In this month’s installment of Legal Ink’s Craft Beer Showcase, we are joined by Bill Covaleski. Bill is the Brewmaster & President of Victory Brewing Company, headquartered in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.
LIM: Why did you choose to start Victory Brewery?
Bill: I became enamored with beer of full flavor when I started homebrewing in 1985. I studied the craft, as an apprentice to a German-trained Dutch brewmaster, and while in a brewing school in Germany I fell in love with the rich culture of brewing. I wanted to be part of that culture, as it evolved further.
LIM: What was the inspiration? Who else was involved?
Bill: My Dad was homebrewing since 1980 or so and he made it look a lot easier than it turned out to be. He was very helpful getting me started. I, then, gave Ron, my business partner, a brewing kit and we’ve been trying to out-brew one another ever since.
LIM: What is the basic background on the company and your brewery location?
Bill: Victory Brewing Company is a craft brewery headquartered in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Founded by childhood friends, Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet, who met on a school bus in 1973, Victory officially opened its doors in February of 1996. In addition to the original Downingtown brewery and brewpub, Victory recently opened a second state-of-the-art brewery in Parkesburg, PA to expand production capabilities and serve fans of fully flavored beers in 34 states and 6 countries with innovative beers melding European ingredients and technology with American creativity. To learn more about Victory Brewing Company visit www.victorybeer.com.
LIM: What is your current production levels in terms of barrels of beer?
Bill: Last year we produced 102,924 bbls. (31 gallon each). Our second brewery in West Sadsbury Twp. (Chester County, PA) expands our production capacity to nearly 300,000 bbls. per year, of which we are on track this year to brew and sell 125,000 bbls.
LIM: Where can I find your product? States, national retailers, etc.
Bill: We sell in 34 states and 6 countries (UK, Sweden, Italy, Germany, Japan and Singapore). Major US retail partners include Whole Foods, Total Wine & More, Wegmans, Publix and Walgreens. We pioneered a ‘beerfinder’ application for iPhone and Android devices that locates restaurants, taverns and retailers currently stocking our beers which we offer free at www.victorybeer.com/beerfinder.
LIM: What are some of your most recent awards for your craft beers?
Bill: In June our Prima Pils was judged Best of the Mid-Atlantic/Southeast Region in the United States Beer Tasting Championships, moving it on to the national Grand Champion judging which it has triumphed at in years past. Prima was twice named ‘World’s Best Pilsner’ the New York Times in a blind judging lead by NYT wine critic Eric Asimov.
LIM: What products are your best sellers?
Bill: Our overall volume leader has been our HopDevil IPA since our start. Following it is Golden Monkey Tripel, DirtWolf Double IPA, then Prima Pils.
LIM: What are your recommendations for September?
Bill: We have three recommendations – Prima Pils, Golden Monkey, and HopDevil Ale.
- Prima Pils offers bracing, herbal refreshment with a light, golden body due to our use of whole flower European hops and German malted barley. It is an excellent beer for seafood (oysters to smoked salmon) and great pizza.
- Golden Monkey expresses the best of Belgian brewing traditions with a spicy, herbal nose that resolves into a honeyed, dry finish. Strong at 9.5% alcohol by volume, it is a dynamic culinary beer, pairing well with curried shrimp to rich triple creme creme cheeses.
- HopDevil Ale is a roller coaster ride of flavor starting with a massive hit of spicy whole flower American hops that evoke pine, orange blossom and pineapple. It then folds into the caramel richness of roasted German malts, making it an ideal partner for BBQ and roasted meats.
LIM: Describe how you come up with new recipes? What determines which recipes go into production?
Bill: Ron and I are still very much at the creative center of our brewing process, selecting our ingredients and envisioning the flavors we want our customers to enjoy. That said, beermaking is very synergistic so the water, processing equipment and tanks and yeasts we employ all can have profound impact on the final beer. Similarly, our brewers and technicians that supervise these components and their departments are engaged in the creative process of brewing so that our results match our visions.
Operating a 300 seat restaurant at our brewery for 18+ years affords us a real-time focus group of consumers who willingly express their preferences to us. As such, they are truly part of our creative process! Their input does help determine which brews move from one-off draft experiments to full-production bottled offerings.
LIM: Is the “foam still rising in the craft beer industry?” Or is the market flooded with labels and headed for an empty glass?
Bill: The ‘foam’ is still rising as craft beer only has claimed a 7.8% national market share of all beer through 2013. In the craft beer pioneering market of Oregon, their brewed craft beers claim an 18% market share! American beers of full flavor and integrity will continue to chase the imports and industrial beers from the shelves but I cannot accurately predict where the dust will settle in terms of market share. Though, I’d be surprised if American craft beers finish at less than 25% market share of all beer here in US.
The reasons for craft brewery openings vary as widely as the formats in which they emerge. We now have nanobreweries which function as creative outlets for folks who are hoping to one day leave their day jobs for the brewing industry. We have small breweries that operate as CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) trading ‘shares’ of their monthly output for investment dollars. The bottom line is that these are expressive, creative endeavors that captivate the hearts and minds of their founders as strongly as they do the local communities they serve. Craft brewing is an alluring career choice for intelligent people and a delicious refreshment choice for enlightened consumers.
Yet, as in all commercial endeavors there will be winners and losers. Support your favorite local or risk seeing a ‘CLOSED’ sign at their door someday. There will be pain and turmoil ahead in such a dynamic and evolving marketplace.
LIM: What are your thoughts on AB InBev and MillerCoors buying their way into craft beer industry? Does it compliment or hurt of the craft brewers?
Bill: The biggest brewers could yet prove to be patient and intelligent stewards of true craft brands that they acquire or develop but I’ve not seen enough evidence, positive or negative, to offer an authoritative opinion.The big guys do face a major hurdle in that their big plants are built to make thin, undifferentiated beers and not well suited to making full-bodied, hoppy beers as craft brewers have built their breweries to be. So, are the biggest brewers willing to shutter or retrofit some of their plants to attack the craft beer opportunity with full commitment?
LIM: What stands out about Craft growth in the last 30 years?
Bill: It’s alignment with America’s discovery and passion for foods of full flavor and integrity. The artisanal beer movement is nothing more than a stream within the flood of a much, much larger food trend, which is why I am so bullish on its future.