Everyone’s busy for Craft Beer Week, and not just in the U.S. of A. Take Victory Brewing Co. co-founder Bill Covaleski, for example. He’s catching a flight to Australia to enjoy Melbourne’s Good Beer Week, as well as a side excursion to New Zealand’s hops-growing region. Jealous? Yeah. We hear ya.
The Beer Week trip comes at the invitation of Experienceit Beverages, the Aussie importer that also handles American brands Clown Shoes, Jester King Brewery, Sixpoint Brewery and Southern Tier Brewing Co., to name-check a few. Held annually since 2011, Beer Week (May 16-24 this year) is a nine-day appreciation of beer, with hundreds of events across Victoria and Melbourne, Oz’s beer epicenter.
Experienceit landed Victory’s business in Australia after a previous importer left the Pennsylvania brewery — based not quite an hour west of Philadelphia — with reason to give pause about being in the market, where it sells HopDevil, Golden Monkey, Storm King Stout and Prima Pils.
Covaleski’s travel plans include time with Nomad Brewing in Sydney and talk of doing an Aussie take on Victory’s Prima Pils. Nomad, a brand in Experienceit’s portfolio, has collaborated with Stone Brewing Co., Sixpoint and Cigar City Brewing. Rounding out the itinerary: New Zealand, in the Nelson hops-growing area atop South Island, plus a collaboration with Wellington brewer Kelly Ryan.
“He brews at a place called Fork & Brewer,” Covaleski said. “We have decided that we are going to do an all-New Zealand version of HopDevil. He wants to call it ForkDevil, and we’re working out the details of the recipe. It would be designed to be the same color and character of HopDevil, only with New Zealand-based ingredients.”
Covaleski’s busy enough at home with Victory, adding: Arkansas as a 36th state market and operations at the company’s original Downingtown site; a newly minted gigantic production facility in nearby Parkesburg; and the just-opened Victory at Magnolia brewpub in Kennett Square. Fitting in a trip overseas for Covaleski means beforehand putting the calendar, clock and smartphone in charge and hewing to schedule, to help ensure business at home runs smoothly while away.
In an interview just days before departing, Covaleski credited Experienceit while explaining the trip, and noted the important opportunities it offers.
“As far away from home as it is, as expensive as it is to get there, I think it’s good time invested in the importer because they are showing signs of being sharp at what they do, and it’s hard to address the needs of the marketplace unless you have some understanding of how the marketplace thinks and acts,” he said.
Experienceit was pleasantly surprised that Covaleski, who’s among six international brewers or brewery reps the importer is hosting, booked the trip rather than send a brewery representative, as Experienceit had anticipated. (Jester King and Deschutes Brewery are two other American brands that are sending people.)
“For us, this is great for a number of reasons. It shows the market how serious Victory is about supporting it; it allows us to build some big, high-profile events around the personality that is Bill, and for beer geeks and craft beer fans alike, it’s not often you get to rub elbows with a brewer with such a pedigree,” Latta said.
For Covaleski, business and pleasure will be traveling partners: He likes spreading beer culture — champions it. That sentiment is tied to a deep understanding of how American brewers have become pacesetters.
Their backstory is pretty much a tale of looking beyond home borders, discovering, enjoying and re-creating beers from other lands before rewriting those beers with originality. Now, some of those sources of inspiration, the former teachers, so to speak, are the students; their brewers are inspired by their American counterparts, and their drinking public is showing a taste for American beers.
The eastern Pennsylvania brewery that Covaleski and childhood friend Ron Barchet started not quite 20 years ago and together grew into a top-30 craft brewery, continues to write a version of that narrative.
“I’m a very big proponent of the globalization of craft beer, bringing craft beer abroad,” Covaleski said. “I know that I was inspired in my early days by European brewing, maybe to some extent even Australian brews. Not to pay homage to them, but to show them proudly what we’ve done with that inspiration, and then to bring it back to potentially inspire their culture to take the next step forward. I think that’s exciting.
“If we traveled to Europe 25 years ago today, we’d be blown away by the diversity of beer, all these labels: Stella, Budweiser/Budvar, McEwan’s … they were big, dominant names, and they’re still big, dominant names,” he said. “We’ve grown here; they haven’t so much. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does show you the vitality of America at this point in time.”