Oh, Oh, Ommegang!

10 Jul

The city has been sizzling, and I, like many New Yorkers, took last week’s holiday as an opportunity to get out of town!  While one part of this getaway was an obligatory family wedding in my hometown of Rochester, NY, the rest revolved around seeking out great beer in my vast home state of New York.   While I’d love to devote my entire summer to visiting all the great breweries in our lovely state, I don’t have that kind of time or money…yet.  But I did manage to spend a few days in Central New York, staying in a cute little cabin on Otsego Lake right outside of Cooperstown, NY.

While Cooperstown is famous for its baseball hall of fame, a year-round destination for the diehard fans of the bats and the balls, it is also home to a handful of terrific craft breweries, the most well known being Ommegang.  Once a year (this year it’s on August 4th), the Brewery hosts a large festival with beer tasting, food, music, and camping, appropriately named “Belgium comes to Cooperstown.”  Being 2012, this year’s theme is Armageddon, or rather, “the end is beer.”  Unfortunately, the event is sold out (unless you want a Designated Driver ticket, but how fun would that be?).  The 136-acre brewery also hosts several concerts over the summer season, with Death Cab for Cutie, Wilco, and Lyle Lovett all coming up at the end of this month.   So what was visiting this American mecca of Belgian brews like?  Pretty great actually. 

The brewery is located 4 miles south of Cooperstown, and requires a drive down a quaint country road (We’re not in NYC anymore, kids).  Part of this area’s appeal is its rural charm, complete with tractor traffic and dairy farms.  Ommegang’s brew house was actually built on an old hop farm, and fits in well with the countryside’s idyllic setting. 

Tours are offered daily, every hour on weekdays from 11 am to 5 pm, and every half hour on the weekends.  Afterwards follows an optional tasting in a separate area devoted to this experience.  The tour is free; the tasting will cost you $3 a pop and includes a souvenir Ommegang tasting glass. 

The tour is brief (20 minutes or so) and offers guests a history of the brewery (started by a Cooperstown couple who were paying so much to import Belgian-style beers they figured why not brew it themselves) and a walk around the facilities.  Our guide was knowledgeable and informative, and answered our questions without hesitation, discussing their unique brewing process (like how the spices are added) and showed us both the open and closed fermentation tanks, as well as the bottling facility.  Every time I visit a brewery I always like to go on the tour, especially if it’s a brewing day.  Beer making in action is pretty sexy.

For those of you who have never tried Ommegang’s beer, it is readily available on tap in New York City in most good beer bars as well as sold in 755 ml bottles and 12 oz. six-packs in any stores that sell good beer.  The tour concluded in a tasting, where Ommegang’s six year-round brews were poured and discussed. 

First up was the Witte, Ommegang’s wheat beer, and is traditional of the Belgian style.  Witte is Flemish for white.  It is brewed with both coriander and orange peel, and our guide recommended using this beer to try out a few beer cocktails, like a shandy (add lemonade) or a beer-mosa (add orange juice).  If you like wheat beers, this is one to try.

The next beer we tasted was their BPA (Belgian Pale Ale), my personal favorite.  This is Ommegang’s Belgian response to an American IPA, and is dry-hopped with Cascade hops, whose citrus and floral notes are abundant in this beer.  Ommegang recently made this beer a year-round offering, due to its popularity.  I would recommend this to people who maybe aren’t the biggest fans of Belgian-style ales, since it is hoppier than most other offerings. 

Rare Vos was the third beer poured at the tasting, an award-winning Amber Ale.  The brewery calls this beer their most “quaffable,” and it is well balanced, pairing well with all types of food. 

Ommegang’s Saison, Hennepin, has a high ABV for this “farmhouse” style.  At 7.7%, the ginger notes shine through, and after their BPA, is probably my second favorite of their year-round beers.

Their Abbey Ale, a dubbel, was the first beer they brewed, and can only be called “abbey-style,” since it is not brewed by monks.  It is deep burgundy in color and tastes extremely flavorful and complex due to the plethora of spices used to brew this beer including licorice root, star anise, and cumin.

Last but not least is the first beer I ever tried by Ommegang years ago, their 3 Philosophers.  It is a Belgian-style quadruple, and at 9.8% ABV, it packs a punch–definitely a beer to sip slowly, and contemplate over.  So while you’re drinking 3 Philosophers and trying to solve the world’s problems, notice the cherry taste that comes from a unique brewing practice, where Liefmans kriek, an authentic cherry ale from Belgium, is added to this dark ale.   

The café attached to the tasting room and gift shop offers frites (with a selection of yummy aoilis for dipping), moules steamed with their beer, crepes (savory and sweet) and charcuterie and cheese plates, and as well as other Belgian fare.  They also have all Ommegang offerings on tap along with the imported Duvel family of beers.  The brewery’s most recent seasonal offering, the Bier D’Hougoumont, is a biere de garde (garden beer) which has been oak aged.  I’m a fan of Ommegang’s seasonals and specialty brews, and always look forward to trying them out.  Past favorites of mine have included “Aphrodite,” a fruit beer, Chocolate Indulgence, and “Cup O’ Kyndnes,” which was a Belgian-Scotch Ale. 

A visit to Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown makes a nice weekend trip for any New Yorker, but there are other breweries to check out nearby as well.  In my next post, I will share pictures and stories from my visit to “Cooperstown Brewing Company,” a much smaller but still noteworthy beer-maker.              



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