Feed Your Head: Bill Covaleski Visits SXSW

Victory founder and president, Bill Covaleski, took his first trip to the South By Southwest conference and shares his observations with you:

Innovative, flavorful beer doesn’t happen in a void.

It takes fertile thinking to envision exciting combinations of malted barley, hops yeast and water, as well as the compelling branding to wrap ‘em all up in. So, following the lead of Grace Slick’s oft-quoted rock ‘n roll call to “feed your head,” I went off to Austin, TX for my first South By Southwest experience to follow those instructions.

Drinking other folks’ beer is a sure-fire way to get the foamy wheels turning. Our friend, and former VBC brewer, Erik “Isar Krug” Ogershok’s brews from Real Ale in Blanco are always a treat. The most memorable one (of my many on this trip) was a cask ESB at Haddington’s. Can’t you just sense its full coolness in this picture beside an awesome lamb sandwich? Zach, Matt and the crew at Haddington’s played host to me twice; the lingering memory of the rare, sliced lamb with buttery, rich, softened red onion and a hint of mint lured me in for a Lamb Pie on the second visit.

Haddington’s lamb sandwich basking in the lovely glow of a cask Real Ale ESB.

That first Haddington’s visit was all the more memorable as I was joined by @MisoHungry (Jennie) and @HopSafari (John) who imparted their rich wisdom of the Austin food scene throughout the meal and by sharing some killer Austin Cake Balls. Of the selection, gingerbread edged out salted caramel as my favorite. Sorry, kids, no way these were gonna make it home.

Mmmmmm, Cake Balls

Now to throw some culture into the mix…

One of the reasons I made an appearance at SXSW was that we at Victory, along with our pals at Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, sponsored two days of live music at The Ginger Man (March 17 and 18). I spent much of my SXSW stint there but was sure to get my cultural fill at other venues as well.

On day one of my trip, the Canadian gals of No Joy put on a sweet show at Emo’s. Their shoegaze show rocked at a steady, pounding pace making up for the hideous venue that only served canned beer.

The next day I was eager to see how Austin embraced Philly as our local friends, Hoots & Hellmouth, were set to kick up some dust at The Belmont. Earlier that day, the boys tweeted us their excitement of spotting a @victorybeer truck sighting on south congress. Tonight: a taste of home for us weary travelers at the gingerman.

Hoots & Hellmouth play a colorful Belmont gig on March 16.

Bathed in in the highly-unnatural-for-these-rockers magenta and phosphorescent yellow glare of a big production stage, our boys whipped the crowd into a whirl with their soulfully rendered, rowdy revival show. Few of the skinny jean hipsters could successfully resist the music’s primal charms and actually lifted their heads up from their seemingly attached-to-the-hand smartphones.

Hoots & Hellmouth’s set at The Belmont seemed more energized than the following night at The Ginger Man; but, at the second show Sean busted strings in the opener and then threw in a sweet shout-out to our Headwaters Pale Ale (which was on tap) while launching into “Roll, Brandywine, Roll” from their 2009 release, The Holy Open Secret.

Sean of Hoots & Hellmouth, busted strings and all, concealed his Headwaters Pale Ale well.

I snuck away from the music to visit the Flatstock poster show, which was a part of the official SXSW proceedings. The quality of work and humble candor of the silkscreen art and artists on display was beyond belief. As my wish list of must-have posters climbed to triple digit dollars, I wisely chose to squash my impulse and leave only with notes. The following day, I went back with a clear head, a shortened shopping list, and a sturdy mailing tube.

Four posters by the engaging James Flames of Asheville, NC made the cut. I recommend visiting his site to see more of his genius and witness how it comes together in his blog there as well. Some other inspired work can be viewed at Cricket Press and Pedal Printing

I did pay a severe penalty for my poster-shopping foray as I missed the The Fleshtones set. In a surprising twist of fate, I caught Fleshtones drummer, Bill Milhizer, on a shady stool next to The Ginger Man taps as he was singing the praises of our Victory Lager. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to chat him up. Totally a charming dude having a blast, he offered up this video testimony to Victory Lager.

As Bill is loving our lager, I’m loving The Fleshtones’ recent release Brooklyn Sound Solution. It’s a glorious romp through a veritable garage of rock history, done with a wonderfully fresh feel. Check them out as they are touring now.

The 18th was packed with music. After missing The Fleshtones set, I made sure not to miss the following act: ’80′s guitar demigod Steve Wynn with his Miracle 3. A blistering set was delivered including gems from his days fronting The Dream Syndicate including “Tell Me When It’s Over.” Steve gave our beers a shout out from the stage and was quick to get his cup (yes, the cups had Guinness logos on them) filled with Victory after the set. Steve upped his game as his three bandmates from The Baseball Project put in a romping and ridiculously witty set.

Steve Wynn is all grin at The Ginger Man.

After that set, Project (and R.E.M.) guitarist, Peter Buck, was kind enough to permit me this photo (even fter I gave him a hard time for drinking wine, and not Victory or Dogfish Head beer)! I was humbled to shake the hand that played that sweet mandolin on “You Are The Everything” back in ’88.

Peter Buck lets Bill (right) invade his space.

Mike Watt, a founding member of The Minuteman followed as part of a trio that kept us graying punks moving and grooving with delight all within easy reach of Headwaters Pale Ale and Victory Lager, under the Texas twilight.

The Japanese instrumental quartet, LITE, expanded upon Watt’s cerebral ramblings with a dual guitar attack that blended the expansive, throbbing blast of Smashing Pumpkins with the crisp, tension of Tortoise.

With my head full of awesome music, I made a (second) stop at Iron Works BBQ to fill my stomach and to wind down my Austin experience. I still can’t believe that I’d overlooked this great town until now. Hopefully its heart and soul — and this experience — will find its way into an equally inspired brew soon. Stay tuned and don’t forget to “feed your head.”

4 Responses to Feed Your Head: Bill Covaleski Visits SXSW

  1. Steve March 26, 2011 at 9:48 PM #

    Nice to see Victory getting their props at SXSW. Thanks for sharing the scene from your point of view

  2. Sir RR Wentworth Duckpin March 29, 2011 at 3:35 PM #

    The Fleshtones were in New Orleans the following day. I shoulda' got the Fleshtones to smoky and the bandit some Victory into town. Victory beer runs to Pensacola are killin' me!

  3. mike abrams March 30, 2011 at 3:06 PM #

    Great story. I want to come if you go again!

  4. mike dysard March 31, 2011 at 3:05 PM #

    I'm so jealous! The world's greatest music festival, the world's best beer and the world's best band, Hoots n Hellmouth. It doesn't get much better Bill. Next year when hoots is on the big stage, I'll be sitting right next to you. Cheers to quality local craft beer and local craft music!

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The Victory Brewing Story

The story of Victory Brewing Company starts on a school bus in 1973 when fifth-graders Ron Barchet and Bill Covaleski stepped aboard, on their way to a new school. The two became fast friends and remained so, even as they grew up and went to college on opposite coasts. Just months out of college, Bill’s appreciation of good beer and access to his father’s home brewing equipment inspired him to explore the hobby. That same year (1985), Bill gave Ron a home brewing kit as a Christmas gift. With that, both Bill and Ron developed their love of the craft…
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