A Toast to Port City Brewing Company


by Nanfei Liu


SUMMARY: Bill Butcher (’88) and his wife, Karen, are trailblazers in the local craft beer industry. They opened Port City Brewing Company located in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2011. For over a decade, they have delivered world-class quality, locally produced craft beer to the Washington, D.C. area.

Raising a glass has been a long-held tradition throughout history. Whether it’s celebrating a first-generation graduate or toasting an entrepreneur on opening night, glasses raise as a symbolic gesture. From juice to water to beer, a thirst-quenching beverage is a crucial component to a gathering or a relaxing night on your own. Bill Butcher (’88) is no stranger in the beverage industry. Since 1999 he has watched the craft beer industry grow.

Port-1.png“Finally, by 2008, my wife and I thought the area was missing options in local craft beer!” Inspiration struck the pair and set them on a mission to bring locally packed craft beer to the surrounding neighborhoods.

At the start of Butcher’s career, he spent 18 years in the wine business working at Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley, California. Butcher recalls fondly that Mr. Mondavi was “one of the pioneers that saw the vision for what California wine could be.” Butcher’s time with the Mondavi family taught him the three traditions of striving for excellent hospitality, providing world-class quality products, and the never-ending quest for improving the consumer experience. He later incorporated these lessons in his brewery, Port City Brewing Company.

Port-2.pngThe mission was simple. The Butchers knew Washington, D.C. was a sophisticated food and beverage market, so they aimed to create products that could compete at an international level. “For us to be competitive, we knew that we had to deliver world-class quality, and that was our mission; not to be the best local brewery but to be the world’s finest.” With this mission in mind, the Port City team began their journey of delivering the finest craft beer.

In their second year of business, Port City Brewing Company received its first medal at The Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado. The festival is known as one of the most prestigious beer competitions in the world. In 2015, the Port City team came back determined to put themselves on the map. “Out of 6000 beers in the competition, we won more medals than any other brewery in the United States.” The accomplishment earned Port City the title: Small Brewing Company of The Year. Accolades and recognition continued to roll in, such as taking home the silver medal at the World Beer Cup in 2018. On top of those awards, Port City has the Virginia Craft Brewers Guild title and has won more medals compared to any other brewery at the Virginia Craft Beer Cup Competition. Butcher is honored to say, “we are the only brewery in Virginia to have won a medal every single year since the competition started.”Port-3.png

Port City’s best-selling beer called the Optimal Wit, “is a Belgian style beer that is crisp, clean, and very easy to drink.” The beer, brewed with locally grown wheat from a farm in Heathsville, Virginia, accounts for up to 40% of the company’s production. However, Butcher’s favorite is their flagship beer, the Monumental IPA, brewed with centennial hops.Port-4.png

“That beer is what motivated my wife and me to go down the path of starting a brewery.” The Butchers are sustainably minded and purchase all their produce from local farmers and vendors. When they realized that the IPAs they bought came from the West Coast, they decided to bring their favorite beverage to the East Coast by opening Port City. 

Butcher’s dedication to producing quality craft beer is not his primary passion. He cares most about creating a work environment people enjoy and developing an eco-friendly business operation.

Taking care of their community and being involved charitably is a priority for the Butchers. “I view selling craft beer as one of life’s little luxuries, and if we are going to produce something that is a small luxury, then that gives us the obligation also to give back to the community.”

Butcher received a bachelor’s in economics. He boasts, “I made it out in four years, so I am proud of that!” In reflecting on his Madison Experience, Butcher recalls a conversation with President Alger where he shared how his time at JMU helped him change how he looked at the world, “to be an optimist and see what’s possible.” Being a Duke broadened his worldview and gave him the confidence and vision to execute his brewery project. 

If you are an individual that has noticed an opportunity in any industry, Butcher advises you to:

  • Understand that creating something new is not easy, especially if the product or service does not exist yet.
  • Develop your vision. Understand it better than anybody else and be able to communicate it to the people around you.
  • At a certain point in executing your vision, stop listening to others. People are not going to see the whole picture which you see.
  • Remember what entrepreneurship is all about; it’s about executing your vision and seeing the world in ways no one else can.

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Published: Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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