Victory Brewing Co. was started by Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski in 1996. The brewery itself is located in an old Pepperidge Farm factory, and the brewhouse has recently been upgraded to an automated 50-barrel system made by Rolec. The brewery has grown immensely in popularity since it opened, and it now distributes three of its flagships (HopDevil, Prima Pils and Storm King Stout) in 23 states. Due to the ever-increasing demand for their beer, Victory broke ground last year on a new production brewery in Parkesburg, Pa., a few miles west of Downingtown on the west branch of the Brandywine Creek. This facility is massive for a craft brewery, and when it opens this summer it will be capable of producing 200,000 barrels per year on top of Victory’s current 82,000-barrel capacity at the original Downingtown location. For comparison, this level of production will put them at about a third of what Sierra Nevada produces, which is a major national brand at this point, and just over one-tenth of what Yuengling and Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams), the largest American breweries that are domestically owned, produce each year.
Victory has been recognized for brewing its beers true to style while still providing each beer with its own touches. I highly recommend a trip to their brewpub, where they have up to 24 beers on tap (all produced onsite), many of which are not available in bottles. One of the recent complaints, though, has been that in recent years the brewery hasn’t produced nearly as many “fun” beers as it used to. The reason for this is that the current facility is at capacity, and Bill and Ron have stated that they are looking forward to being able to experiment now that their flagship beers can be moved over to Parkesburg. Still, even with their current production crunch, the brewers managed to turn out three experimental brews this winter. The first is Red Thunder, their Baltic porter aged in red-wine barrels. The second is Oak Horizontal, their barleywine aged in oak barrels. The third is White Monkey, a Belgian triple aged in white wine barrels, which won’t be available to the public until March. I managed to procure a bottle of Oak Horizontal, and I cracked it open with some friends on New Year’s Eve.
The beer poured a deep red color, although it wasn’t quite clear; I suspect that this was due to the oak chips that it was aged with, but there could be other causes as well. The real kicker, though, was that when I poured the first glass I found an oak chip floating in it, which was awesome. The head formed as a single finger of fine, off-white foam, which quickly settled down to a ring around the edge and continued to provide excellent lacing for some time. The aroma was wonderful, with a malty sweet vanilla character to it. The mouthfeel was moderately heavy, a perception that was encouraged by the low carbonation, lingering for just a minute before fading away beautifully. The taste was truly wonderful, with a nice, light vanilla dancing in front of the solid, sweet malt. The bitterness of a good barleywine is there, too, and that hop character lingered into the finish, but overall the flavors just blended beautifully. The mellow character of this beer reminded me of a nice, aged Old Horizontal, and then the oak character knocked it out of the ballpark.
As I mentioned, I tried this beer, along with some other barleywines, on New Year’s Eve; I think I’ve become an old man because my idea of a good time involves splitting three bottles of beer with my brother and an old friend of ours while eating cheese and arguing over brewing techniques. That being said, it was a blast. I bought almost a pound of Prince la Fontaine cheese, a triple creme brie, and we killed the entire wedge among the three of us. The salty, buttery taste paired perfectly with the Oak Horizontal. I also tried it with a local Gouda and Gamekeeper, a layered blue Shropshire and cheddar, but the brie definitely stood out here. I also had some good multigrain bread and some baguettes from Metropolitan Bakery on hand, and it turned out to be a dinner fit for a king. Barleywines like this should be served in a snifter and will pair well with pub food and more acid fruits, but I really would recommend getting some brie to try with it, as not too many beers pair so well with a buttery cheese.
I can’t recommend this beer enough; it’s easily the best barleywine I’ve ever had personally, and I think it’s actually the best beer I’ve ever had from Victory. Be careful and try it with some friends, though, as it comes in a big bottle and packs quite a bit of alcohol.