Bill Covaleski on HopDevil
Bill Covaleski on HopDevil
The very first brew that Ron and I executed on our brand new 25 barrel Century Manufacturing brewhouse in December 1995 made full use of the hopback component. We stuffed it full of whole flower hops in order to birth our very first HopDevil IPA.
I submit that HopDevil is Victory Brewing’s flagship beer, even though Golden Monkey surpassed it in annual sales in 2014, because it established our identity as an emerging brewery. The vision and recipe for HopDevil was a collaborative effort for Ron and me, and as we were relying on our taproom to introduce our beers to a local audience, we understood that we had a narrow window of opportunity to hit with our initial portfolio of offerings.
We knew we needed to deliver real flavor that was worth the premium cost. But going too bold could disrupt their sense of comfort and familiarity, something we wanted them to soak in while enjoying our taproom experience with friends, family, and neighbors. So our initial lineup consisted of only three beers, with the focus being on the potential impression each might make.
Leveraging our German training, we delivered a beautiful Dortmunder in Brandywine Valley Lager, the one that other area brewers drank in volumes, remarking upon its cleanliness and purity. Victory Festbier – still in our regular lineup today – was a faithful rendering of Märzen in its malty heyday of the 1980s, which given Yuengling Lager’s domination of the limited draft lines in southeast Pennsylvania at that time, seemed like a wise business move, not to mention a heartfelt homage to a style we love.
But we built our brewhouse for whole flower hop usage because the HopDevil burned in our brains as our hope for the future of ‘microbrewing’ – as our craft was called at the time. It was our wild bet on both ourselves and the hardcore craft beer lovers we knew existed thanks to the successful annual return of Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale. Of note to us was that when we poured tank samples of the three beers to our hospitality staff during their training in January of 1996, most enjoyed HopDevil more than they did the other two.
Maybe we were on to something?
Another reason I consider HopDevil our flagship relates to a comment I made earlier, about it representing our ‘identity.’ In forming the Victory Brewing Company, Ron and I saw our market opportunity in delivering European caliber and inspired beer to a regional audience in a fresher form than an import could manage, while at the same time expanding the flavor envelope for our daring customers.
As such, we built our vision and limited portfolio on ingredients: German malts and whole flower hops we knew were going to make all the difference.
HopDevil, based on the early British India Pale Ales and built from German malts and American whole flower hops, was truly a New World hybrid, bearing homage to the Old World but original in its composition.
Thus it embodied the very essence of what we wanted Victory to be, firmly traditional and daringly creative, all in a single glass.
Finally, HopDevil deserves the flagship mantle because it was our first offering that generated substantial press, from being selected Malt Advocate magazine’s ‘Domestic Beer Of The Year’ in 1997 to Michael Jackson’s literary appreciation of the charms of the ‘Devil. It lit up internet chat groups and sent distant consumers clamoring to strike trades for coveted bottles.
Today it remains, for me, a beautiful window into a past of which I have so many fond memories. It stands proudly on its delicious merits, a piney nose accelerating into a powerful grapefruit punch that careens forcefully into a caramel and cherry pillow of soulful satisfaction.
My favorite HopDevil story occurred when Ron and I were visited by our Belgian friend Marc, who as an accomplished brewmaster, had both experience and a palate we valued. After starting with a lager, likely Brandywine Valley Lager, we finally presented Marc with his first glass of HopDevil. He inhaled deeply from the top of the glass, raised an eyebrow at us, sipped, savored and swallowed, only to then exclaim “Great beer. Wrong hop.” In further conversation what we discerned was that although Marc could fully appreciate the careful construction of the HopDevil recipe and its resulting flavors, the assaultive impact oozing from the fresh oils released by the Cascade and Centennial hops were beyond what a ‘right’ beer should, for him, exhibit.
Ha, we had arrived at ‘extreme beer’ before it was even trending!
Flagship beers were chosen by the individual writers with no input from the #FlagshipFebruary partners or sponsor breweries.