American Breweriana Journal September/October 2009
ABA Support Your Local Brewer Program Spotlights:
Victory Brewing Company, Downingtown, PA
By Rich Wagner
The ABA is proud to welcome Victory Brewing Company to the Brewer Participation Program. The company was founded in 1996 by two friends that had grown up together, began home brewing, and ultimately attended brewing school in Germany. Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski have grown their business production from under 2,000 barrels/year to over 55,000 barrels today. Their success is a testament to their knowledge, hard work, and excellent beers. With distribution in 18 states they are listed as the 35th largest craft brewery in the nation.
I recall speaking with Bill on my first visit, commenting that the beer was aggressive (big on flavor and hops) and not the kind of beer designed for the timid palate. He told me then that people didn’t need to be “weaned off” of American lagers and that he thought the public was ready for their hearty brews. What has evolved is an outstanding award-winning family of brands, mostly lagers, with new styles regularly being introduced.
Victory’s brewery was once a Pepperidge Farm bakery, which made it idealy suited for beer production. The thing that impressed me the most on my first tour was the fact that they employed the decoction method of brewing, rather rare even among craft brewers in this day and age. Not only that, they were using whole hops instead of hop pellets, undoubtedly the result of their trips to Germany. It has been that attention to detail that has made Victory beer so popular that they were just voted “Philly’s Best Brewery” in an NBC Consumer Poll.
Carefully planning for increased production, they expanded their bottling line in 2003 and the following year upgraded their 25-barrel Century brew house with a 50-barrel Rolec four-vessel brew house imported from Germany. That year, they hosted a luncheon for “the Schmidt’s Alumni,” retired brewmasters from District Philadelphia, Master Brewers Association of the Americas. After lunch I asked Ron Barchet if it was possible to get a tour of the new brew house. He said they weren’t brewing and welcomed the opportunity to show the old-timers around. If you’ve ever heard stories about old fire company horses put out to pasture instinctively reacting every time they heard the fire siren, you have an idea what it was like seeing the alumni from Schmidt’s turned loose in Victory’s brew house! They became animated, peppering Ron and Bill with questions, and it was as if they had been transported from the brewing floor of Schmidt’s twenty years into the future to see how a new generation of brewers was using computers for process control to crank out all-malt lagers.
In 2008 Victory completely renovated and enlarged the restaurant which frequently hosts “theme” beer dinners and tutored tastings. It’s hard to find a beer bar in the greater Philadelphia area that doesn’t serve Victory beer, and they are an ever-present attraction at beer festivals and other community events.
Dr. Tim Wadkins is a microbiologist and head of Quality Assurance at Victory. Read about his trip to England as part of a “Brewers Exchange Program” at Fuller’s Brewery online at http://www.victorybeer.com/drtim/index.html.
01 Bill Covaleski, owner and brewmaster conducts a tour for “Schmid’ts Alumni” of their new Rolec four-vessel brew house.
02 Ron Barchet, owner and brewmaster fields a question from Jack Ehmann during the tour for “Schmidt’s Alumni.”
03 Control room of Victory’s new brew house.
04 Copper kettle domes from Germany are a feature of the 2008 restaurant renovation.
05 Master Brewers Association of the Americas District Philadelphia held their summer meeting in the newly renovated restaurant facilities at Victory (08/08).
06 Entrance to Victory Brewing.
07 Mural adjacent to the entrance.