Posted by Melissa Lyden / Friday, November 9th, 2012
Portner Brewhouse is going to reopen, almost 100 years after its initial shutter.
Sisters and business partners Catherine and Margaret Portner are carrying on the legacy of their great-grandfather, Robert Portner. An emigrant of Germany, he made his way down the eastern seaboard from New York City to Old Town Alexandria and opened up a grocery store where the best-selling item was beer. Thus began the Robert Portner Brewing Company, the largest pre-Prohibition production brewery in the Southern United States.
“My great-grandfather created a business venture that utilized the rail system,” Catherine explains. “The production brewery distributed from Alexandria as far south as Florida.” Making 100,000 barrels a year, the Robert Portner Brewing Company was on par with the quantity of Sam Adams. That was, until 1916 when Virginia passed the prohibition laws forcing the brewery to close. <<More VA Beer History>>
“My great-grandfather built a home in South Carolina using money he received from the inheritance of the original brewery,” says Catherine. “We grew up going there. We felt a conviction to do something and to celebrate that history and share it with local neighbors.” The sisters, both with business degrees, each have worked in the hospitality industry: Catherine has involved with breweries for about 15 years and Margaret has a passion for culinary arts.
Eight drafts will be available on tap at any given time (no plans for growlers or canning as of now). Three taps will stay consistent and are original recipes from Robert Portner: American pilsner, porter and cream ale. The other five will be a rotation from contributing brewing entrepreneurs for the beer tasting kitchen.
“This is an option for brewers before taking a huge risk, like quitting their job or making a financial commitment,” Catherine explains. “We are trading their recipe for sales and marketing data.” This gives brewers the opportunity to receive feedback on their brews from the public to help them determine their next step.
The duo is still working on securing the appropriate space for the brewpub and financing the business venture. Even though the brewery is still 12-18 months from opening, there are a couple of ways to be involved in the immediate future: a fundraising campaign (until Dec. 4) and signing up for the taste testing team for invitations to beer and food events.
Catherine expressed excitement for the recent election outcomes to help people better understand the meaning of Prohibition, which crippled the country’s beer industry and her grandfather’s profession. “Colorado legalized marijuana for more than medicinal purposes,” says Catherine. “This is the first time our generation is living through Prohibition repeal.”
Tags: Alexandria, American pilsner, beer, Catherine Portner, craft beer, cream ale, Gut Check, Margaret Portner, Melissa J. Lyden. Portner Brewhouse, Northern Virginia, Northern Virginia Magazine, NoVA, Old Town, porter, Prohibition, Robert Portner, Robert Portner Brewing Company