The day after Out & About Magazine went to press with our February issue, a fire occurred at the company’s Kennett Square taproom. Victory occupies the first floor of the building with four stories of upscale apartments located above the taproom.
Following is a recent update from Victory co-owner Bill Covaleski:
“My first reaction was deep concern for anyone on or near the site. I was aware that we were closed at the time, so my thoughts immediately went to our Magnolia Place neighbors and the firefighters, with prayers for their safety. I was getting live photos via text so was very aware of the situation. Obviously, confirmation that all residents had safely evacuated the building was the most important and welcomed message.”
“It is too early to say how this affects our future plans. Production at that location was only for the location itself and additionally some R&D batches, so we did not suffer a loss of production capacity that affects our packaged beer output. That is the good news. The timeline to occupying the building again is yet uncertain.”
Read feature story on Victory Brewing Company here:
Victory Brewing founders Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet continue a partnership that dates back to grade school
They met on a school bus, discovered they had many interests in common, and became best friends.
Now, almost 50 years later, they still share common interests and they’re still best friends. But they’ve also become business partners and managed to find success in the competitive world of craft beer brewing.
Bill Covaleski and Ron Barchet were fifth-graders at Worcester Elementary School in Lansdale, Pa., when they took that bus ride in 1973. Now both are 57 and are owner-operators of Victory Brewing Company, which manufactures craft beers and runs brew pubs in the Chester County (Pa.) towns of Downingtown, Parkesburg and Kennett Square. Later this year, Victory will open a 14,000-square-foot brew pub in Philadelphia.
All of this really started with Covaleski’s father, who was a home brewer, which got his son, and then his son’s best friend, interested in the process. After college, they entered the corporate world —Coveleski as an art director at an advertising firm and Barchet as a financial analyst — but neither enjoyed sitting behind a desk all day. So, they decided to jump into the not-so-corporate world of craft beer. Both worked at a brewery in Baltimore to learn the business, although at different times, and individually traveled to Germany to study brewing from old-world masters.
In 1996, they decided to take the plunge and started Victory, building their first brewery in an old Pepperidge Farm factory in Downingtown.
In its first year, Victory shipped 1,725 barrels of beer. Eventually, they expanded their production to Parkesburg and Kennett Square, and in 2020 Victory shipped 151,000 barrels and its products are now sold in 35 states and nine countries.
Recently, Covaleski and Barchet sat down for a Zoom interview with Out & About to discuss their past, present and future. For more information on the brewery and its different beers, visit VictoryBeer.com.
O&A: What were your expectations when you first started out in 1996?
Bill: “It wasn’t just that we wanted to make beer — we wanted to make beer of a higher quality than what really existed in mass distribution here in the United States. When we started our business plan there were only around 460 breweries operating in the United States, so we did feel that we would have a regional impact — we essentially felt we could sell between New York and Washington, D.C. But we also realized we had to make a splash locally, so we jumped into tap room operations from the very start. And the blended model of operation was kind of unique at that point — generally, you had a production brewery or a straight-up brew pub, and we had both.”
O&A: Being business partners has ruined many friendships. How have you two navigated through that?
Ron: “We recognized the complementary skills we brought and pretty much took that business plan strategy and put it into running the business. Bill was in marketing, sales and communication and all of those critical elements of building a brand, and I was more in the back of the house doing financial stuff and operations. I don’t think we could have been successful with Victory with one person — that sharing of responsibilities is really how we did it.”
O&A: How do you create new beers? Is it inspirational or methodical?
Ron: “It’s evolved over the years and it used to be much less formal when there were 400 breweries, 1,000 breweries, 2,500 breweries in the United States. The last few years, with 8,000 breweries, a discipline is really required in developing any new products. You have to figure out where there is a need through analyzing data that’s available today that wasn’t there in the early years. Now, it’s very data driven.”
O&A: You’ve brewed many award-winning beers such as Prima Pils, Dirtwolf and Storm King, but your most successful beer is Golden Monkey. Why is it so popular?
Bill: “Even though we worked very, very hard from the start and through the years to perfect the liquid through process and recipe, it’s not a very unique Belgian Tripel. It’s a fantastic one, but not all that different from others. I think it’s because of the name, because of branding, it’s a beer that nobody ever really breaks up with. A lot of people choose it early because is has high strength and a relatively good price point, and that’s sometimes a priority for young shoppers. And even when they creep into middle age, they have such great memories that they continue to purchase it.”
O&A: Have you ever created a beer that you thought would be successful and wasn’t?
Ron: “We developed a beer 7-8 years ago called Homegrown Lager. It was a phenomenal liquid, but it never took off in the marketplace. We did a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, thinking about what we could have done better. Ultimately, the flavor was great, the texture was great, it was just a phenomenal beer, but it just did not work out in the marketplace. Why? We could argue a while over that, but for whatever reason it did not succeed.”
O&A: There are thousands of craft beers out there now. Are you worried that the market is becoming oversaturated?
Bill: “I’ve heard from consumers that they’re perplexed and overwhelmed by the options. So, I think everyone wanted more, more, more and now maybe we have too much.”
O&A: In 2016, Victory formed an alliance with Southern Tier Brewing Company to form Artisanal Brewing Company, and since then other breweries have joined the alliance, which shipped 447,800 barrels in 2020. How has that impacted your business?
Bill: “What we saw in the partnership was a way to become stronger and more valuable within a defensible geographic territory. By the time we came together with Southern Tier there were over 7,000 breweries, so something that was unique when we got started became ubiquitous. We realized we should look at the business holistically and look at partnerships as a growth strategy.”
Ron: “What we gained with this was an umbrella company that has buying power, and combining these breweries gets us a reduction in the cost of glass and the cost of cardboard, because we’re buying so much more. Also, the amount of knowledge our leadership team has is deep and has a lot of experience. Without that, I don’t think we would have had the success we’ve had the last couple of years in building our key accounts such as grocery chains and convenience store chains, as well as some restaurant chains. And that has let us weather this COVID storm better.”
O&A: You’ve expanded quite a bit over the years. What are your plans for the future?
Ron: “As far as production goes, we’ll just continue to expand operations in Parkesburg and Downingtown. But the big news is our tap room in Philadelphia. After years and years of looking for the right opportunity, it really found itself. And that’s pretty clear by the address alone — 1776 Ben Franklin Parkway. It’s a pretty amazing address and a perfect place to set up Victory.