Portner Brewhouse

This brewery is no longer in business.
Portner brewhouse logo

5770 Dow Ave
Alexandria, Virginia 22304


closed for business sign


closed for business sign

First Visited

April 15, 2017


Robert Portner Brewery

Alexandria was home to the largest pre-Prohibition brewery in the south, and one of the most historically relevant breweries in U.S. history, the Robert Portner Brewing Company. Portner was a sutler, a supplier of Army camps during the Civil War. He soon found out that the soldiers was more interested in lager beer than cornflakes or cucumbers. So he opened a brewery in Alexandria after the war, the Robert Portner Brewing Company, also known as the Tivoli Brewery in 1869 Alexandria’s largest brewery which eventually encompassed an entire city block.

Robert Portner was also a pioneer in air conditioning and refrigeration, and to control the fermentation process, he patented America’s first artificial cooling device in 1880. It worked so well that he equipped his Manassas home with a similar contraption; visitors were amazed at the polar blasts of air emanating from it in the dead of summer. Besides being the most renowned brewer in the South, thanks to the success of his Tivoli brand beer (spells “I lov it” backward), Portner was a shipbuilder, real estate magnate, and philanthropist whose bequests continue to this day.

The brewery closed when statewide Prohibition was declared on November 1, 1916. Only in 2011 would production brewing return to Alexandria, with the arrival of Port City Brewing Company. The massive brewery in Old Town North briefly became a wholesale feed business. By World War II, it was demolished. The brewery is now the site of the Trader Joe’s on N. Washington Street, though three surrounding buildings — an ice plant and two bottling plants — survive thanks to preservation efforts. The brewery became the city’s largest employer including other members of the Portner family, such as Carl Strangemann, Robert Portner’s nephew. The original building is no longer standing.

Catherine and Margaret Portner, sisters and great-great granddaughters of Robert Portner opened Portner Brewhouse on March 7, 2017, a pre-Prohibition inspired brewpub in Alexandria’s West End. Head brewer Brian McElvaney began production on January 4 to ensure that there would be enough beer on hand at opening. The 3.5-barrel brewpub focused on flagship pre-Prohibition beers, made in the style of their great-great grandfather: Hofbrau Pilsner, Portner Porter, Tivoli Cream Ale, and Vienna Cabinet Lager. None of the historic brewing recipes survived, so Catherine and Margaret Portner spent years researching old advertisements, supply orders, and even Portner’s memoirs, then test batched and designed the best representations of these beers. The results provide a taste of often-forgotten styles that will be refreshingly new to many.

A unique component was the Craft Beer Test Kitchen®, development program.  The program supported homebrew enthusiasts who were interested in trying their recipes in a professional setting, making the beer available for sale to the public and providing customer feedback and sales data—all without owning a brewery, having a license, or opening a company of their own.

First up in the Test Kitchen were two historic beer recreations from Andrew Wales, a Scottish-born immigrant who became the first commercial brewer in the Washington DC area in 1770. Portner brewed Wales’ Strong Beer, an Edinburgh-style ale, followed by a Small Beer using the second runnings and a wee bit of molasses. Beer historians Mike Stein and Pete Jones recreated the recipes based on input by Andrew Wales biographer and Capital Beer author Garrett Peck.

Set against the backdrop of classic and contemporary German-American cuisine, comfortable atmosphere adorned with original Portner artifacts (i.e. beer bottles, steins, advertising posters) and opportunity to enjoy original reconstructed beer recipes, including the flagship Hofbrau pilsner, from the Robert Portner Brewing Company beers year round. Due to leasing issues the Brewhouse closed in June 2018.

Brewery Restaurant & Craft Beer Test Kitchen inspired by the South’s largest pre-Prohibition brewery, The Robert Portner Brewing Company which operated in Alexandria, VA from 1869 – 1916. The past, present and future of craft beer under one roof paired with favorite German classics and American comfort cuisine.

Beers Tried

Photo Gallery

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