It would be a massive understatement to say that the beer menu has changed quite a bit since 1996.
That’s the year Downingtown, Pennsylvania–based Victory Brewing Company first opened its doors, at the tail end of craft brewing’s initial boom. The average consumer wasn’t talking about styles—a relatively tiny subculture had even heard of an IPA—much less how well those styles fared at the dinner table. Twenty years and a beer-and-food revolution later, Victory is celebrating its two-decade milestone with the launch of its Blackboard Series, designed to partner especially well with chefs’ creations at the brewery’s three Pennsylvania brewpubs.
“All of us in the restaurant and beer industries have been given the opportunity to innovate over the past 20 years,” says Bill Covaleski, co-founder and brewmaster of Victory. “Consumers have been asked to broaden their horizons and have done so enthusiastically, in terms of preparation and ingredients.”
The new series’ name is a nod to the spirit of experimentation, and references the seven to 12 special dishes that show up on the pubs’ blackboards for a day or two and that emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients.
“We found that putting this number of blackboard menu additions has really been great for our regular customers who visit our pubs multiple times a week,” reveals Matt Krueger, Victory’s vice president of retail operations. “[The brewers] took that and they wanted to use ingredients in these Blackboard Series beers that would be fantastic foils to pair with from a culinary standpoint. So the brewery is sort of stealing the concept of blackboard menu additions and applying that to their liquids.”
The seasonal series kicked off at the beginning of 2016 with Agave IPA, brewed with the nectar of the agave plant and grapefruit. During its January to March availability window, the kitchens whipped up multiple gastronomic companions for the brew—like seared scallops over a grapefruit chili reduction and topped with a citrus slaw. “There’s a brightness that comes up with the sort of neutral palate of the scallop, and you’ve got this really bold and mouth-puckering grapefruit,” Krueger says. “And it’s tempered with a bit of savory-ness with the chili.”
Krueger also suggests matching Agave IPA with dishes like Thai-style curry, whose fresh ginger and lemongrass elements stand up well against the sweetness of the agave and the acidity of the grapefruit.
Victory’s April to June offering is Dry-Hopped Brett Pils, a classic pilsner with a couple of flavor-forward twists that are trumpeted right in its name: dry hopping, the addition of hops post-fermentation for aromatic enhancement, and brettanomyces, a wild yeast popularized in funky Belgian brews like lambics, Flanders brown ales, and other sours. Earthy and barnyard are terms that frequently come to mind with brett beers. Such strong aromas and flavors require equally bold culinary matches, both complementary and contrasting. The Victory chefs lean toward rich, umami-intensive dishes.