Local bar owners react to distribution changes at Victory Brewing Co.
The beer list at Monk's offers this explanation: "We no longer carry products from the Victory Brewing conglomerate due to their business practices."
Downingtown's Victory Brewing Co. recently switched from the family-owned Edward I. Friedland Co. to Penn Distributors Inc., a much larger distributor. While switching distributors may seem inconsequential--after all, it's still the same beer--the change has angered some local brewers and beer sellers who see Friedland as a friend of the little guy and Penn as the evil empire. Keeping small breweries alive, they say, should likewise require keeping small distributors in business.
Victory announced its decision at a meeting in February. According to Edward Friedland, Victory's message was essentially, "Everything's great, but we're gonna dump you."
"I was very disappointed," he says. "I didn't sleep for weeks."
Friedland, whose grandfather started the business, spent months looking for a way to stop the brewery from forcing him to sell his distribution rights. His fight officially ended June 7.
Under Friedland's care, Victory's local wholesale sales rose by 20 to 30 percent each year. But the company thought it was missing some key local markets.
In addition, Victory co-founder William Covaleski claims Friedland intends to go the way of other small wholesalers and sell his business to a larger conglomerate.
Friedland denies he's trying to sell his business. In fact, he says, he's looking for a larger facility to replace his Hunting Park distribution center.
Still, says Covaleski, "We didn't know where we'd end up if he was gone." For the sake of Covaleski's family and 52 employees, he says, he decided to go with a "more capable" company with "longer legs."
Covaleski's explanation does little to mollify critics who think small brewers should adhere to a different code of ethics.
Peters is angriest at Victory for snubbing Friedland. "He's the reason we're all here," Peters says. "Eddie did the groundwork for all of us."
So far Peters and Carey seem to be the only local bar owners cutting Victory altogether, though others are still steamed.
"We're not going to support [Victory] as much as we were going to," says Jon Myerow, who recently opened Tria at 18th and Sansom streets. Tria will sell bottles of Victory, but won't put the beer on tap.
Members of the region's craft-brewing community worry that Victory's decision will darken the outlook for other small beer makers.
Wholesale distributors buy from breweries and sell the suds in kegs and cases to bars, restaurants and retail distributors. Small firms are often the first and only purveyors of unusual or unknown beers.
"If it wasn't for small distributors, these brands would never hit the market," Friedland says.
Small distributors depend on bars with choosy clientele who are willing to pay for good beer. Most bars try to triple their money. A keg of Bud that costs $50 turns into at least $150. A $160 keg of Chimay delivers more than $400.
In the 1980s, Friedland says, Philadelphia had more than a dozen small wholesale distributors. Now only a few are left.
In response to fears that Victory will soon encroach on other local breweries, Covaleski says he's just responding to demand. The company is spending $4.5 million to expand its brewery and plans to begin selling in several more states.