Difficult Decision

By Bill Covaleski

I have Etta James singing I’d Rather Go Blind playing in my head as I write this. Her take on the song is languid, soulful and resolute. More a statement than a lament. It’s perfectly aligned with the sobering news I have to deliver to you, so if you have it on your playlist, cue it up now.

Barely two weeks ago I was enjoying a great Philly Beer Week break by lunching with a friend at Garces Trading Company. While the two of us savored an outstanding appetizer — thin sliced asparagus and goat ricotta drenched in a porcini vinaigrette — I somewhat morbidly mused out loud: “If you had to make the terrible choice of losing your vision or your sense of taste, which would it be?” Simultaneously and immediately, both of us pronounced, “vision.”

As disturbing as this self-imposed dilemma may sound on the surface, the response and reasoning that come from considering it lead to a greater understanding of one’s priorities. For both of us, the sensual appeal of flavor trumped the impact that the visual world impresses on our brains. To never savor the bracing bite of a Tettnang-hopped pilsner or the cool harmony of malt and hops in a cask-conditioned beer ever again? I simply could not survive that reality. Hopefully, I’ll never have to make that call.

Unfortunately, there was a challenging call that did have to be made at Victory Brewing Company. Those of you who have been fortunate enough to have peeked behind the artisanal/industrial curtain by touring our brewing operations over the last 15 years, consider yourself lucky. You have a memory that no one else can now achieve. As of July 4, we are choosing taste over vision. The world will go “blind” to our brewery operations as tours will no longer be available.

Similar to the great dilemma discussion I had over lunch, we evaluated our priorities and needs in order to make this decision. The reality we now face, as brewing and cellar operations become a 7 day a week labor due to swelling orders, is that we cannot safely conduct both tours and business in tight spaces. In essence, you, as a consumer, made the dire decision for us. Your thirst for flavorful Victory beers has stolen your vision of their creation. We are truly sorry to present this news to you. At this time, there is no other option, despite the hand-wringing and postulating that took place during the many meetings we spent discussing this predicament.

So, let Etta soothe your soul and this time modify the lyrics you sing to “… I would rather go blind, boy, than to have you not make beer, for me…”

Please Note: While visiting the brewery for a first-hand tour will no longer be an option, you will still get a glimpse of our behind-the-scenes action through blog posts, videos, and photos.

42 Responses to Difficult Decision

  1. Jeff June 22, 2011 at 1:29 PM #

    A wise decision. Focus on the awesomeness of your beer. If a few folks get upset that they can’t get free samples and a tour, well, maybe they weren’t the biggest fans to begin with. Cheers!

  2. Kelly June 22, 2011 at 1:41 PM #

    If it allows you to produce larger quantities of Dark Lager than I am all behind the move. Besides, I’ve done the tour. Now our out of town guests will just have to “settle” for sitting at the bar instead of a tour and lunch…LOL. In the long run you guys are doing the right thing & us loyals are behind you!

  3. Stephen June 22, 2011 at 2:19 PM #

    I see the huge, lurking hulk of an insurance company behind this, which basically just sucks. This is a totally blind guess, but call me cynical.

    Either way, I know Victory puts out a fantastic product and look forward to drinking more soon!

  4. Paige June 22, 2011 at 3:51 PM #

    So very sad… But, for those wonderful people who travel to enjoy your wonderful beer, why don’t you all “take a tour” for them and post it on your website and defnintely in your restaurant and store, more of a “virtual tour”. That way, they’ll be able to see the inner workings of how their favorite beer is made. Just don’t forget to have your employees in the video. 🙂 Why make a choice when you truly don’t have to? Thanks for such a great Victory product!

  5. Mike Lawrence June 22, 2011 at 4:33 PM #

    As a world class brewery, the production of beer should be your first priority. I was lucky enough to have a private tour by you Bill, and left with only fond memories and the smell of your hops room fused into my grey matter.

    If you ever decide to film a tour to use on the web for fans of the brewery, give me a ring. It would be a pleasure to come back and film one last final tour for you and Ron and all your drinkers!



  6. Arafat Kazi June 22, 2011 at 9:25 PM #

    Keep making V-12 and you will never do wrong in my eyes.

    And the next time you see Ken Powers, high five him for me. I met him when he was in Boston, at a time when Storm King was impossible to get, and he made me a wonderful six-pack and gave me a bottle of V-12 too. Good man, great taste in beer.

  7. James Wetzel June 23, 2011 at 9:30 AM #

    Don’t know how feasible this might be, but when the Hershey Choc. Factory was faced with this same dilema, they opted to create a mock plant in the visitors center. How cool would that be? I would volunteer my basement in return for all product produced!

  8. Sean June 23, 2011 at 10:10 AM #

    As someone who works around Industrial water treatment and production facilities, I am very aware of the issues involved in plant tours. I love the fact that craft breweries allow for tours of their facilities, but the reality is, that these are areas that should be secured and safety precautions taken. It is potentially hazardous and detrimental to the breweries to allow the general public access.

    The decision sucks as a beer lover who appreciates the brewing process, but from an industrial insider, it makes sense. You have to do what is best for your business. Perhaps in the future (I have not been to your facility) a “Magic Hat” approach could be reached, ie that is having viewing areas above the brewery floor. This solves many problems, but only if (critical) space is available.

    But in the end, its all about the beer! Keep rocking the beers and all will be well in the world!

  9. John Bossong June 23, 2011 at 11:01 AM #

    I think this is a bad decision, victory has become a destination for many and the tour was a treat for all who took it. It also endeared the customer to the brewery as they were personal and full of information about the brewery in your back yard, literally. I hope conditions change as you grow in the Acorn st space where you can do the tours again

  10. Brew World Order June 23, 2011 at 3:23 PM #

    We are glad we got our homebrew club out there while we could. This was by far the best brewery tour our club has been to. We are now privelaged to have had the honor of visiting the “Hop Room.” If you never made it to the tour, you can see what you missed out on here.

    – Brew World Order

  11. Mike June 23, 2011 at 3:59 PM #

    Whatever you guys gotta do to keep getting me my Headwaters, I’m all for it.

  12. Henry McGuigan June 23, 2011 at 4:06 PM #

    As long as you fellas keep brewing what I consider to now be the best line up of beers in the world, it wont matter. God Bless the work you do 😀

  13. michael June 23, 2011 at 4:11 PM #

    Hey with that extra time why not look into the gluten free market because id love to enjoy the beer there again!!

  14. Rich Pawlak June 23, 2011 at 4:19 PM #

    Oy. That IS a tough call. Maybe you could make occasional tours a special event. Just a thought.

  15. Al June 23, 2011 at 4:42 PM #

    Just keep making your outstanding products!

    I’m sure some thought has/had been given to once a month or special occasion tours?

  16. Dave Wilson June 23, 2011 at 5:21 PM #

    Not providing tours shouldn’t even be discussed, especially with the growth of industry in recent years. Keeping these “distractions” going is what makes craft breweries interesting. Sounds like a sell out.

    You guys make great beer and I have only been in Philly once since discovering you and visited your brew pub all three nights I was there– it’s a great place.

    I’d rethink– for the respect of the craft brew history.

  17. Rob June 23, 2011 at 5:52 PM #

    Don’t be selling yourself short! You have not mentioned anything about the amazing Pub/Restaurant that you guys have on site! That in it self is worth going to! Make people aware that it is still a very attractive brewery to visit!!!

  18. Kathy June 23, 2011 at 5:54 PM #

    Good beer is definitly worth loosing the tour for! Don’t sweat it, just keep up the good work of brewing beer!!

  19. Robin D June 23, 2011 at 6:25 PM #

    I went on the tour recently, glad I got to experience it. but I much rather enjoy your awesome beers and great food. Keep up the good work that is brewing.

  20. Michele Secrest June 23, 2011 at 8:14 PM #

    This is very unfortunate. I was just in contact with Tracy Mulligan to set up a tour for our organization… they will all be very upset, as am I. However this will not stop me or them from traveling to your place to eat some delicious food and drink some awesome beverages. 🙂

  21. Steve Pretti June 24, 2011 at 9:26 AM #

    Ok, I’m glad I’ve taken a tour , and I may have to try to get another one in before the fourth. But this is helping me solidify my plans of hopefully working in the brewery when I retire :-).

  22. Tom Hewett June 24, 2011 at 9:37 AM #

    A tough choice to make, but I agree with it. I’d rather taste your beers fresh from the brewery than see them in production.

    BTW: There is also a lot that can be done with a virtual tour and a few strategically placed web cams that I can access online.

  23. John D June 24, 2011 at 10:22 AM #

    I am very thankful that my wife and I were able to tour your brewery in March on our ‘beervacation’. We were there on a weekday evening and were lucky enough to be the only ones on the tour. Our guide (I don’t remember his name, but he confessed to being a fellow photography and home brew nut) took pleasure in answering all our questions and gave us at least 30 minutes of his time. We also got to see the hop room, which wouldn’t have held a larger group. We toured Dogfish as well and enjoyed it greatly, but the personal touch we received at Victory was greatly appreciated. On a side note, I discovered Victory through a bottle of V12, and it is still one of my favorite beers. Keep it coming. 🙂

  24. Bob Tobin June 24, 2011 at 2:40 PM #

    The engineer in me still wants to see the “nuts and bolts” of the process. I guess I’ll have to settle for pictures.

  25. Dan June 27, 2011 at 1:47 PM #

    Group tour for 50 beer lovers canned.

  26. Stephanie June 27, 2011 at 4:01 PM #

    When are your tours available now? We’d like to swing over before they end.

    • victory June 27, 2011 at 4:03 PM #

      Our last tour will take place at 5pm on Sunday July 3.

      Until then our tour schedule is as follows:
      Wednesday & Thursday: 4pm, 5pm, 6pm, 7pm
      Friday: 4pm, 5pm, 6pm
      Saturday: noon, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4p, 5pm
      Sunday: noon, 2pm, 4pm, 5pm

  27. Stephanie June 27, 2011 at 9:03 PM #

    Thank you! We’ll be over on Thursday 🙂

  28. Mike July 6, 2011 at 2:22 PM #

    The craft brew industry is known for their tours. How is Samuel Adams, DogFish head and other breweries able to still give tours and make such a large production? As one guy said, its probably an insurance issue. I say this cause I took the tour about 2 years ago and just recently took the tour again. This time the tour guide was rather unfriendly and very serious when saying he would kick people off the tour if they didn’t follow directions…but said it in an unfriendly way. In addtion we had to wear these “cut down a tree” size safety glasses and booties for anyone with open toed shoes. Plus we were not allowed to see the bottling area of the brewery. What gives? These rules and restrictions were all new which leads me to believe an accident occured. We decided to stay and have dinner. The food was not as good as the first trip to Victory. Our waitress was cold and unfriendly. Also I felt like the customer service from the bar was just EHHH. Maybe a bad night or things have declined at Victory.

  29. Mike July 8, 2011 at 9:53 AM #

    I just returned from visiting three breweries in Michigan, Dark Horse in Marshall, Bell’s (general store) in Kalamazoo and New Holland in Holland. At none did I tour the brewery and wasn’t disappointed at that. I’ve also visited Great Lakes brewpub & store in Cleveland, but not toured the brewery. I’m glad you make great beer and can live with not watching it brewed.

  30. D July 12, 2011 at 11:20 AM #

    Make a tour video and walk people through a tour of the brewery and post it on the website so people can see behind the scenes that way. I know it’s not the same as in person, but at least it’s something 🙂

  31. jason brigman July 12, 2011 at 5:18 PM #

    this is the first time on your website, although im dissapointed to click on “brewery tours” only to see i wont be going on one. however i do understand, i would much rather drink your beer in the future than to see where it used to be made. with all that being said, i live in Illinois right outside St. Louis and have not been made aware of many other wonderful beers wich you make. Old horrizontal is my absolute favorite beer as of yet, which is why it bothers me i have not been able to find it in several years. hopefully your increase in production will allow you to satisfy my taste buds

  32. J Welsh July 28, 2011 at 9:33 PM #

    Add me to the list of truly disappointed. Without the possibility of a tour, we won’t bother making the side-trip to the brewpub while in the area next weekend. Frankly, I think there is real value to the company in the tours. You see, to me Victory is just one of many worthy options. I can buy and drink your beer plenty of places – at home, even. A tour had the potential of building your brand with a consumer like me through the “personal” experience. At the end of the day, consumers are more apt to do business with entities that they have a stronger tie to. Tours, while certainly not the only way, help build that relationship. Eliminating them, on the other hand, smacks of selling out. So I ask, which is more important: growth or customer relationships? I say the latter is what guarantees the former. …if you’re taking away the tours, what else are you doing to make up for it? Great beer is important, but connecting with your consumer is also.

    • victory July 29, 2011 at 8:30 AM #

      Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. It was an incredibly difficult decision and is one we hope to reverse down the road when we have a facility conducive to safe tours and busy brew schedules. For now, we are looking out for our consumers by keeping up with the brewing demand and looking out for their safety. We are working to put together a video tour and some behind-the-scenes photos as well. Consumer happiness is what makes brewing so fun and we plan to maintain our relationship with our customers the best we can without putting them in danger or leaving them without beer to enjoy.

      We’ve got lots of fun plans “brewing” to keep consumers having fun with Victory. Did you see our new contest series, “Inspired by Victory?”

  33. BrianJ48 August 7, 2011 at 6:33 PM #

    I’m planning vacation – and tour was on list. Guess we’ll visit the Brewpub.

  34. Alex66 September 1, 2011 at 9:59 PM #

    oh man. i just found this out. i was planning to come over in september and would have loved to have a tour of the brewery. me and a few friends were making plans to do it. kinda disappointed, but will probably still visit the restaurant. 🙁 i hope sometime in the future you decide to bring tours back as i feel they’re important in the business. but im nobody so dont listen to me lol.

  35. Jonathan September 15, 2011 at 11:08 AM #

    Bummer! Moved to York PA a few years ago and my brother and father were coming into town this weekend for a visit. Our plan was to drive to Downington, do a tour of your brewery, visit Buffalo Wild Wings and spend the night in a hotel nearby. Guess now we will just chill in York or maybe head over to Troeggs 🙁

  36. buy beer October 23, 2011 at 11:20 AM #

    You can certainly see your skills in the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. At all times follow your heart.

  37. Mike D May 8, 2012 at 8:30 AM #

    I don’t see how this is a wise decision. I was going to bring a group of 30 this weekend to eat, drink, and see a brew tour this weekend. Now that there is no tour, we’ll be going to Yards.

  38. Jason Ralston September 6, 2012 at 1:50 PM #

    Have you ever thought about creating a virtual tour ???

  39. Kirk January 5, 2013 at 4:13 AM #

    I’m sure it is a business and financial decision that holds plenty of water but it Disheartens me none the less. I just keep thinking about how yuengling leads tours of their pottsville brewery all the time through creeping stairways open mash and no real safety measures of any sort with little to no issue. I understand that victory is more artisanal than yuengling but the fact remains that touring a 100+ year old running facility first seem to be an issue for them.

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European Tradition.


American Ingenuity.

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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