Craft Beer Then and Now

By Bill Covaleski

With the start of American Craft Beer Week kicking off yesterday, I’ve been reflecting on the craft beer movement. In late April, during a beer dinner at the Flying Saucer Draft Emporium in Fort Worth, Texas, a Friend Of Victory mused on the first beer she enjoyed there. Sixteen years ago she gleefully hoisted a Red Stripe draft. Wow, hard to find a Red Stripe among the multitudes of taps at Flying Saucer these days. Time and taste have passed that brand by, as truly flavorful brews have proliferated from American breweries.

Bill talks beer at Flying Saucer

The Red Stripe comment got me thinking about my first taste of “microbrew,” as they were called in those days. It was a Henry Weinhard’s in California in 1984. I guess this “ancient” experience qualifies me as much as anyone to write about the craft beer movement in America.

As eye-opening as that Oregon-brewed lager was, it was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Grant’s Imperial Stout and Timberline Ale (which has since been forgotten in the haze of time and tippling) — all of which I first sampled at Santa Monica’s legendary Father’s Office in 1988 — that sealed the deal for me. Craft beer pummeled the imports that made up a fair portion of my liquid carb intake then, and I never looked back. Until now.

But what is there to look back at? Pioneering souls like Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada are still playing large roles in the current act of American beer, building new breweries with a bullish bet on craft beer’s future that encourages Ron and me to do the same. Ken, sorry we borrowed your whole flower hop concept. It’s working for both of us, huh?

As I was discovering craft beer in the late 80s, there was a sort-of rebel spirit of defiance that came with the decade. The rebels known as homebrewers were the first to ditch industrial-made beers. Just as Ron and I did, these deviants became professional brewers, and a movement formed. Macrobrewers retaliated. They sought to relegate and limit our movement to the Teva-clad beer journal scribblers that many of us were. They pointed to our dorky love of dark, bitter beers and proclaimed us to be patently uncool. Remember the Keystone Light “bitter beer face” commercial?

But with your help, we made it. We normalized the aberrant behavior of sipping flavorful brews. We have become the force that industrial brewers feared. What began as a gathering of geeks has turned into an honest-to-God-revolution of flavor.

I won’t proclaim craft beer to be “mainstream,” but you can smell it coming. “Mainstream,” in my book, is not simply synonymous with insipid. The term recognizes a collective acceptance, understanding and maybe even appreciation of a once unfamiliar concept. Try this if you think I’m wrong. Ask your grandmother what a “microbrew” is. I’ll bet she knows the answer.

So, to those of us who can remember the days when Red Stripe could be found on draft, American Craft Beer Week is our chance to shine. Wear your cargo shorts and brewery-logo fleece vest proudly. It is safe. The big beer bullies are cowering in their boardrooms now, trying to make sense of this terrible, new reality that they’ve been subjected to. And you starry-eyed craft beer newbies? Thank you so much for joining us. You are cooler than we are, for sure. If you buy us a beer at the bar this week, we’ll tell you inspiring tales of our radical resistance in the dark, dangerous days of the movement. Real stuff, not just those inflamed Facebook postings you call expression. Drink up, to annoy the withering oppressors.

If you’re located near our home in Downingtown, come celebrate American Craft Beer Week with us on Monday, May 14 as we tap a vintage keg of Storm King Stout and pair it with some incredible dishes. No matter where you live, you can celebrate American Craft Beer Week with us or with any of the hundreds of events taking place. Find one here.

For a little more craft brewed inspiration, check out this video that Stone Brewing Company produced a few years ago. Cheers!

2 Responses to Craft Beer Then and Now

  1. albert kuwano bakonyvari May 17, 2012 at 2:03 AM #

    hi bill,

    albert in an outdoor cafe in tokyo (not drinking a Headwaters unfortunately!)

    I rode the train down to Tokyo earlier today and read a mail from mookie about your beers. when i finished i started reminiscing about how we started drinking craft beer, and i recalled how back in high school (early ’80s) when we asked people to “buy up” for us we always got “s##t” because we were picky about what they bought for us. We turned our noses up at most things. In the early days it was michelob or moosehead, but things started to change when, you guessed it, henry weinhardt’s came along. Hank`s became our brand until a strange brew from Chico came along, and then we never drank anything that didn`t start with “micro”. I went to college in Berkeley after that, a little “brewpub” called the Roaring Rock opened (soon forced to change the name to Triple Rock by some cretins from Pennsylvania!) and the rest is (my) craft beer history.

    Nice coincidences today, and nice article too!
    Cheers,
    Albert Kuwano Bakonyvari

  2. Bill C May 18, 2012 at 7:44 PM #

    Hey Albert,
    Glad to hear that baring my beer dork soul inspired another. Looking forward to bringing this American revolution to your ‘new’ home of Japan! – Bill

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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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