Over the holiday weekend I got the opportunity to head to Cooperstown, NY to visit Brewery Ommegang. During the summer months the brewery puts on live events on their considerable parcel of land outside the quiet town of Cooperstown. Their events for the summer this year include Old Crow Medicine Show, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, their annual big Belgian Beer festival, and The Black Crowes.
I had the good fortune to attend the Old Crow Medicine Show performance on Sunday night as part of a memorial day weekend celebration. Ommegang closes the brewery, opens up their back field with a huge stage, fantastic food tents, beer tents, and a place for those wishing to spend the night camping out nestled quaintly in a corner of the brewery property.
The show attendance was staggering as a seemingly endless sea of fans were there to enjoy the food, beer, and the bluegrass music all night long.
The logistics were a bit of a nightmare as gates opening at 5:00pm had a massive line to get in that was compounded with confusion as those camping there for the night had a different line with different prerequisites than day pass holders. Yet once IDs were checked, tickets confirmed, and entrance admitted we set up our viewing station complete with chairs, blanket, and fancy new beer holders and set about enjoying the ambiance.
The food selection was fantastic given the prices. They had an amazing beef brisket with seven different options for “sauces” to enhance the beef flavor. My personal favorite was the cumin ketchup. They also had a hopped mac-and-cheese that was especially delicious. What really shocked me, for a live event with a trapped audience, was that they were offering five different Ommegang beers, signature beers such as Rare Vos and Hennepin for five dollars. Given the context this price was impressively reasonable.
The show was a fantastic mix of bluegrass music with blazing banjos and fiddles on fire. The second act even featured the pedal steel which is a personal favorite. The show lasted well over three hours and the finale was followed by a firework display. It made for quite a night of beer and bluegrass.
In the morning we returned to the brewery to sample the beers and get a little information about this New York, Belgian inspired brewery.
I found the history of the brewery to be the most interesting part of the brewery tour. The brewery was founded by Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield after having visit Belgium. Having so loved their visit they decided that they needed to bring a part of Belgium to America. After some deliberation they decided to bring the Belgian beer Duvel to the states for Americans to enjoy.
After sustained success at importing beers they decided they wanted to brew their own beers inspired by those they drank in Belgium. In 1997 they asked Duvel to invest 40% into their startup capital and began the Brewery Ommegang. The brewery found high success and their growth over the next decade was impressive. By 2003, the brewery had grown beyond the demand that Don and Wendy had wanted to manage and so they sold their remaining shares to Duvel.
The partnership has been mutual beneficial as Duvel has a better foothold into American markets, as well as another brand that helps introduce American drinkers to Belgian styles. Ommegang has in turned received various Duvel overflow gifts such as a newer centrifugal filtration system, bottling line, and monetary gifts to build their restaurant/brew house, and gift shops.
While there we got to taste most of the signature beers that Ommegang had to offer. I had grabbed a sample pack of theirs about a year ago and knew that I highly enjoyed the Rare Vos. While I am not the biggest fan of the Belgian style I do like most of what Ommegang’s beer offer. Their Witte Ale might be my highest rated wheat beer to date. Which is doubly impressive as they do not cut the wheat flavor (that I generally disdain) with a fruit flavor like raspberry, blueberry, or orange.
Outside their typical beers which are readily available in most US states I got to try their Maredsous 10° Tripel which was another fantastically solid Belgian beer. The Maredsous line (they have a couple) are all beer recipes originating and bought from the Maredsous Abbey in Belgium. This beer is brewed by Ommegang using the same recipe as the abbey itself making it about as authentic as a Belgian abbey ale can get.
I was fortunate enough to grab their one-time run of Art of Darkness as well as a bottle of their seasonable Chocolate Indulgence. Which Mike and I will share during a future samplesode recording.
For a full report on all the beers tasted and what I thought of each wait for the next exciting episode of the podcast which is due out next week.
If you are a fan of Belgian style beers and anywhere near Cooperstown, NY then you should absolutely stop in to this brewery. It is located in a beautiful part of the state of New York surrounded by amazing vistas, scenic roads, and a perfect little slice of Americana. Right down to the home of America’s past-time, baseball.