Chefs Without Restaurants

25 Years of Victory Beer - A Discussion with Co-founder and Brewmaster Bill Covaleski

August 23, 2021 Chris Spear Season 2 Episode 106
Chefs Without Restaurants
25 Years of Victory Beer - A Discussion with Co-founder and Brewmaster Bill Covaleski
Show Notes Transcript

This week, my guest is Bill Covaleski. He’s the brewmaster and co-founder of Victory Brewing Company. This year, Bill and co-founder Ron Barchet are celebrating 25 years of Victory.  As someone who has successfully built and run a business for 25 years, Bill drops a lot of knowledge, and I think it’s beneficial whether you are running your own business, or have employees that report to you.

Bill talks about how he got into brewing, and the decision to start a brewery with his best friend Ron Barchet. We talk about trends in the industry, discussing everything from beer styles, to seltzers and non-alcoholic beer. In 2016 Victory became part of Artisanal Brewing Ventures, which also includes Southern Tier Brewing and Sixpoint Brewery. I asked Bill about that decision, and if he worried about being considered a sellout for becoming part of “big beer”. 

Also, this week I’m doing something different. I wanted to work on some exclusive recipes using Victory beer. For this, I partnered with blogger Marilyn Johnson from the blog Philly Grub. 

The first recipe is scrapple tacos with an apple/fennel/celery slaw, and served with an aji panca salsa using Victory’s Prima Pils. The second recipe is Oktoberfest Beer Truffles, using Utz pretzels and Victory’s Festbier. Head over to PhillyGrub.blog to find these exclusive recipes.

Looking to hire employees for your restaurant? This week's sponsor is Savory Jobs, a job site only for restaurants. For just $50, get unlimited job postings for an entire year. Use discount code SAVORY10 to save 10%.

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Welcome to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. I'm your host Chris Spear. On the show. I have conversations with culinary entrepreneurs and people in the food and beverage industry who took a different route. Their caterers research chefs, personal chefs cookbook authors, food truckers, farmers, cottage bakers and all sorts of culinary renegades. I myself fall into the personal chef category as I started my own personal chef business perfect little bites 11 years ago. And while I started working in kitchens in the early 90s, I've literally never worked in a restaurant. This week. My guest is Bill Covaleski. He's the Brewmaster and co founder of Victory Brewing Company. This year, Bill and co founder Ron Marchet are celebrating 25 years of Victory. In fact, this past Saturday, they had celebrations at their Downingtown and Parkesburg taprooms. Prior to moving to Frederick, Maryland, I was living in West Chester, Pennsylvania, which was about 15 minutes from Victory's Downingtown location. I spent many evenings there and was looking forward to having bill on the show. But this episode isn't just about beer and brewing. As someone who has successfully built and run a business for 25 years, Bill drops a lot of knowledge and I think it's beneficial whether you're running your own business or have employees that work for you. Bill talks about how he got into brewing and the decision to start a brewery with his best friend. We talked about trends in the industry discussing everything from beer styles to seltzers and non alcoholic beer. In 2016 victory became part of artisanal brewing ventures, which also includes Southern Tier brewing and six point brewery. I asked bill about that decision. And if you're worried about being considered a sellout for becoming part of quote unquote big beer. Obviously you'll have to listen to the episode to hear all about it. This week, I'm doing something different. Because I love cooking with beer almost as much as I love drinking it. I wanted to work on some exclusive recipes using victory beer. I decided to partner with blogger Marilyn Johnson from the blog Philly Grub. Marilyn's site is awesome, especially if you're interested in the Philadelphia and South Jersey food scenes. My first recipes for scrapple tacos doesn't get much more Philly than that. I've topped them with an apple fennel and celery slaw and made an ahi panca salsa using victories Prima Pils. And because everybody loves dessert and Oktoberfest is coming, I made some Oktoberfest beer truffles using nuts, pretzels and victories fest beer. So head on over to PhillyGrub.blog to find those exclusive recipes. The link will also be in the show notes. I really hope you like this episode. Even if you're not a beer drinker. I just think it's a fun show to listen to. And I hope you really enjoy it. And thank you to this week's sponsor Savory Jobs. Did you Hey, Bill, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for coming on. know restaurants turn over employees four times faster than most businesses? What if somebody created an affordable and effective hiring solution for the restaurant industry? What if there were a job site that only focused on people looking for food service jobs? What if that site only cost $50 a year to advertise for every job your restaurant needed? Forget the big corporate sites like Indeed and Monster. Our sponsor Savory Jobs has a job site exclusively for restaurants. The best part is savory jobs only charges $50 for an entire year. And you can post all the jobs you want. And for our loyal listeners, use the code SAVORY10 and get 10% off. o you go to savoryjobs.com an discover the job site shaking p the industry. And remember t use savory10 for 10% off. And n w on with the show. Thanks so uch, and have a great week.

Bill Covaleski:

Really happy to be spending some time with you, Chris. Thank you for having me.

Chris Spear:

Oh, you're welcome. So you're our first Brewer I've had on the show. I've had a distiller on but I love beer, and I love victory. So super excited to talk to you today.

Unknown:

Yeah, you know, we've lived through a beer Renaissance. So something that was industrial and nondescript. And something you would never really want to spend a podcast on is now very fascinating.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, most definitely. We have these guys in town. They do the uncapped podcast and they talk to a lot of people in the beer world. And it seems like they have a never ending supply of people who want to come on and talk about beer and a whole bunch of listeners.

Unknown:

Yeah, you know, definitely give a lot of credit to the audience that has rallied around the pioneering craft brewers and created this Renaissance. It really took both parties, it took the entrepreneurs, and it took the interested folks that wanted more and expected more of their beer. And it has completely revolutionized where we were in beer. In the early 80s. When

Chris Spear:

I first started tasting beer. We were talking before we started recording here about how I used to live in Westchester, which was close to downtown and I used to come to the brewery off and I really loved that place. It's I wouldn't say it's too early to drink beer right now. But

Unknown:

I'm not drinking beer. But I did want to show you I'm drinking my water. It's the resist prohibition class. And it's 2006. So I still have a few of these. Fantastic. Yes, we used to give those away on Monday nights the steal the pint promotion. So there's quite a number of them. I know someone who's got 42 different ones now. No, not all distinctly different. He's got 42 in his collection.

Chris Spear:

Well, this was you used to do the victory over prohibition parties. And this is like a set with a shirt. So I still have a shirt. I've put on a little weight. I've watched the shirt a few too many times. I can sometimes squeeze into it if I drop a couple pounds. But yeah, I have a collection of vintage victory swag.

Unknown:

Oh, you're in a career where weight collection is also something that happens?

Chris Spear:

Yes, most definitely. The COVID 15. Unfortunately, well, I don't wanna spend too much time on your backstory, because I think there's a lot of great places where people can find that. But I guess the short of it is you started a brewery with your best friend who you met in fifth grade. Is that right?

Unknown:

Absolutely correct and somewhat bizarre. We met on a school bus in 1973. We were both new to the area. Ron was returning to the area but it was his new to the school district. We shared expanse of woods between our two homes. So we had this great rendezvous spot. And there was an abandoned summer camp there. So our friends had access to basketball courts. Also for street hockey, there was a pond for ice hockey. And you know, that was sort of the rendezvous point. And we got a lot of fun things done a lot of fun memories created and we got on to brewing beer because my dad started home brewing in 1979, as soon as it became legal, and he was a very resourceful guy at Cannes or Pickler gardener. He used me as his hired labor, cheap labor, as bottle washer and such. And I enjoyed my time with him doing that. But in 1985, after I graduated college, I had different depreciation in beer, let's say. And I gave Ron a home brewing kit that year for Christmas 85. And that really sort of, you know, lit the fuse.

Chris Spear:

Do you remember what the first thing you made was?

Unknown:

The very first thing I made was actually failure. I tried to make a dark lager, and I wasn't paying close enough attention to the needs of the yeast. And I put it in my dad's root cellar, and we had a cold snap and it just never, never took off. So you know, I went to art school. I'm a graduate of temples Tyler School of Art. So I had initially the artists approach to making things right, you know, the recipe is important, the label is important. And that first failure really got me to appreciate the science and become much more diligent on that end of things. So it was a it was good to fail right out of the blocks because then I focused in on actually what was important about making beer.

Chris Spear:

I've done some home brewing in the past I gave it up when I had my kids because that is a lot in itself. I have twins. I don't know that the more that I learned the better my beer got though. I'm not saying that education isn't important and you can't get better but you know, like The first time I just bought a kit and made a beer, and I thought it came out pretty good. And then as I'm reading more, it's like, Oh, I got to cool this down faster. Let's let's look at dry hopping. And I don't know that I even noticed any marked difference in quality. Not that I'm telling people like, don't just don't try and get better. But I just found it really interesting. I thought out of the gates, I had a pretty decent beer. And I never kind of moved to the point where I felt like I was making anything really exceptional.

Unknown:

Yeah, I don't know you well enough to presume but you know, being a chef, clearly, you've got this creativity that drives you. But you're also probably process oriented as well. And it's really about striking that balance process is so important to brewing, giving the yeast the conditions that it needs in order to thrive. And, unfortunately, process it takes discipline, and diligence. And there are many of us who like the creative more than we like the discipline and the diligence.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, bottle washing is the worst like I did. I love the process of making beer and making different, you know, flavors and styles. And then just laboriously scrubbing like 50 bottles was not my jam. And then as I moved on, I was like, well, we're just going to be starting this at like house parties. Let's just start putting it in like bigger bottles and you know, even growlers at the time and I just make like three growlers and a bunch of giant swing top bottles and say, forget all that, you know, 50 bottle nonsense.

Unknown:

Yeah, that was smart way to get Well, Chris, you know, the pressures off, there's over 1000 breweries in the United States to do the dirty work for you. You're good?

Chris Spear:

Well, that's kind of how I felt like I love trying different beers. And there were very few times where I would look at a case and say, like, I want to drink this. You know, I love going in and picking out like a mix of six, which was painful living in Pennsylvania. I know some regulations have changed. But when I was there, you literally couldn't buy a single or a six of anything unless there was some like weird constraints. You know, like, I used to drive from Westchester to the food eatery in Philadelphia, which is an hour away just so I could go buy singles have beer because they had their like little deli case in there. So it was legal. But you know, Westchester, it's like, you can buy a six pack of Yingling at the pizza shop, but like really just wanted to go and grab like 12 different beers. And that wasn't happening at the time, which I think is kind of ridiculous.

Unknown:

One of the places you may have shopped at was up the road from our downtown brewery, Ron schoolhouse grill that did a nice selection of beer. And the reason I brought that place up was in the early days of victory. We were self distributed. So I was driving the truck to the various accounts we had the few accounts that we had. And the process on delivering to that account was that you stocked the beer in the fridge and then you actually got paid your invoice by the cashier. So the same retail cashier that everybody was ordering their steaks and Whoa, Easter. So I stocked the beer I'm standing in line, the gentlemen in front of me in line has two six packs of Heineken in his hands. And I couldn't help myself. I wasn't just a beer maker and a beer delivery guy. I was a bit of a beer evangelist. So I tapped him on the shoulder and very politely informed him that there was a locally made lager beer utilizing all German malts, all German hops, essentially the same qualities and same alcohol level as the imported beer he had in his hand. And I just stopped it in the cooler was fresh. So he was intrigued. We turned around, we looked at the cooler I pointed out he goes, Yeah, but it's not important. And I was floored in a way because for me the value of our beer was that we took all these these fantastic premium ingredients, and we combine them for a local audience and the results were fresh. But to this gentleman, he wanted it to be important. That was the value to the product. And it was like a real kick in the shins to our business plan. Because we presumed the opposite. We presumed that people would appreciate freshness. And by and large the vast majority did but that was a that was a sobering little interlude.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, I didn't grow up really with like a culture of beer in my house. My dad drink Old Milwaukee out of the can like so. And that's when you know the perception of canned beer was not that it was great. And I remember my uncle used to drink Heineken and my dad thought that was so snobby that like when Bill came to the house, we had to go buy Heineken because he drinks expensive stuff, right? And I just remember that is something and being like a kid in the 80s. So I never drank beer like I didn't drink beer in high school or anything. I just had had a sip of that stuff. I thought that's what beer was, took a hard pass, but I grew up. I grew up in New England, I went to college at Johnson and Wales and Providence and the first time someone gave me a Sam Adams like I remember like we had to leave campus and we would sit in a car at the top of the hill like just off property and someone gave me a beer. I was like, I don't know, I'm not really into this beer thing. And I had a Sam Adams it was just a Boston lager. And I was like who Whoa, like what this, this is the year and that kind of started it for me. But I still didn't really get that adventurous at the time. But that was very eye opening that that's what beer could taste like.

Unknown:

Yeah, and on those notes, so Ron's family lived in Germany in Munich from 1970 to 1973. So his family arrived back to the states with an appreciation for better beer. So our families would hang out together and our dads would indulge in, you know, a case of more expensive imported beer from time to time. So there was that sort of blessing or appreciation within the household, say like, yeah, you can take a step up and, and enjoy a better product, if you, you know, can justify the cost.

Chris Spear:

So when did you decide that you guys were going to start this brewery? Like, what kind of timeframe versus when you got out of college? Did that happen?

Unknown:

In 1987, we took a spring vacation together it my first trip to Europe, we landed in Luxembourg, we jumped in I rented Fiat and drove directly to or vol to the monastery and we politely took the monastery tour until we could ask, well, like, where does the beer happen? And they're like, oh, it happens here, but we don't serve it here down at the Roadhouse. So we kind of excused ourselves from the tour and went to the Roadhouse. joyed enjoyed a few more balls. But that trip took us through Switzerland and into the Black Forest of Germany. And we were only two years into home brewing. But we started to talk about, you know, what we might be able to do together as a business. And it was really just two guys on vacation, enjoying beer and talking about their dreams. But you know, we have very sort of different educational backgrounds, Ron Scott, a political science, economics degree from UCLA, I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts. And the more we talked about the fantasy, the more we realize that we may actually have the skills and the trust in one another to build it step by step. And the first key step was with Ron leaving finance analysis as a job for brewing in 1989 to join the startup Baltimore Brewing Company down there right across the street from Little Italy. guy who hired him there owns the place Toyota Gruen. He was a German train Dutch Brewmaster, from a family that ran the Grolsch brewery. So tremendous resource of education, Ron was his first apprentice lasted there a year, then before he moved on to the Technical University of Munich, advise Stefan where Teo had graduated from. And then I jumped into Ron's role for five years, and completed the international course of brewing studies at dolmens. Institute in 1993. So by the time we done all that, in 1994, we more or less had taken all the steps, we needed to go out and find investors and start a brewery. So we chose to do so.

Chris Spear:

And that brewery wasn't named victory when you started. That's correct. It wasn't. How was that? Was it disheartening to I think we sometimes get tied up in like the names of things and branding. But was that kind of a disappointment for you guys early on that you pick the name for a brewery and then found out you couldn't really continue operating that way?

Unknown:

Sure. It was a huge speed bump. But the great thing about being a budding entrepreneur is that every, every hurdle, every speed bump you encounter and get past is energizing. And you start you know, at first, you're not really an entrepreneur, you're just sort of playing at it. And then you start, you know, accepting the challenges and beating the challenges. And before you know it, you're like, Hey, we're doing this, this is actually happening. And so yeah, the name was a big setback. But frankly, what we were looking to sort of embody in victory was with our European training, and with our affection for tradition, to a certain extent, we were looking to bring sort of the best of European traditions in both ingredients and processes, and then liberate them in the United States. Because of course, you know, Germany has perhaps arguably the best, most consistent beer, but it's constrained by the right height scope, that you know, he only got four ingredients to work with, and a great range of beers can be made. But we were buying that we were going to liberate ourselves from the Rhine heights Kubot yet we were going to pay homage to the purity and the care that is embodied in the Rhine heights Kubot. So the name of victory was kind of a American interpretation of all of that European brewing had achieved. So I think victory was the right name for us. Although what you're leaving alluding to is that we were originally going to be independence Brewing Company. We We got a cease and desist letter from that brewery in the summer of 1994 when our first business plan was out there on the streets, and you know, 1994 that's pre internet for pretty much all of us. So you couldn't really know where your competition was coming from. We were blind in that aspect. But we overcame the challenge.

Chris Spear:

Well, that's great. I mean, I think victory suits suits you guys perfectly. So you launched with what like three beers? Is that where you guys started?

Unknown:

Yes, indeed. We had three on tap on February 15 1996. When we open, I think we had the capability to have 12 beers on tap. From what we originally built. We had hopped devil Ale, which ended up being our front runner, we had a martson Oktoberfest style named victory fest beer that's still in our portfolio, very food friend really beer, delicious offering. And then we had a export or Dortmunder style lager called Brandywine Valley lager, paying homage to the water source for our brewery. And that one is sort of still in our portfolio as victory classic lager. But it is now a helis lager and has been so for years, so slightly lower body and bit more refreshing than the original version.

Chris Spear:

And now with all the seasonal offerings, how many do you have? How many do you have? Oh,

Unknown:

gosh, well, we have 30 taps at our locations. We don't keep them all individually occupied. We're good for a solid 20 taps going at any time.

Chris Spear:

What are some ones that you've retired that you love? And I guess if you love them, why did you retire them?

Unknown:

Well, you know, we're not in the business of only pleasing ourselves, right? You serve customers, and you know how that is. I would say we have definitely retired some that may never come back. And that makes me sad. Red Thunder was a Baltic Porter that we aged in red wine barrels from the went a brewery in California and it just had such beautiful tannic overlays on top of a rich multi beer. It was a fantastic dessert beer and we tried it for about three years in limited releases, but it never got traction. Same boisterous a straight up my BOC. We haven't brewed that in years. And people are always asking us to do so. And I always you know, when somebody gives me a suggestion for something to revive, I always point out that their voice does matter. Like the more I hear, the more I can justify bringing something back and we don't burn our recipes, of course. So I mean, anything can possibly come back. I did a visit one time to the Ben and Jerry's in the original location in Vermont. And I was really thrilled to see the graveyard that they maintain for all of their, their past brands because it's just a really cool sort of honor to things that were creative and important and have been retired.

Chris Spear:

And sometimes there's like a coolness factor to say you got to try it right. Especially with like hipster beer fans. My wife's favorite beer was the Mad King wise so like, you know, and that was one of those ones where like, you only did you ever was that bottled at all a bottle but actually still being brew? Just remember getting it at the at the brew pub, which was one of our favorites. Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, like, I fondly like I loved the V 12. The the old horizontal the hot wallet, like, those are some of my favorites. I've said my desert island beer would be golden monkey. Like if I had to take one beer, although that's a little heavy to be the only beer you ever drink. Like I'd maybe be sleeping all the time. But uh, yeah, you've definitely had a few of my favorites. And we used to love. I can remember pre gaming before we go to the movie theater down there. And you know, you come in and you have like a V 12 and all horizontal and then sit in the movies. And it's like 20 minutes in, you're ready for now.

Unknown:

Yeah, exactly. You wasted your money on the movie because you're missing parts of it.

Chris Spear:

How much do you have to pay attention to trends now versus trying to be a trailblazer? You know, it's like looking at sours. I'm a huge sours fan, which I think have only really gotten mainstream traction recently, but I felt like when I was in your area, they were much bigger. Like the first hour I had was the monks, you know, at monks the Flemish red and then, you know, I loved iron Hill, and they had like their Berliner vise specially with the Woodruff syrup. And then they had a really awesome one at nodding head brewery. And like no one around here was doing that. And I remember I was at volt restaurant and Jim crucifying dog was there and this was maybe 2009 or 10. And we were just talking and I said, like, when are you guys going to do a sour and he told me, you know, there, there's no interest in that there's no money in that and I kind of said, I just moved here from Pennsylvania. Like they're kicking it with sours up there and I just remember him kind of talking about about, you know, like IPAs being the thing and you know, they don't do a ton of sours. But now it's the thing, everyone's got a goes, everyone has, you know, something like that. So how much do you have to kind of say, well, that's not where we are now. And I'm going to be the innovator

Unknown:

to very complex answer to your question. And that's why I appreciate the question. So bear with me. First and foremost, you know, we had victory have always maintained taprooms as an integral part of our business. So we were built to be a production shipping brewery. But we always recognize that, you know, r&d would be happening right there in our tap room, and people would tell us what they appreciated, which, you know, to your earlier question about how many beers did you start with only three? And people told us how about a double Bock? How about a Pilsner, so we, we followed their leads, because we wanted to do all these things. So listening to the audience that you have close to you is really sort of the first thing, they can definitely give you creative latitude, and essentially some assurance that there's a commercial market for this as well. So that's kind of the good part about it. The bad part is, of course, that if everybody's doing the same beer style, then there's too much of the same thing. And this is really an opportunity for historical, historical perspective on craft beer. I've always viewed craft beer as a marathon run in radial fashion, meaning that not all the competitors aren't on the same course. They're all choosing their own course, they're choosing different challenges, different difficulties. And in the early days, we opened, we wrote our business plan, there were 460 breweries, there was 11 119 96, the year we opened, there was a lot of room between those radial tangents, right, and people were admiring what one another was doing, but there was space, lots of whitespace, not to copy one another. And so it was really sort of everyone was accepting and creating their own challenges and addressing their own uses, and really living by their own inspiration. But then in time, there are certain certainly so many new entrants that it closed in and the white space was not there, and being different wasn't necessarily a possibility. And then we started getting into these almost like a herd moves. West Coast IPA, and the whole herd went to West Coast, IPA goes and sours the whole herd move towards that. And it's exciting, because you know, then you get a new aspect of it, you get to see who's better at it, who's got more inspiration, who's bringing more innovation to the game. But at the same time, it's it's sort of sad because it the herd mentality from the consumer side and the producer side, kind of obliterates the nuance of all the other stuff. And it skews retailers to only stocking the thing that's in Vogue, and neglecting the other things. So I think that that's part of what's been lost. At this point. You know, neglecting what the sales trend data tells you is a recipe for disaster, right? You've got to be on trend, you've got to be with the beers that everyone is buying currently. Yet at the same time, you can be liberated to look into the styles and bring more to that more nuance and more difference. One thing that I would point to is we released this year our brotherly love IPA, and though it's right in style as a hazy juicy IPA, we put in some hops that aren't necessarily always expected, and hazy juicy Eldorado is one of them. What we were trying to do was we were trying to get a little more IPA back into hazy IPA, because from our perspective, hazy IPAs had gotten kind of placid, they didn't have that dryness and that firmness that IPA is known for. Right? They all went too late. Hopping all aromatics, all juicy flavor at the end, wonderful aspects to the beer, fantastic aspects to the beer, but we felt we could bring a little bit more IPA back into the game. So that's what we did with the brotherly love IPA. And so I do believe that even within trends, there is opportunity to be nuanced and differentiated. And I think that's what keeps us very excited about the whole evolution.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, I'd even say like I really enjoyed the sour monkey and most sour beers are like lawnmower beers. They're very easy going very low ABV. And this one drinks dangerously like it's a four or 5% goes a type and then you get that kick like it's a traditional golden monkey. So yeah, definitely some room for innovation within those categories. We have you ever been down to Friday. Trick Maryland that which is where I live. I have but I haven't been down there for years yet because we have like 13 breweries or something now it's it's stupid like, I love it. But I have two that I can walk to from my house and we have a cluster downtown where there's four. It's literally one building that houses two separate breweries. And then there's a creek going through downtown and a footbridge that goes over and literally across the way are two more breweries that share a building. So you have four all within one area. But the cool thing is they're all kind of doing a different thing. And you know that if you want sours, you go to Steinhardt. And if you want kind of hoppier, you go across to Adeboye. And if you want the multi, Porter, stouts, lagers, maybe, you know, you go to this other one there, and they all kind of have a very distinct thing, which I've really appreciated, because you don't see them kind of all having the same thing. It's just they're comfortable with like, we're the high ABV Belgian style brewery. And if you want that this is where you go. And if you want tons of IPAs, this is where you go.

Unknown:

Yeah. And when I was characterizing the opportunities in craft beer in terms of following a trend or differentiating, I was kind of painting with a broad brush of breweries that distribute, right, packaging breweries, there is certainly a different opportunity for focus and identity, when you're primarily an on premise producer, I believe. And what you just illustrated there is, you know, there's a neighborhood of four breweries, and they've all found their niche, and they're all happy, you know, working together.

Chris Spear:

And you've now moved into the seltzer line as well, like many other breweries, is that something you had been thinking about for a while? Or was that kind of playing? I don't wanna say catch up, but like following along with what everyone else was doing, what like, what time frame? Did you guys start that And where was it in relation to other breweries getting into that,

Unknown:

as a company, we got serious about seltzers, July, two years ago, and then really started putting pencil to paper just one year ago, and came out with our victory waves in May of this year. But I think this question sort of needs a little bit of bigger context. Within victory Brewing Company is now an entity within a partnership called artisanal brewing ventures. And in that partnership, we have a great distillery, right across the border north of us in Lakewood, New York, with our friends at Southern Tier. And the story that Finn built there is producing some wonderful products. And we've incorporated those products into our tap rooms in parkesburg, and downingtown. Not only onto the menu for service, on site, but we also have these retail kiosks. So they're actually sort of a, a one brand competitor to the liquor stores that exist inside our to retail locations. So with moves like that, we really recognize that we have an opportunity to give our guests a full range of experiences in products, just as we pursued a full range of beer flavors, there's other flavors and other alcohol products that we should be paying attention for them and delivering to them. And so seltzers were an obvious thing to add in order to enter into that. And, you know, I've got two daughters. One in college, one graduated from college. So the seltzer phenomenon was something that, you know, sort of happened in my home as well. So I recognized what was unique about the seltzer consumer, what they were looking for what beer didn't address for them. And I think that, you know, it's an opportunity to cater to an audience that otherwise a beer maker would have dismissed.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, I do a lot of bachelorette parties. And let me tell you, when I get there, and I open up the fridges and see what's in there, it's not beer, there's a lot of wine, but there is definitely a lot of seltzer in those ridges.

Unknown:

Yeah, you know, I think that that's beer has not addressed the needs of every consumer. So it's kind of interesting to to take another approach and see if we can bring these two worlds together at some point.

Chris Spear:

So you touched on it. So you sold victory in 2016. Why sell?

Unknown:

Well. So first of all, the structure that founded victory Brewing Company was myself and Ron, and you know, 50 some friends and family shareholders that invested in us as early as 1994. They were very excited by all the beers they we made. They were very excited by all the stainless steel tanks that we had purchased. But at some point, we owed them a return right? And so that was always on our mind and they were very patient with us. In night. 2015 Anheuser Busch collected seven breweries in one year. And so beyond being responsible in making innovative products being responsible to our employees, being responsible to our shareholders, we looked at all of the And we said to ourselves, the world is changing. Tomorrow is not going to look the same as yesterday. And we're kidding ourselves to think it's going to be our massive competitors now swimming in our once collegial fishbowl. And the one thing that we were sort of, again, that our friends and family shareholder funded company was a little bit tight on was our capitalization. And now there were big global companies swimming in this fishbowl, as I pointed out, so there was no desperation to it, we just decided that like, Hey, this is perhaps a weakness that we need to solve, because if we don't solve it, we are putting our employees to jeopardy. We are risking the brands for our consumers. And we're really not being responsible for our friends and family shareholders. So we went out and we started seeing what other partners we might be able to add to it. And we found a wonderful collection of private equity family office, private equity firms that had acquired the majority of Southern Tier from Finn and Sara. And we're looking to add partners in the same matter. And in this platform artisinal brewing ventures, we found like minded individuals that saw the challenges ahead with very open eyes, but also had the energy and the fortitude to want to go forward and challenge these changes that were occurring. But we knew that we needed to consolidate ourselves to be basically a bigger entity. So what the platform really gains for us is we have consolidated back of the house operation so finance, procurement, I mean when you put Southern Tier victory Brewing Company, six point brewery and bold rock cidery together, and it's one purchaser That's powerful.

Chris Spear:

You're also aligning yourself with what I consider to be other great brands.

Unknown:

Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, the cost of entry is integrity and respect. We we're only working with partners who are like minded, you know, believe in the future thesis that we believe in and are willing to work hard to get their together preserve our past together.

Chris Spear:

I'm not sure I'm quite ready for it yet. But I do love Southern tears pumpking and Warlock and I'm sure I don't know when this airs hits currently, August I'm pretty sure if I went to the store today, they might be on the shelves, but already. Yeah, I mean, it gets a little ridiculous like my, you know, my birthday is in July, and I go to the store. I'm like, I I'm not ready for a pumpkin beer in July. But I'm sure that that's just the animal of like distribution and getting that stuff out there.

Unknown:

It's also the curse of retail. Right? Every retailer is they're trying to get you excited for the holiday that's coming. There's already candy corn on the shelves.

Chris Spear:

I've seen candy corn and the Reese's Peanut Butter pumpkins. It's like, we're back to school shopping. I don't need candy corn. Yeah. Well, in southern tears also doing spirits now too, right?

Unknown:

Yeah, wonderful spirits and spirit based seltzers. And bold rock is doing Apple based seltzers. So I mean, you know, there's really a ton of fun opportunity and diversity within our family. And, you know, there's another great thing about the platform, we get to see how all these products compete and compare with one another. So we really have an ongoing test petri dish to play products and against one another, develop things and see how they suit the audience expectations.

Chris Spear:

Well, there's always a subset of consumers who are always rallying against big business and selling out. I mean, I'm sure you've thought about it. But we really concerned like when you guys did this, how you'd be perceived that now you're going to be part of big beer. Because, you know, there's been a lot of trashing of some of these craft breweries, as they, you know, sell into the bigger groups. How much thought went into that? Or? Or did you just not worry about it? Because you had to do what you had to do? Oh,

Unknown:

we worried about it. We deliberated on it. I mean, you know, victory was a very precious creation of ours. It was Iris was personal, sharing it with others, and having outsiders looking in and saying that this was a sellout. You know, yeah, we had to contemplate that we had to walk around the opportunity from 360 degrees and contemplate all the different opinions that might form. And I guess the thing that I settled on in gave me comfort, because I knew there would be naysayers are really sort of to two reflections. First of all, it would be irresponsible to continue to operate as an independent giving the way we saw the conditions changing, and just assuming that everything's going to be fine. I'm not saying that everyone's going to face the same fate. But we were on a growth trajectory. Were at number 28. As an independent we had a big target on our back. The Global's, you know, didn't like golden monkey, it was a problem for them. So we needed to basically build a company that could defend itself against these forces and continue to be a thumb in their eye and so the risk sponsibility aspect of it, I think was the most important, this was the right thing to do for our employees, for our shareholders for ourselves. The other thing is, I once got a piece of advice from a NASCAR driver who said, you know, if you see a wreck forming in front of you, you steer the car towards it, because it's going to be gone by the time you get there, that's the safe spot. And I felt that, you know, 2016 probably was right in the mix of a lot of different sales. And, you know, I think consumers were rightfully getting concerned about where this was going, was it all going over to big beer, but I felt in my heart that, you know, three, four, well, really four or five years down the road, craft beer was going to have gone undergone so many changes, that what we did in 2016, was going to seem absolutely normal, and reasonable, and probably respectable.

Chris Spear:

And it also let you kind of get back to doing some of the things you love, as opposed to doing some of that office II type stuff, right, like doing more kind of Brewmaster you know, development

Unknown:

kind of things. Great observation, both Ron and I were very willing to go with the flow and, you know, become business owners, administrators tackle all the things that were outside of the brew house in order to provide opportunity for those who were on our team. And that worked really, really well. But it was a compromise in some respect, because we were doing things that, you know, that wasn't necessarily in our DNA, and they were obligations. And certainly, this new structure has definitely put me back in touch with the things that I was better at, and wanting to do with a real passion. And so very liberating in that respect,

Chris Spear:

we find the same with chefs, you know, you get into cooking, because you love cooking. And then as you move up to say, an executive chef, now you're doing more HR type stuff, you know, which I did. So then I quit my job to start my own business, which is going to be great, because I can do whatever I want, right? Except that I still need to do marketing and balancing the books and all that. And I think that's the trap that we get into whether you're an artist, or you're a crafts person. And there's the business side, and if you're a solopreneur, or very small business, you're going to be doing it all. And that includes doing a whole bunch of stuff you don't really want to do or even necessarily know how to do.

Unknown:

Yeah, I think that I think that few people who have not been entrepreneurs recognize how transformative the entrepreneurial experience is like it, it, it changes you, you have to focus on things, you have to focus on things that you otherwise wouldn't, and you become a different person in the process, at least relating to your work. And I always have said, If I write a book, there's going to be a chapter about the hot breath of the wolves. Because the hot breath of the wolves at your feet keeps you running really, really hard. Like one slip. And when the wolves etrs. Like, that's the thing you cannot afford to do for your family, your shareholders, your employees can't let it happen.

Chris Spear:

It's tough. It's a it's a grind. I mean, I never thought I'd have a podcast, which is so weird. I mean, I really love it, right? But this was just like an evolution of the marketing piece of what I was doing. You know, that's a perfect example, though. But you don't you don't always know where these things are gonna go. And sometimes you just have to be open to it.

Unknown:

Yeah, no, I think your podcast is a perfect example. You wanted to create community, you wanted to reach out to people, you want to gather stories and build a community from that. And as you and I were remarking before we went on, you know, went live, you know, you've got this tremendous audio rig here in front of you, which was an investment, and you had to make decisions about that. And, you know, the timing and scheduling of this is cutting into your other duties. So yeah, it's a great idea. But it comes with a lot of a lot of commitment.

Chris Spear:

What do you wish you knew before you started your own business? Are there just a couple things that looking back on it? You maybe wish you had spent more time figuring out?

Unknown:

Well, that's a very, very good question. I think the most important learning was for two guys who wrote a business plan and thought they could do it all was the power of compounding human capital, right? Finding the right person for the right role, having the faith and trust in them writing the job description so that they could tackle every aspect of it better than you did. I didn't really recognize that power when we wrote our business plan. And so I wouldn't say we faltered but there was a brief moment where we were doing well on the revenue side because of our cap room and down in town, and we needed to invest more in equipment to continue the growth on the production side of it, and then filling in all those slots that were needed. For distribution management, brewing brewing management. We aced it. But there was a bit of a disconnect as to how we could identify the right people trust the right people and empower the right people. And when we saw success forming by choosing the right people, that was very empowering for us to go forward,

Chris Spear:

it's very different when it's your own business. You know, I've been a hiring manager before, and I don't think I had spent as much time you know, it's like, someone came in, they seemed like they were a good fit, you hired them, you didn't really worry about it, like you could move on part ways if it didn't work out. But then as I move into my own business, I've been super particular about partnerships and who I work with, and I'm still essentially a solo business owner. I've looked for, you know, co founders, if you will, I've looked for people to bring on and I haven't found the right fit yet. And at some point, I think I'm just gonna have to find someone try them. And, you know, hope it works out.

Unknown:

You know, partnerships are very, very big decisions. And I don't mean to make it sound heavier than they are. But you know, especially with our move into artisinal, brewing ventures, we had long conversations, long drinking conversations with partners, and we knew that, you know, we, we saw the same future, and we would go at it hard together, and we would take corrective action if we were wrong. So a lot of resiliency, you need to look for in partners.

Chris Spear:

And then as far as brewing, where do you find inspiration? I mean, are you just drinking a ton of beer thinking about, you know, trends, like what really inspires you and doesn't even have to be in the beer world? You know, like for food, I'm inspired by art and music and culture and all kinds of things. What kind of gets you going,

Unknown:

I like to focus in and I always have on an individual ingredient, whether it's a hop, an herb, a malt yeast profile, and say, how do we maximize the impact of that one thing? How do we arrange its other partners in the synergy of the brew, in order to get the most of this ingredient, not necessarily put that one ingredient on a podium, but harmonize it with all the others. I think if you look at the victory portfolio, sour monkeys kind of the outlier because it's, it's so much of two things. But in my mind, beer has to deliver two things, it has to deliver excitement, and comfort. And I'll give you a illustration. Primo pills for me is very exciting. The nose of the beer is grassy, somewhat lemonades. It's very summer day, and exciting on that level. And then the first sip has got plenty of bracing bitterness to it. And all kinds of wonderful hop flavors are delivered. And then it segues into the malt, and it's very comforting in the final, you know, swallow of it. So I've achieved both of those things that I was looking for in it. And that gets me back to sort of the creation question you had asked, I want to respect an ingredient and its inherent qualities, I want it to sit in the right place, almost like you know, a musician would look at the mix of music. And then I want the end result to be very comforting to the consumer. Too much excitement isn't necessarily great. In fact, so the first career Ron and I were supposed to have was, of course, rock musicians who wasn't going to do that when they were a teenager. And one day we were down in his basement torturing are electric guitars, and his dad came stomping down the stairs and gave us a look. And he said, so if you can't play well play loud. And we've often jokingly used that with a beer that was like, out of whack. You know, we're drinking something that somebody was reaching for the moon in the stars, and they threw a whole lot of, you know, passion into it, but maybe too much passion, and will look at each other and go, they played loud.

Chris Spear:

I think that kind of relates to food and my approach to food. You know, I've talked with a lot of guests on the show, it's like, these over the top pleadings. You know, like I think food progressed to a point. And it's dropping off a little bit where you have these like really over contrived, like, you go in and there's three sauces on the plate and like a duo of proteins. And the little thing over here and it's maybe, you know, got this thing pointing up out of there. It's like, did you need all that? Like, what are you trying to say? And it seems like you're almost hiding behind something like, what happens when you strip away at least 50% of that, you know, and that's kind of the food I like to cook and eat. It's like the the beer You know, I think for a while you had all these hotheads and people still love it, but like it was like how hoppy how better Can we make these things? And then you have like a prima pils where it's I think it's underrated. You know, it's just a really good solid beer and I've drank those extreme beers. I mean, I've been to Some extreme beer fests, and that was, I feel like a period. And now it's like, I just want this solid, like what's a really good? I don't wanna say standard or traditional, but like every once a while I just want like a really well made simple beer and don't need it have that be like the most extreme punch in the face.

Unknown:

Your observation is a great one. And, you know, I can bring two other sorts of observations to this to illustrate it. First one is, my friend Garrett Oliver of the Brooklyn Brewery, I think is such a great mind and great contributor to our industry when the the bitterness battle was raging with IPAs. He shook his head once and he was like, would you ever go into a restaurant until you know, tell the waiter that please have the chef make me his salty dish he possibly can? No, of course not. And that's really what for a brief moment consumers were saying like, Oh, come on 100. IBS isn't enough. Like what about 110. So that was kind of a momentary madness that we all got through and it was fun. But in terms of where we're going with maybe a bit more comfort in the whole brewing landscape right now, more loggers, there's a resurgence of loggers. I think that that's interesting. Because if you look at craft beer in the earliest days, you had basically like Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada, and Jim cook a Boston beer. And they put the out these products that were not rough, but they were, you know, assertive for what the, you know, current paradigm was, and then you had, you know, the last remaining American brewers all stuck in loggers and late loggers. And so it was almost like a battlefield, you had both different factions on opposite ends of the field, with their arms folded across their chest staring one another down. And the large lager makers tried to disparage craft beer and tried to make it go away. We remember the Keystone ads with a bitter beer face and so forth. But craft didn't go away, it found an audience. And it started advancing in terms of actual market share on the other guys, and so the other guys started marching in towards crafts domain and getting a little bit more innovative and things. And so there is this huge chunk of this battleground that is comfortable, but interesting, well branded likeable beers, and it's up for grabs right now. The only thing that you know, sort of upset this grand scenario that I'm painting is seltzers. They came in off the sidelines and said, Hey, what about us? We're here to play to, and both teams went, Whoa, wait a second, and see that comment?

Chris Spear:

Also, what about non alcoholics? Like, what are your thoughts on that? I mean, because that's been a huge movement. I'm, I've been very happy. I mean, I drink beer with alcohol, but I also like a good na, and just the availability of some really good stuff. A couple weeks ago, I had Brooklyn's and it's one of like, the best beers I've had, like, it tastes like a full fledged real beer with them. Athletic. I just had the lemon, one from Dogfish Head. I mean, there's just some really great stuff out there. So what are you guys thinking about that? And have you been watching that?

Unknown:

Yeah, we're definitely watching that. And I think that there is certainly a place for a certain number of non alcoholic beers. very rational for that. We have been growers, we have not been able to justify the equipment costs of producing an alcohol product and then stripping out that alcohol and throwing it away. So we have gotten ourselves around that philosophical corner yet. And good question, honest answer.

Chris Spear:

Yeah, it just seems like in the course of maybe six months, even like I remember six months ago, all you could get was athletic if you could get that at all in a store. And now every week, kind of like the seltzer I'm like, oh, wow, there's like nine of them this week. And I don't know if that's also going to hit kind of a peak where it's like, how many awesome craft beer non alcoholic versions Do we need to have?

Unknown:

And that's also part of the answer to your first question, Chris, isn't that, you know, you're noticing more non alcoholic beers entering the market? But I'm not sure the trend is going to be significant enough to be a big Miss for us. Something we'll regret.

Chris Spear:

I guess we'll just wait and see. Right? We'll have this conversation on the record there. Yes. So who's an unsung badass that more people should know about? It could either be I guess a person or a brewery, like who for you is like under the radar and you think more people should know about,

Unknown:

you know, probably going to default to folks that I have relationships with because first of all, you know, if you respect the person and respect the product, they're going to probably be on that list. A guy I correspond with a good bit don't get to see him enough. Andrew nations down at great RAF brewing in Shreveport, Louisiana. Big diva Tei of loggers and does this really cool Pilsner with some great integrity to it because he uses Louisiana grown rice to it. So his southern drawl has a really cool softness to it. That's unlike numerous American craft pilsners. And I love what he's doing there. And I'm not sure the size of his audience, but I just don't hear enough people talking about great raft.

Chris Spear:

I've never heard of them. So that's great. Thanks for sharing, huh? Yeah,

Unknown:

I definitely would put him on that list. Unfortunately, with the closing of her brewery last June, Carol stouts can't be on that list anymore. But the Salisbury was a real inspiration for us always making very, very solid loggers just about 40 minutes up the road from our Downey town location. But Carolyn, her husband, Ed, were almost half a generation older than us as well. So they deserve their retirement is also

Chris Spear:

Yeah, that's one of the places I loved. We went up there a couple times when I lived in the area. I mean, we had such a great cluster of breweries, you know, from Westchester, you know, that we could drive to so I'd loved kind of living there. That was one of the first beer cities I lived in. Well, and if you had to describe yourself as a style of beer, what would it be?

Unknown:

No. If I was a style of beer, I would probably categorize myself as a Pilsner. You know, first impression I can perhaps be assertive. Maybe more than you necessarily bargained for, but ne and you're going to find me very, very agreeable, and probably someone you want to hang out with longer.

Chris Spear:

That's a great description. Has anyone ever asked you what kind of beer you were? No. First time I've gotten that question. I sometimes ask people like what flavor they would be. So I figured I'd mix it up a little bit. Well, I love talking to you. Do you have anything you want to leave our listeners with before we get out of here today?

Unknown:

I guess the one thing I would like to leave the listeners with is my my sincere gratitude for being beer consumers and are and being food consumers, you know, combining cuisines with beer. This revolution required an audience and the audience participated to a very high level. And it created opportunities for aspiring brewers like Ron and I to really live out our liquid dreams and have an audience cheering us on the entire time. So how fulfilling is that to make something and know that the other person was satisfied with that creation? It's been wonderful.

Chris Spear:

That's I think what so many of us want to do whether you're in food or beverage, you know, you're just hoping that you've got a passion for something it comes through and you find your audience and you know, that's for me, the most satisfying thing is knowing that I put something out there that people just really love.

Unknown:

Yeah, I mean, you know, from the, the negative perspective, we're almost as creators, we're almost like a pathetic pet. We just want to make the master happy. We're just there, you know, at the heels, like, what do you want to wish I do now? What should I do now? What should I do now? But it isn't pathetic at all. It's a it's a collaborative process, where we have ideas, and the audience allows it permits certain ones to have a life of their own.

Chris Spear:

And sometimes you have to make concessions and find balance somewhere, which is something that we sometimes especially creators have trouble finding. Yeah, indeed. Yeah. Well, thanks again, for coming on. I hope to come to the brewery at some point. I haven't been up that way in a couple of years. But I look forward to a return visit.

Unknown:

I think with 13 breweries in Frederick, I might be visiting you. I used to be only brewers alley back in the day. So that's exciting.

Chris Spear:

We have a good stable here. So hit me up, and I'll take out a brew tour.

Unknown:

Sounds good. Chris. Thanks so much for your time. You're welcome.

Chris Spear:

And to all of our listeners, this has been Chris with the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. As always, you can find us at Chefs Without restaurants.com.org and on all social media platforms. Thanks so much, and have a great day. Thanks for listening to the Chefs Without Restaurants podcast. And if you're interested in being a guest on the show, or sponsoring the show, please let us know. We can be reached at Chefs Without restaurants@gmail.com. Thanks so much.