of beer was going to bars and restaurants, and all of that went away overnight,” Butcher noted. “Fortunately, we have packaging capability and were able to shift a lot of that to groceries and other retail, but it wasn’t enough to make up for losing all that craft beer business. COVID cut our business by 25 percent. And it’s been slow to come back, especially in DC.”

Lots going on indoors, too. No Quick Fix plays in the beer garden on the 13th anniversary as a crowd sways to the music and sips beer. (Photo: Judith Fogel)

Still, Butcher had plenty to celebrate that afternoon as he wandered from the beer garden to the outside tables, checking on customers and servers.

“Little by little it’s getting there; package business remains strong, NoVA especially. Alexandria has come back pretty well. We’re getting back to 2019 levels.” Butcher looked around and added, “We opened at noon, and we’re full all day. Lines are long! We hope it’s a great start to 2024!”

Editor’s Note: The above picture’s caption now includes the name of the band. It is No Quick Fix.

ICYMI: Call Your Mother is at 1300 King St. in Old Town Alexandria!

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