A common theme in the beginnings of many breweries is the owner’s disillusionment with the corporate world, the rat race, the cubical life. Many brewers learned their craft by experimenting with home brewing and honing their skills in local beer competitions. Because, as many of you know, once the craft beer hook sets into you, there is no squirming free. The hook just sets deeper and deeper, like the hook in the mouth of a marlin on a deep-sea fishing excursion. Only, most of us who have been hooked don’t want to squirm off like the fish, we want it to go deeper.
Such is the case with the owners of Victory Brewing Company in Downington, PA. Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, friends since the fifth grade, became more and more disenchanted with mind-numbing corporate life and began to explore the rewards to be had in the world of craft beer. Having learned to brew by challenging each other in friendly competition, Ron and Bill honed their skills.
In a bold move, Ron exited the rat race as a financial analyst and started an apprenticeship, working under a Dutch-born and German-trained brewer. The goal was to earn the necessary experience to move on to study at the Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan.
When Ron departed for Germany, Bill took over his emptied role in Baltimore. While Ron was enhancing his German brewing knowledge, Bill was expanding the line of beers produced at the brewery to include several German specialty beers, many of which went on to win multiple awards at the Great American Beer Festival. After putting in time at the brewery, Bill completed his brewing studies by traveling to Munich, Germany to attend Doemens Institute.
Old Dominion Brewing Company in Virginia took Ron in upon his triumphant return to the states. In his four year tenure as the brewmaster there, he helped to increase production ten-fold from 1,500 barrels annually to nearly 15,000.
The two friends came back together again in 1995 and began working out a plan for a brewery of their own. The result was Victory Brewing Company opening its doors in February of 1996 in what was once a Pepperidge Farm factor. The brewery boasted a142-seat restaurant and a 70-foot-long bar to compliment the full-scale brewery. The original lineup of Victory beers was HopDevil Ale, Victory Festbier and Brandywine Valley Lager. Last year, Victory brewed 58,850 barrels of beer.
On Wednesday evening, Pearl Harbor Day, I trekked out to the beach and Engine 15. There I met Scott Russell of North Florida Sales. He had had an idea of how to honor the memory of the brave men and women who were lost on that fateful day in December of 1941 when Japan struck Pearl Harbor without warning and without mercy. His idea: a tasting of Victory beers to commemorate the eventual triumph of the United States over Japan.
At the tasting, Scott brought several excellent brews as well as one very rare one. The lineup was:
Hop Wallop: Bitter with citrus notes, this brew lives up to its name. But, if this great-tasting beer did not have enough going on, Scott master-minded a plan to run it through a Randall stuffed with Hawaiian pineapple that added a whole new dimension to this already satisfying treat.
Moonglow Weizenbock: At 8.7% ABV, this amber wheat brew packs a wallop of its own. But, its flavor will definitely keep you ordering more. The nose hints to bananas and apple, as well as spices and malt. The flavor suggests mild toast and spices and a touch of the banana from the aroma.
Dark Intrigue: This is the rare and special brew I mentioned earlier. It is an Imperial Stout that has been aged in bourbon barrels. It displays impressive hops to the nose along with bourbon, and dark chocolate. The taste reveals dark chocolate, vanilla, and oak. If you have not already purchased a bottle of this, you had better hurry. The brewery only produced a limited number and North Florida only got ten cases.
Another welcome sight at the tasting was Regina – the Jax Brew Bitch and her husband Whit. We all had a blast tasting Victory beers, pouring occasionally when Scott walked away, and generally shooting the breeze on a chilly, misting December evening. What more can a beer-lover ask for than good beer, good conversation, and good friends?
A quote from a rather famous Francis Ford Coppola movie comes to mind: “I love the smell of beer in the morning, it smells like… Victory.” OK, so I paraphrased a bit.
Until next time,
Long Live the Brewers!