DOWNINGTOWN — Victory Brewing Co. increased its fermentation capacity by 33 percent last week with the installation of eight new tanks.
Eight large 440-barrel fermenters were delivered and installed at the craft brewer's borough location, joining the four that were installed just 10½ months ago.
"Our audience is treating us good," said Bill Covaleski, co-founder and co-brewmaster with his childhood friend, Ron Barchet. "America is eating more full flavored foods and drinking more full flavored beverages."
While the economy is struggling overall, craft brewing is experiencing growth.
The Brewers Association of Boulder, Colo., reported that the craft brewing industry experienced 7.2 percent volume growth in 2009 on top of 5.9 percent growth in 2008.
Overall, U.S. beer sales closed 2009 down 2.2 percent with the import category down 9.8 percent.
This year craft beer sales are trending 7-to-9 percent over 2009, various industry sources report, while Victory's wholesale shipments for 2010 currently stand at 24 percent over 2009.
Victory's growth can be seen in the description of its brewery. It originally was a microbrewery — a brewer that produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer annually. Last year, Victory sold 49,000 barrels — 31 gallons of brew make up a barrel — and this year the brewer is on track to sell 60,000 barrels, Covaleski said.
Those totals make Victory a regional craft brewery.
Florida and Vermont were added to Victory's market last year, bringing to 29 the states where it's now available. Pennsylvania and New Jersey continue to be its biggest markets.
With the new fermenters, Victory's total capacity is now about 100,000 barrels a year.
Barchet and Covaleski conceded that the expansion is not without risk.
"We needed four tanks immediately, but market conditions made buying the eight together an undeniably smart deal." Barchet said.
"We remain confident in both our established customer loyalties and exciting new opportunities that we continue to create," Covaleski added.
In defining the new opportunities, Covaleski pointed to the recent success of Summer Love Ale, a venture initiated by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp., or GPTMC.
The group sought an area brewery to represent Philadelphia regionally with an ale to offer as a tourism draw, one that was indicative of Philadelphia's craft beer scene.
Summer Love Ale production was doubled over its initial expectation and garnered the attention of Food & Wine, Washington Post online, and Modern Brewery Age.
The thermally-protected, energy efficient fermenters' temperature sensors, monitoring and pumps will be powered with photovoltaic electricity, generated by Victory's soon-to-be-installed 67 Kw solar array in keeping with the company's ethic of low environmental impact manufacturing.
Expansion of the fermenting operation brings it in line with the brewery's bottling and kegging operation, which was upgraded in 2002, and its brewhouse, which was expanded in 2004. Victory also expanded its Downingtown restaurant in 2007-2008.
"We're dealing with the middle part of the operation now," Covaleski said.
Covaleski and Barchet, childhood friends who met on a school bus in 1973, began the brewery in February of 1996. The brewing company now has 170 employees, many of whom are part-time restaurant workers.
Asked if he could see a time when Victory would open new restaurants, Covaleski said he and Barchet have always considered themselves brewers and not restaurateurs.
Now, however, "I think we're ready for new challenges," Covaleski said. "We have people who have been working in the restaurant for a while, and they've learned a lot."