Two brewpubs have opened in Northern Virginia in recent weeks, with two very different missions: One serves mostly as a taproom for a growing craft brewery in the exurbs, while the other is a passion project bearing the name of one of America's leading 19th-century brewers.
Brothers Ryan and Sean Arroyo opened Heritage Brewing Company in Manassas on New Year's Eve 2013. Over the years, the duo noticed that many customers were coming from D.C. and Arlington. When Heritage decided to move forward with plans for a brewpub and taproom last year, the Arroyos were drawn to Clarendon.
In addition to pouring the brewery's five year-round beers and rotating seasonals, the new location, which opened April 11, has a pilot brewing system that can produce two barrels, or four kegs, of beer at a time.
These will be “nothing but test batches,” Ryan Arroyo says. “All these beers will be consumed in house.” The system will allow brewers to test variation on recipes and experiment with new hops while getting instant feedback from customers. (Heritage only got its license to brew the day before the bar opened, Arroyo explains, so all of the beers on tap are made in Manassas; he expects to have native Arlington beers available in the next few weeks.)
Right now, the limited release beers include Double Taxation, a juicy double IPA; Dairy Wars, a smooth, creamy milk stout poured on nitro; and a grassy Hoppy Wheat Ale. Arroyo says Heritage plans to host one major release per month. On May 13, to honor the grand opening of the taproom, there will be three special beers sold on tap and to-go in bottles and cans: Double Taxation; Heritage's Third Anniversary Ale, which is a blend of barrel-aged beers; and a wild-fermented Belgian strong ale.
The barroom shares the rustic vibe of the Manassas brewery, with a large folk art-style American flag on the wall and plenty of exposed wood. Booths are made from used barrel staves. And those racks of old Heaven Hill barrels aren't just for show: Some rye barrels are aging Kings Mountain Scotch Ale; other bourbon barrels have been filled with Revolution Amber Ale. (The sour and wild ales are kept in Manassas.)
If you're curious about beer, you might want to use the free WiFi to pull up the Heritage site, which features full descriptions of each offering; the drink menus only list the name and price. And this is a place to bring friends who aren't beer geeks: Unlike the brewery, which only serves its own ales, the Heritage brewpub has a full wine and cocktail menu, including Old Fashioneds and Negronis made with local spirits.
2900 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. Entrance on N. Fillmore Street between Wilson and Clarendon boulevards. 571-319-0024. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
In the years after the Civil War, German immigrant Robert Portner built one of the largest beer empires in the Southeast, sending lagers and pilsners as far as Florida from his massive brewery in Old Town Alexandria. He served as president of the United States Brewers Association. Portner died in 1906, and when Prohibition came to Virginia in 1916, the brewery, once Alexandria's largest employer, closed and never reopened.
Fast forward almost a century, and Portner's great-great granddaughters Catherine and Margaret Portner have decided to bring the family name back to brewing in Alexandria. After almost five years of searching for a location, the sisters secured a space for a brewpub in the Modera Tempo complex near the Van Dorn Street Metro Station, with a wide-open bar and a patio large enough for 70 people to sit at umbrella-shaded tables. Cabinets along one wall display old Robert Portner beer bottles, mugs and photos.
The mainstays of the draft beer menu are four “Pre-Prohibition” beers, which Catherine Portner says are inspired by recipes and notes in Robert Portner's unpublished memoir and family papers. Go for the refreshing Hofbrau Pilsener, with its crisp, floral hops, or the Vienna Cabinet Lager, which has inviting toffee notes. It doesn't hurt that the brewer behind these beers, Brian McElvaney, knows his way around German beers: He apprenticed at Einbecker, in Einbeck, Germany, before brewing at Vulkan and then the Stone Brewery in Berlin.
Four other “Brewmaster Seasonal” beers include a Washington Capitals-inspired “Rock the Rot” red IPA (“rot” is “red” in German), a single-hopped Chinook pale ale, and the sweet “I'd Give Up Chocolate But…," a stout brewed with 10 pounds of Ghirardelli cocoa.
What makes Portner Brewhouse most interesting, though, is the Craft Beer Test Kitchen, which will turn the brewpub into an incubator for small brewers. Homebrewers who've come up with a beer they want to share with the world can drop off the recipe and two samples at the bar. The Portners and their brewing team will review the entries and create large-scale batches to put on tap.
Catherine Portner says the goal is to offer a new beer every four to six weeks. Up first are two vintage-style ales from the Lost Lagers team of Mike Stein and Pete Jones; they'll be followed by a Scottish Light beer made by Jonathan Stone, the winner of the recent D.C. Homebrewers Club's recent Cherry Blossom Competition.
5770 Dow Ave., Alexandria. 571-312-0243. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday.