Having whetted our malt beverage appetites at Lost Rhino Brewing Company and Mad Fox Brewing Company, our grad school gaggle found Port City Brewing Company, in my one-time home of Alexandria, VA, to be hopping. The Brewery’s name commemorates Alexandria’s historical role as an important colonial seaport, and later brewing hub, once home to the Robert Portner Brewing Company. Founded in 1866, the Portner Brewery was the largest brewery in the southern U.S. up until Prohibition. Port City achieved recent fame with its release and re-release of Derecho Common beer, an accidental but fortuitous result of the 2012 Derecho storm that knocked out power to most of the DC area.
When we arrived, groups of beer drinkers lined the Port City tasting room, and spilled into the picnic tables in the brewing warehouse. A few of us ambitiously arranged for a full tasting of beers on tap. Starting again on the light side, I breezed through the crisp, easy-drinking Downright Bohemian Pilsner and moved right on to the Essential Pale Ale. An American Pale Ale made from American hops and English and German malts, it offered a fruity, slightly bitter taste and finished smoothly. The Monumental IPA, named for, yes, D.C.’s many monuments, poured a bright amber color from the tap. The brewers add American hops during the brewing and fermentation processes, so the floral, bitter hop taste – reminiscent of orange peel – hit pretty hard, and it was only somewhat balanced by some background caramel malty notes.
My favorites were the Tartan and the Oyster Stout. The Tartan is a tribute to the 80-shilling style beer of Scotland in the 1800s. Looking very much its part as a Scottish beer, the Tartan was deep amber in color and featured a rich roast caramel flavor, with very little hop bitterness. Port City produced only a 90 barrel batch of the Tartan as its spring seasonal. The Revival Stout, brewed in the British and Irish traditions of oyster stouts, does indeed call for oysters in its recipe. Port City steeps War Shore Oyster Company’s Chesapeake Bay oyster shells in the brewing water, and also adds oysters into the brew during the boil. I didn’t taste much of the sea in the brew, but it did have a slightly salty, very smooth character, with notes of roast and chocolate. Five percent of the sales of Revival Stout are donated to the Oyster Recovery Partnership’s efforts to revive the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.
Our three brewery NoVA tour complete, we clamored back into the minivan for our last stop: dinner at the Bier Baron Tavern near Dupont Circle in D.C. Now filled with beer and getting hungry, all that was left to do was turn the minivan music up, dance in the confines of our seat belts, and plot which of 500 beers we were about to enjoy with dinner.