By Natalie Pompilio
Published Jan 1, 2013 8:00 AM
Ron Barchet '85 knows the farmers who grow his hops. He's visited the lands where his barley is cultivated. When he crafts beers at Pennsylvania's Victory Brewing Company, he's focused on the science as well as the art of brewing.
"I've learned how seriously an agricultural product beer is," explains Barchet. "It makes me focus a lot on the actual raw ingredients."
Barchet is co-founder and co-brewmaster at Victory, a brewery located about an hour outside Philadelphia in Downingtown, Pa. He and partner Bill Covaleski opened the business in an old baking factory in early 1996. It had a 144-seat restaurant and put out 1,725 barrels—3,450 kegs—of beer that first year. Distribution was limited to Pennsylvania.
Fast-forward to 2012, and the restaurant's been renovated and expanded to 300 seats, a much larger brewery is under construction and Victory expects to produce 100,000 barrels of beer. Its varieties are available in 29 states and overseas everywhere from Sweden to Singapore.
This year, the Brewers Association ranked Victory among its top 50 breweries, and Barchet's beers have won numerous awards.
When Barchet graduated, he thought his future was in the Foreign Service. He moved to Washington, D.C., and spent four years working in the defense industry. Meanwhile, at home, he was perfecting his home brews. Beer-making, he decided, was the more satisfying career option.
But it wasn't that easy. First came a yearlong internship at Baltimore Brewing Company before he was accepted to Germany's Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan, which boasts a brewery that's been in operation since the 11th century. Returning to the U.S., Barchet went to work as a brewer at Virginia's Old Dominion Brewing. Within four years, he was the brewmaster. Then he and Covaleski decided to make a go of it with Victory.
"We didn't know if we were on the tail end of something on the beer scene or the beginning of something revolutionary," Barchet recalls. Turned out to be the latter.