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Port City Brewing Co. will stay in Alexandria with help from Virginia governor

Posted on Sep 02,2016
Filed Under Food And Wine , Local Tastes,

By Rebecca Cooper

ALEXANDRIA, VA. - Port City Brewing Co., the first production brewery to open in the modern era of D.C.-area breweries, will increase its footprint and nearly triple its brewing capacity in its hometown of Alexandria thanks in part to $500,000 in public grants from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and the city government.

The 5-year-old brewery, which now brews about 17,000 barrels of beer per year and distributes as far north as New York and as far south as North Carolina, had been eyeing expansion for a couple of years.

The problem? Industrial space in the city of Alexandria isn’t exactly easy to come by. Or affordable. Bill Butcher, the brewery’s founder, enlisted the help of Alexandria’s economic development officials, but they were also coming up short. He began looking in Fairfax and Loudoun counties, among other areas, for alternatives that would have required Port City to relocate.

It wasn’t until Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, encountered a Department of Agriculture grant program for Virginia businesses that she got to thinking: Port City, with the huge amount of wheat it purchases from Virginia farmers for its Optimal Wit, might be eligible. (The brewery expects to purchase almost 350,000 pounds of red winter wheat from a farm in Heathrow, Virginia, this year, according to Butcher.)

She was right: The state and the city announced Wednesday the agriculture department will grant $250,000 from its Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development fund for Port City's $3 million expansion plan. Alexandria will match part of that with a $250,000 grant.

That funding will help subsidize another 6,000-square-foot warehouse down the street from the existing brewery that can serve as Port City’s cold storage, as well as a vehicle to transport beer between the two, more brewing capacity, a new bottling line, and interior renovations at the existing brewhouse to add a second tasting room.

Part of Alexandria’s contribution will include construction of a Capital Bikeshare station in front of the existing brewery at 3950 Wheeler Ave., as well as some other bicycle parking infrastructure to help encourage more visitors to head to the brewery via bike.

Contributing some matching funds to the Port City project was worthwhile, according to Landrum, because of the publicity that Port City brings to Alexandria.

“On every bottle, it says 'Alexandria, Virginia,' so they’re a brand ambassador for us,” she said. “We get so much value out of that. As they distribute further, so does the name Alexandria.”

And distribute further they will, once they ramp up brewing capacity. Three new fermenters will nearly triple Port City's capacity from approximately 17,000 barrels per year right now to almost 50,000 barrels per year, Butcher said. They plan to expand deeper into existing markets in the Mid-Atlantic such as North Carolina and New York, as well as add Philadelphia and other parts of Pennsylvania, and also look at the possibilities of distributing Port City to South Carolina and West Virginia as well.

Port City has grown rapidly since it opened in 2011, the first of the current cadre of local craft production breweries to open its doors — just a few months before D.C. Brau. It's also been the subject of national acclaim: In addition to being honored for its individual beers over the years, it was named Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company Brewer of the Year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver in 2015.

"The growth of the brewery has always been consumer-driven. We've struggled since the beginning to keep up with demand," Butcher said. "So this fell together very nicely, that it benefits the state, the city, the business and our customers."

As for Butcher, he looks forward to staying in Alexandria — and being locally run — for the foreseeable future. An acquisition by one of the major brewery conglomerates, who have been snapping up craft breweries quicker than you can chug a beer of late, is not something he's interested in.

"We would not consider selling. We're a family-owned business rooted in the community, and tied very closely to the local craft beer community," he said. "I've worked for a company that’s been acquired by a large conglomerate before, and it's not a fun position to be in for the employees. That's not something that I'd be interested in putting our people through."

Source bizjournals

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