Beer: Storm King Brewery: Victory Brewing Co. Style: Russian Imperial Stout ABV: 9.1 percent
As I sip this week's beer, I'm reminded of an old saying about "snatching victory from the jaws of defeat." Not for a reason that has to do with come-from-behind wins or anything -- it's just that now, in Arizona, we'll be able to snatch Victory from the jaws of whomever we want.
Yes, beginning early February, Victory Brewing Co. will be available in our state. The brewery and its beers both hail from Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and come with an impressive pedigree built upon the comprehensive brewing backgrounds of founders Ron Bartchet and Bill Covaleski. After Bartchet met Covaleski -- a while after, since the two met on a bus ride to school in the fifth grade -- he apprenticed at Baltimore Brewing Company, studied brewing at the Technical University of Munich at Weihenstephan and logged time at Old Dominion Brewing Co. in Virginia. Covaleski took over his buddy's role at Baltimore after he went abroad, brewing up several beers that won awards at the Great American Beer Festival before he traveled to Munich to attend Doemens Institute. Once back in PA and properly trained, the pair combined their German-given brewing powers, converted an old Pepperidge Farm factory and opened Victory Brewing Co. in February 1996. In its first year, the brewery produced 1,725 barrels of beer; in 2012, it sold 93,196 barrels, making it the 26th-largest craft brewery in the country by sales volume, according to the Brewers Association.
It's that massive growth that's allowed the brewery to expand its distribution footprint into our state as well as into new territories like Idaho, Kentucky, the U.K., Sweden, and the Cayman Islands. But it's Victory's approach -- melding European traditions and technology with American creativity -- that's propelled the growth. Victory is also one of the few breweries in the country that uses whole-cone hops exclusively -- which some brewers feel gives beers a fresher, less harsh hop flavor.
Phoenix will get the brewery's six year-round selections to start:
- HopDevil, a 6.7 percent ABV IPA brewed with American hops and German malts
- Prima Pils, one of the top-rated German-style pilsners in all the land, combining zesty, lemony hops with 5.3 percent ABV and a snappy finish;
- Golden Monkey, a fruity Belgian tripel that's far too easy to drink for its 9.5 percent alcohol content;
- Headwaters, a crisp, 5.1 percent ABV pale ale;
- Dirtwolf, a new-to-the-portfolio imperial IPA boasting 8.7 percent ABV brewed with whole flower Chinook, Citra, Mosaic and Simcoe hops;
- and Storm King, which we'll get into now.
A mammoth Russian imperial stout, Storm King has a mountainous look. The beer flows from the bottle a deep mocha brown that coalesces in the glass to inky blackness. A massive, craggy head the color of cocoa powder rises from the depths and placates itself atop the liquid for several minutes before falling to a tacky half-finger crown. Lace grips the edges in soapy explosions.
The aroma is painted in hues of chocolate -- bitter dark bars and cocoa nibs mix with toasted sourdough, raisins and earthy hops. A bit of coffee emerges as it warms, melding with the cocoa flavors to create a bouquet akin to a mocha latte.
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The flavor is duly roasty. Charred, even. It's acrid, like burnt toast. A tiny bit of dark chocolate sneaks in as the beer closes in on room temperature. No hint of sweetness here; it's been torched away by the kiln. The body won't really hit its true form until you're about three-quarters of the way through the glass. But when it does, it's lovely: The carbonation is subtle, the beer is medium-bodied, and it feels nice and creamy on the palate. A bit of warming alcohol travels down the throat like mild heartburn. Sweet this brew is not, but if you like your stouts big, roasted, and dry, this one's for you.
The rollout of Victory's beers -- the Victory March, if you will -- will begin with a series of launch events that'll be held February 5 at locations throughout the state (locations have not yet been announced). The aforementioned six beers will be flowing for sure. It's likely we'll also see V-Twelve, Victory's impressive Belgian-style quadrupel, during the upcoming Arizona Strong Beer Festival. Until then, chew some gum and keep up your jaw strength so no one can snatch your Victory.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone. He works at World of Beer in Tempe.