On American Craft Beer Week, A Look At A Virginia Brewing Legacy Soon To Be Reborn

In honor of American Craft Beer Week, the blog’s posts over the last few days have focused on what seems appropriate during this kind of celebration, to both look back on a few of the great beers and breweries that got us to a point where such a week is possible, and also to look forward to newcomers who have recently arrived and will surely continue to foster American craft beer enthusiasm.  The posts have admittedly been a little biased towards Virginia craft beer, and why not, considering the growing number of breweries and interest here in my own state.

The Robert Portner Brewing Company Depot in Roanoke, VaToday, the focus is on a brewery that both enables Virginia craft beer lovers to take a look back and forward, all at the same time.  Some time back, I wrote a post some about some of Roanoke’s beer related history, including some information on the Virginia Brewing Company (VBC) which was based here.  (You can take a look at that post HERE.)  I also mentioned The Robert Portner Brewing Company, which was based in Alexandria, Virginia.  Here’s a paragraph from that post:

“One name that often pops up in Roanoke beer lore is that of Robert Portner.  In the late 19th century, Portner’s Brewing Company, based in Alexandria, became one of the south’s largest breweries and in 1885, the company began operating a depot in Roanoke, for their beer to be shipped to and bottled.  The depot was located along Shenandoah Avenue just a few blocks behind the Hotel Roanoke.  While Portner’s beers were widely distributed – shipments reached into Georgia at one point – it was Portner’s innovations that often gained recognition.  In the 1880’s, brewers began to use some of the first artificial refrigeration machines and air conditioning units to help regulate beer temperatures during production and for the storage of lager beer.  There were many designs of the devices, with varying degrees of success, but it was a design that Portner made his own modifications to that apparently became one of the more efficient ones used by any brewery at the time.”  (Please see the original post for all documentation.)

Portner BrewhouseIt’s easy to see why The Robert Portner Brewing Company deservingly occupies a large portion of Virginia beer history.  Very interestingly enough, that brewery’s legacy will soon be rewritten.  Just a few blocks from the original Robert Portner Brewing location, great great granddaughters Catherine and Margaret Portner are well into the planning of and fund raising for “The Portner Brewhouse”, which proudly references its history in its logo: “Est. 1869/Re-Established 2012”.  The brewery will feature several beers, including ones which the Portners have been attempting to recreate from the company’s original recipes.  Roanoke’s own Will Landry, former President of the Star City Brewer’s Guild, traveled to Alexandria to assist in the research and design of those very recipes.  Included in them is an attempt to recreate the Pilsner for which the Robert Portner Brewing Company was most known for.

In addition to the brewery, the plans also include a German American style restaurant as well as a “craft beer test kitchen”.  According to the Brewhouse website, the craft beer test kitchen is available for any interested home brewer, regardless of experience, to submit their recipes for evaluation to the Brewhouse’s head brewer.   If selected, the home brewer will then enjoy a day of brewing on the company’s equipment, with the beer to served at the restaurant’s bar for patrons to taste test (and grade), giving the home brewer the kind of research only an experience such as the test kitchen could provide.

As with so very many things with beer, what’s old is new again.  A rich legacy of brewing in Virginia will be soon brought back, as the Portner Brewhouse website puts it, “to the forefront of the Virginia craft beer renaissance!”


~ by thebeerroad on May 17, 2013.

2 Responses to “On American Craft Beer Week, A Look At A Virginia Brewing Legacy Soon To Be Reborn”

  1. Love Beer, Love History… really enjoyed your message today!

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