By Jefferson Evans and Chuck Triplett
It is a hard thing to be so close to signing a lease that will lock in the location that will be the home of your new business, a business that represents the rebirth of a proud family brewing tradition, but that was exactly where sisters Catherine and Margaret Portner found themselves just over a year ago when they were oh-so-close to closing the deal on a location in Alexandria only to have the deal fall apart in the eleventh hour. But the sisters had been through this sort of disappointment, having won a nationwide business plan competition, The Last Plan Standing, that should have led to $100K worth of help from the competitions sponsor, only to have the company go belly-up. They learned then that they were capable of being resilient when needed, resilient they have been, and that ability has led to a big step along the way to their final goal having been completed.
On August 2, during a private event at Fort Hunt Park for investors and mug club members, Catherine and Margaret were able to finally announce they had their location – a street front location in the new Modern Tempo development at the corner of South Van Dorn Street and South Pickett Street in Alexandria. It is here that they will develop their concept of a full service restaurant, brewery, and the Craft Beer Test Kitchen where serious home brewers will have the chance to “go pro” and brew their beers on an industrial size system. The Portner Brewhouse beer plan is to have three series of beers – the recreated Portner pre-Prohibition beers, seasonal beers throughout the year, and successful recipes from the Craft Beer Test Kitchen. The food at the restaurant will be combination of classic German and contemporary American. As to who will be at the wheel in the brewery, Catherine says “Aaron Emery, our brewmaster, joined the team in May 2014 after brewing for Blue & Gray Brewing in Fredericksburg, Virginia and has been a great addition.” At the Fort Hunt event, Aaron was featuring a new IPA for attendees to sample.
Asked about opening plans, Catherine says “build-out should begin late fall and we are targeting an early summer grand opening exactly 100 years after our family’s brewery was forced to close!” As all of us who know a little bit about opening a craft brewery or brewpub, openings dates tend to get shifted back a few times along the way, but one can appreciate what a wonderful closing of the circle it would be if the Portner sisters were able to meet that target.
Robert Portner Brewing Company originally operated its Tivoli (I lov it, spelled backwards) brewery in Alexandria from 1869 through 1916. Portner immigrated to America in 1853 from Westphalia, Germany and brought with him the traditions of brewing. He was the first president of the United States Brewers Association (elected in 1879). Portner, known as the “Pioneer Brewer of the South,” operated the largest brewery south of the Mason-Dixon Line before Prohibition. The company distributed its flagship TIVOLI Hofbrau Pilsner from Washington D.C. to Florida. Portner was Alexandria’s largest employer when it closed. Robert Portner owned other breweries as branch locations in Roanoke and Petersburg among others. He also founded the National Capital Brewing Company in Washington, DC.