It is always exciting to find out that a brewery or pub is opening in your neighborhood, especially when said neighborhood is largely devoid of craft beer havens. After many years of rumors and rumblings, Portner Brewhouse officially opened its doors on March 7, 2017 in Alexandria’s West End.
It has been 101 years since the Robert Portner Brewery was shuttered by the scourge of Prohibition, and now its name is being revived by members of that beer scion's family. Both Margaret and Catherine Portner could be seen walking the floor, working beside their servers, on opening night.
A small shrine with the original brewery's memorabilia contrasts with the bright, gleaming tanks, open floor plan, and relatively ample lighting. A long glass case filled with mugs (styled after the original brewery's design) and metal drinking vessels (for those who invested in the new brewpub) separates the bar area from the main dining room. The bar itself is a long, heavily varnished wooden rectangle, and the rest of the bar area is filled with tall tables and chairs.
DC has the District Chophouse, Arlington has Capitol City Brewing Company, and Falls Church has Mad Fox, but Alexandria hasn't had a true brewpub in quite a long time, and its West End hasn't had a brewing presence (Port City is too far east to count as the West End in this writer's opinion) since the long-departed hole in the wall that was Shenandoah Brewing.
I've had around 100 porters over the years, and until last week I thought Port City's was my favorite. The Portner Porter, however, is making me question that belief. It effervesces wonderfully and finishes with a rich, roasty flavor. Very satisfying. Portner Porter is one of the brewpub’s four staple, pre-Prohibition beers (the others being the excellent Tivoli Cream Ale; the snappy, crisp Hofbrau Pilsner; and the serviceable Vienna Cabinet Lager, which I found to have a lot of off flavors last week but which was much better on opening night).
In addition to the flagships, there are also four seasonal offerings, two of which stood out to me: the Winter Bronze dubbel is medium-bodied and has an apricot-like finish, and the 4 Points German IPA uses only German hops to create a nicely rounded and quaffable session beer that even non-hopheads like myself can enjoy. Portner also has a decent chocolate stout (“I'd Give Up Chocolate But…”) and Modera, a single-hop pale ale, which is the only beer I’ve yet to try. Given the quality of the other brews on offer, I'm willing to bet it's pretty darn good.
No brewpub would be complete without a complementary food menu, and Portner sticks with a somewhat German theme, including a godly German potato salad and terrific bratwurst. I have no qualms saying that it's much better than the bratwurst at Old Europe in Glover Park. Some recipes are still being tinkered with, like the mushroom barley soup that suffered an overdose of hop oil in an early iteration, but the final menu has been set.
My server was friendly and endeavored to answer our questions as quickly and thoroughly as he could. I was happy to see that there was a very noticeable improvement in general service compared to the mock service night the previous week. Such forethought and adjustments are a good sign that the brewhouse will thrive and satisfy its patrons beyond the beer obsessed among us.
All in all, Portner Brewhouse is a welcome addition both to Alexandria’s West End, where it is much needed, and to the area’s beer scene overall. It has been over a century, but Robert Portner’s beer mantle has been ably taken up by his great-great-granddaughters. Best wishes and congratulations to them!