Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Victory Brewing and the rise of 'indie' righteousness.

Victory Brewing, a 'craft' brewery in Pennsylvania, was purchased, last week, by Artisanal Brewing Ventures, a consortium consisting of 'craft' brewery Southern Tier Brewing of New York and a private investment company appropriately called Ulysses. According to the (U.S.) Brewers Association, Victory was the 29th largest 'craft' brewery in the U.S. in 2014/15, brewing 141,000 barrels; Southern Tier, the 35th.

ABV is the acronym shorthand 'craft' beer drinkers use when they mean to say alcohol percentage (standing for alcohol-by-volume). And now it's a punny acronym for this new company. With the combined output of its two brewery components, ABV will be the 15th largest 'craft' brewery in the United States, capable of producing 800,000 barrels of beer annually.

Inevitably, however, this new brewery's 'craft'-worthiness will be doubted.

'Craft,' as a tax term (but only as a tax term) means something; as a concept, it has no such certainty. The term 'indie' is now righteously bandied about as its replacement uber-category. But indie' carries no government warning, and it threatens to inflict social-media-mob blood-testing of the 100% purity of a brewing soul.

Like 'craft' before it, an 'indie' beer's marginal purity will be revoked, with 21st-century Puritanical righteousness, if one barrel dares fall past a shifting limit. Sierra Nevada Brewing, to name but one target, might be independent, but it is far too successful to be 'indie.' At least according to the poobahs. Brewery success is disqualification, whereas failure is quixotic crusade. "We salute your brewery corpse as we acclaim the next true 'indie' thing." It's beer as prepubescent hero-worship, rather than beer as (a) good. Enough already. Just say, "beer."

Here's the nub, from Bill Covaleski, co-founder of Victory Brewing, when interviewed by All About Beer:
[Covaleski] spoke about scale, the middle tier of the beer world and the importance to grow and to stay independent. “I don’t want to sound doom and gloomy, but there are big fish swimming in the little fishbowl of craft beer. [...] It’s very easy to look at this and say ‘Ron and Bill got wealthy today,’ but at Victory we are 54 shareholders and they are family and friends. Right now all they get is an annual dividend check for taxes, to look at some stainless steel, and a discount on beer. We worked on this deal to help these people who made Victory a great place have stability. That was a priority for us.”

Not 'indie'-pure? Feh! The roster of excellence at Victory is long. The gorgeous Prima Pils in a 'craft' world awash with one-note hop-bombed ales. The still astounding twenty-year hop-infused Storm King Stout. The decocted malt-depth of Fest (and how many other 'craft' brewers even bother to take the care to decoct their mashes?). And, yes: the hop wham-bams of Hop Devil and DirtWolf.

I congratulate Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski, Washington, D.C./Baltimore-area homeboys made good in Pennsylvania. I wish them well. I exult with them as they receive real reward for real craft.

  • More on ABV: here (at Brewbound).
  • All About Beer's interview: here.
  • Yes, I detest the 'craft' beer label. At best, it's been meaningless. At worst, a self-congratulating question-begging. I write it as enclosed within single sneer quotes.

  • For more from YFGF:

1 comment:

  1. These are tough waters for almost any fish of size. Neither AB nor Miller was big enough to scare off other fish. We echo your commendations for Ron and Bill. Ron was the principal architect of our Hop Pocket Ale and still hasn't lost his touch. His Anniversary 20 Experimental IPA was, I think, the first beer I've bought a full case of since the Hop Pocket went off the shelves.


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