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This is the second in a series of (at least) three articles on the breweries we visited on our #epicbeertrip last month. Last week’s subject was Tröegs, and next week we’ll look at Weyerbacher.
After several days spent visiting friends and enjoying the relative warmth of Northern Virginia, we headed back to Pennsylvania in search of more great beer experiences. Our destination this time: Victory Brewing Company in Downingtown, PA. The drive from Alexandria to Downingtown took about three hours, and involved paying an eight dollar toll, only to exit almost immediately to follow a series of smaller state highways through farming communities mostly noteworthy for their apparent age. That, and the deliberate speed traps.
Just before one intersection, we encountered a sign that said something to the effect that if the yellow light is flashing, you’re going too fast. But the yellow light flashed continuously, even when the car was stopped, and after we’d crossed the intersection. It’s a trap, I tell you!
We arrived at the brewpub around 11:30, I think. It was a Tuesday, and they only give tours (which are free) Friday through Sunday, so I don’t have tour notes for you like I did with Tröegs. Also, since I wasn’t quite sure what our traveling schedule would be like, I didn’t contact anyone at the brewery ahead of time; we just went to drink the beers and eat the food.
We’d beaten the lunch rush, so the restaurant was quiet and mostly empty when we got there. The friendly hostess showed us to a booth, usually my preference for restaurant seating. But I quickly realized that a secluded corner was the wrong place to hang out if I wanted anything much to write about. For that, the bar is the place to be. And an impressive bar it was, too. Spanning almost the length of the brewpub’s back wall, it featured twenty-five house beers on tap, with three Hand Pump options available, and bar stools for at least a dozen patrons.
There was no way we could sample all twenty-five drafts and do anything else at all that day, so we each chose a flight of five beers that sounded especially interesting, and got down to business.
But before I get into the tasting notes, a word about the food. Don’t let the term “brewpub” fool you; Victory offers plenty of the expected pub food—including hamburgers and fish and chips—but their menu also offers more high-brow items such as “house-made gnocchi,” Golden Monkey Lettuce Wraps, and a selection of tasty-sounding salads and hearth-baked pizzas.
Ben went for the Victory Grilled Cheese & Soup, while I settled on the chicken Soft Tacos. I was hungry, so didn’t think to take any food pictures before chowing down on my delicious lunch. Sorry. I’ll try to be better about that.
Our main goal, of course, was the beer, and I’ve definitely got notes on that.
Hip Czech: Very well done; the best Czech Pils I have tasted in the U.S. (and I haven’t been to the Czech Republic yet). The Bohemian Pilsner malt came through in all its clean, crisp glory.
Moving Parts 02: IPA with a quite herbal hop profile; cedar and a hint of green tea-like bitterness, as the beer menu said. As it warmed, the malt flavor came through more, but that green tea hint remained. It made me want to try Stone’s Green Tea IPA.
As Ben said, “It has a very perfume-y aroma to it, but a really strong phenolic.”
Sunset Dunkel: Cloudy, as wheat beers tend to be. Had the expected banana esters and clove phenols, but they weren’t overly strong. Medium body, malty yet dry taste. Chris, one of two bartenders on duty, described it as a “chocolate-covered banana flavor.”
Dark Rye Saison: Fairly delicate aroma, roasty dry and malty flavor, with a complex aftertaste. And, yes, the clove and banana character cited on the menu. Also, it was surprisingly clean.
Scarlet Fire Rauchbier: Delightfully smoky flavor that somehow managed not to be overdone. Smelled like a bonfire on the beach, and tasted like summer at the coast.
In Ben’s words, “Sweet, funky smoke smell…beech, and maybe a hint of oak…no, I think it’s beech.” Hint of iodine from the beech, hint of salt, slightly saline flavor. Bit of a tongue-tingling compound, not sure what it is.
“The body’s a little lighter, compared to last year’s version. So it’s a lot more drinkable.” This tidbit courtesy of Abby, the other bartender.
When the bartenders found out I was taking notes for a blog, they were—if possible—even more helpful and informative than at first. Abby, who (I think) was helping to train Chris, invited questions with the claim that she was a beer encyclopedia, or something to that effect.
Curious about the hops in Moving Parts 02, I couldn’t resist asking, “In that case, do you know what hops are in this?”
Abby disappeared into the back for a moment, then emerged with the answer: Styrian Golding, Bramling Cross, and EKG.
Most impressive. Thank you, Abby.
The other very helpful piece of information Abby gave us was that they’d be releasing their summer ale later on that afternoon. With a couple of hours to spare before the event, Steal the Glass!, we took ourselves off to Sly Fox for a bit.
By the time we made it back to Victory, the early afternoon quiet had been replaced with a growing crowd at both the bar and tables. There was still room to walk around, and some available seating, but for pre-dinner time, business was booming.
While Ben took pictures, I managed to squeeze in and order two pints of Summer Love, served in their own can-shaped glasses, with the beer’s stats conveniently printed on the side. Then we found an unoccupied booth where we could analyze our draughts in peace.
Summer Love: Had a hoppy, funky aroma. Whole flower hops gave it a floral character that was, while not unexpected, quite pleasant. Very clean.
Since I didn’t get to take the tour, I couldn’t tell you how Victory describes their brewing philosophy, but as per their website, they are keen on being green; they use solar energy, capture and reuse about a third of the natural gas burned during brewing, give much of their spent grain to a local farmer for cow feed—which the bartenders also told us—and started a grant to protect nearby Brandywine Creek.†
All of that is definitely good, but what made me really happy were the great beers—proof that the brewers care about their craft—and the friendly, informative people. Secondary, but worth noting, was the décor in Victory’s Downingtown brewpub. In keeping with the Victory theme, the place was decorated in a vaguely WWII-era style; distinct, yet understated.
Next to Tröegs, which got automatic family-friendly points for being right by Hershey Park, Victory was one of the most kid-welcoming brewpubs I’d visited. The floorplan was open, with few corners to lose a mischievous toddler in, and the tables were covered with brown paper and furnished with crayons. There were no paper children’s menus that I saw. Instead, the waitress went ‘round and stamped it right on the table for young diners to see and scribble on, if they felt so inclined. How cool is that?
† “Victory for the Environment.” Victory Brewing Company. Victory Brewing Company. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.
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