Victory Brewing Company: Spearheading the Growth of Craft Beers

School buses aren’t the most common places to play a part in craft breweries, but that’s where the history of Victory Brewing Company (Victory) got its start. Technically speaking, the brewery didn’t officially begin pouring until 1996, but the company’s co-founders and co-brewmasters, Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, met one fateful day in 1973 as fifth graders on a bus to Worcester Elementary School. A life-long friendship ensued, followed by a blossoming interest in craft beers that only grew throughout the college years, when Bill gave Ron a home-brewing kit as a Christmas gift.

The two launched a friendly rivalry to out-brew one another, took turns gaining real-world experience with German-trained brewers located from Maryland to Munich, and eventually partnered to launch Victory, which today churns out some of the finest craft beers in America from its headquarters in Pennsylvania. Victory’s portfolio runs the gamut of hop-happy pale ales to roasty, stormy stouts, but all styles reflect the passion and commitment to craft brewing that led to Victory’s founding.

Victory beers can be found in 29 states and in the United Kingdom as of 2012. Total production in 2011 topped out at 82,000 barrels, a far cry from the first year’s 2,500, but Victory doesn’t have any plans to slow down yet. “The next step for us will be hitting the 250,000-barrel mark,” admits Covaleski. Victory’s current brewpub and brewery operations are located in a former Pepperidge Farm factory in Downingtown, Penn.

Striking Liquid Gold

Since 1996 Victory’s brewing operations have grown from a 25,000-square foot space to a bursting-at-the-seams 100,000-square foot facility. The brewpub has added 200 seats, and the beers themselves have added thousands upon thousands of satisfied customers worldwide. This is a result of Victory’s commitment to quality, which begins with selecting only the finest ingredients.

Inside the facility, Victory insists on using only whole-flower hops – never the industry-standard pelletized hops – for better flavor and aroma. Likewise, Victory uses imported European malts and any number of 45 strains of yeast to deliver beers that build upon the expertise of Victory’s founders.

The current brewery uses water from the East Branch of the Brandywine Creek to brew its 12 year-round beers, nine seasonal beers, countless specialty beers and a signature root beer, and while this may seem a minor point it makes a major difference. Quality of water is so important to Victory that the owners have become crusaders for environmental conservation.

“We’re so lucky to have access to such pristine water and we have done a lot over the years to contribute to watershed advocacy and stewardship,” adds Covaleski. “Long story short, though, we feel very fortunate to be able to locate our second brewing facility with access to an almost identical source of water.”

Victory’s second brewing facility is just 15 miles from the original location, and Victory invested in nearly eight months of water quality research to verify that the mineral content of the new location’s water was substantially similar to its Downingtown location.

The first 50,000 square feet of space in the new facility was built out as cold storage and distribution. Renovations to another 70,000 square feet are starting in September 2012 to prepare for the installation of brewery equipment. And the company’s pledge to environmental responsibility has extended through active efforts to reduce energy loss and CO2 emissions, echoing the implementation of 350 photovoltaic panels that produce 82,000 kw/h of electricity at the company’s original Downingtown location.

That Downingtown facility will live on as the 300-seat brewpub, where over 150 employees serve up drafts from 24 taps and a 60-foot bar, with brewing activity continuing there to supply the restaurant. The new facility’s capacity, however, ensures that Victory’s nearly 50 brewery and corporate employees will be able to continue churning out satisfying staples like the powerful, aromatic HopDevil Ale, plus a wide range of malty festbiers, spicy wheat beers and warm, rich lagers, while simultaneously allowing its brew team the freedom to continue exploring the world of revolving seasonals and small-batch experiments. “We reserve 20 taps just for our own drafts so there’s always plenty of room for the staff to get involved and have fun with the brews, and we want that to continue,” asserts Covaleski.

Succeeding Together

Victory is just as dedicated to the growth of the craft brewing industry on a state and national scale is it is its own immediate business endeavors. Victory is one of the founding members of the Brewers of Pennsylvania trade association, with Covaleski serving as its president in 2012. “It might seem very corporate and kind of insidious to talk about breweries organizing trade associations to do things like lobbying, but we now have 196 employees at Victory and protecting what you have created can be it’s own full-time job,” Covaleski rightfully points out.

The purpose of the trade association is to put a face on the breweries in Pennsylvania and present the breweries’ stories in a responsible, respectful manner. The ultimate goal is to highlight the positive impact a thriving craft-brew industry has on the state and to make the state’s brewing treasures more visible to the general public. So far the association has provided testimony on two Pennsylvania House Liquor Control Committee hearings and one state Senate law and Justice Committee hearing.

“The association was successful in convincing the state to finance an economic impact study in 2012, which we are very confident will put together a positive picture of the craft-brew industry,” asserts Covaleski, who can say this with assurance as Victory alone is committed to using as many local suppliers as possible. Victory has used a local supplier for all of its corrugated case packaging for 15 years and continues to turn to the same local six-pack supplier it has relied on for at least six or seven years by Covaleski’s account.

“Last year the Brewers of Pennsylvania counted 21 members, but we’re up to 36 members this year, so we’re clearly creating value,” adds Covaleski. “Some members joined even before they started brewing, because we act as a kind of support group for one another.”

The extra support will prove crucial in the next few years as the craft-brewing movement gains momentum. For example, Victory’s plans include an increased presence in international markets. “We’re going to be getting more aggressive with our exports in the next few years, especially in Asia, where we believe craft beer has a bright future,” states Covaleski.

Between establishing a greater market presence and expanding the brewing facilities, Victory’s team will have plenty to keep it busy in the next few years. No matter which way the company chooses to pursue growth, the passion, expertise and dedication of its founders will steer Victory Brewing Company toward a happier, hoppier tomorrow.