Cooperstown Chronicles: Brewery Ommegang

If you read my article on James E. Pepper Rye you’ll know that I recently visited Cooperstown, NY to visit my girlfriend at grad school.  We like to go to breweries, because my girlfriend is awesome and likes to drink good beer and eat delicious food with me.  Maybe she’s just humoring me.  Anyways, just outside Cooperstown happens to be Brewery Ommegang—perhaps you’ve seen their beer, it’s omnipresent in bottle shops and even grocery stores in something like 43 states.  If you’ve ever experimented with craft beer it probably began with a bomber of Hennepin or Three Philosophers and led to borderline alcoholism, a beer gut, and the inability to enjoy anything that comes in a red, white and blue can (expect Dale’s Pale Ale).  I’d had several Ommegang offerings in the past and found them very enjoyable, so I was looking forward to this trip.  I’m not going to go too deep into what I drank, what it tasted like and all that jazz—go buy some and try for yourself you budding beer genius.  What this article is all about is the lowdown on what a visit to Ommegang is like.

After a drive through the winding roads of the New York countryside you arrive at Ommegang, driving through an archway declaring the dates of the first Ommegang festival in Belgium, and the opening of Brewery Ommegang.  The parking lot was filled with the interstate license plates of beer pilgrims, and on approaching the pub and shop you see Ommegang’s experimental hop vines growing on the rolling hillsides of their beautiful grounds(apparently the area used to be the American hop hub in the 1800’s before a blight settled in that remains to this day.)  The shop was a buzz of activity as we signed up for the $3 tasting and the free tour, and settled into shopping while we awaited our tasting time.  There was a lot of cool stuff in the shop, from the standard: shirts, limited release beers, and a fantastic glassware selection, to the more creative: beer based cheeses, spreads, and mustards.  I bought a glass, because I love glassware.  The tasting session was great, something like 6 beers were served to us in our little complimentary glasses and there was a spread of pretzels and the aforementioned spreadables for us to snack on as the knowledgeable staff gave us all the stats on the beers we were drinking.  It was a good time, with just the right amount of information to satisfy the geeks and a solid background for the less initiated.  I do have one gripe though: the beer.  The Ommegang that you buy in your bottle shop has been sitting around in a bottle with yeast, what we call bottle conditioning, and that means it’s sitting there getting smoother, more complex, and more delicious.  In the tasting, or at a bar, Ommegang is often in a keg, force carbonated.  I’m not just being a snob here; it was a very noticeable difference, so I recommend seeking Ommegang out in bottles.  Anyways, the tour of the brewery was pretty standard, with some interesting facts about how their relationship with Belgian brewery Duvel blossomed from an initial 40% investment to a friendly full ownership.  By the end of the tour I was quite hungry and of course thirsty, so we proceeded to the eatery.

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Between the two glasses I got there I can hold one 12 oz beer!

The café is a rather unique experience for an American restaurant, with large communal tables that encourage meeting your fellow beer pilgrims as you slowly (or quickly based on Ommegang ABVs) lose any reservations you may have about having dinner with strangers.  The beer menu, as expected, is full of Ommegang’s best: on tap, in the bottle, standards and ultra-special editions all included.  M’lady boldly ordered their excellent “Wild at Heart” ale that happens to be one of those rare offerings.  I had a beer on tap, probably wisely because her bottle cost $25 due to its special status.  The food was also great, as you’d expect from a brewery that has a beer and food pairing section on their website.  They even have Belgian waffles, which I barely resisted ordering for dinner.  Anyways, the café was a great end to a great time at Brewery Ommegang.   The place was basically designed to serve the beer pilgrim, and from what I understand they host tons of great events and concerts to keep the people happy, if the beer isn’t enough for you.  So if you’re one of those people going to Cooperstown for the baseball stuff or the scenery, go to Ommegang, get a good meal and a nice beer. Then stock up on glassware and beer cheeses.

Brewpub Chronicles: Triumph Brewing

Triumph Brewing is a brewpub of the traditional style, in house brewing for in house consumption—beer to enjoy with classic grub.  I’ve been to two of the three locations of this establishment, in Princeton, NJ and New Hope, PA.  Today we’ll focus on Princeton, because that visit occurred more recently.  The visit came as the conclusion to a busy day in Princeton with my wonderful lady companion. This included a brief sojourn to Washington’s Crossing to contemplate a winter night in 1776, an exploration of the gothic grounds of Princeton University, a fruitful record store raid, and a visit to a bookshop.  All these explorations therefore worked up a thirst in us, so off to our cause, Triumph. We are not alone in seeking Triumph; my girlfriend has also arranged to meet several coworkers for a brief goodbye of sorts before she finishes her working season.  Of course you’re reading this because you want to hear about beer, not puns of the places name, so let me slake that thirst.  We started out with a sampler, always a nice way to meet a new brewery, and found a rather standard selection of styles—a nut brown, a pale ale, an Irish dry stout, a pils and an IPA come to mind.  All pretty standard fare.  No outlandish ingredients, no sour beers or beers aged in massive barrels made out of used furniture and heated with rocks*.  Now the beer geek in me wants these crazy things, and while all these beers are balanced and okay examples of their style, nothing is whacking my palate with hops or some unusual flavor or mouth feel that excites me.  Then, our waiter kindly delivers our cheese fries (an off menu order that perfectly hit the spot).  Here’s where it dawns on me—this is eating beer.  All these are very reasonable beers that are made, not to stock a beer bar, but to stock a restaurant. They’re there to compliment the food—they want you to say, “this burger is incredible,” not “this Frappuccino Schwarz bier is insane!”  Also, please don’t make a Frappuccino Schwarz bier, please. Now, my memory and a friend who shall not be named as a manager at the aforementioned establishment have told me that the New Hope location has better beers.  I seem to remember some bigger beers, dessert-like Belgians and barrel-agers, and perhaps that’s more intriguing, more in tune with your idea of a “brewpub.” But the Triumph in Princeton is a good restaurant, with good service, that happens to make and serve a bunch of solid beers at a good price.  And I like that.  All in all, I had a great time at Triumph.  The employees went out of their way to help us when the place was packed, I had great company, I got a pleasant buzz (their IPA was my favorite, by the way,) the bill was reasonable, and I didn’t have to pay it.  There’s a good ending for a great day.

 

 

 

*Though I’m not sure anyone makes barrels out of used furniture, there are beers made using super-hot rocks, such as the traditional German steinbier or that beer I had that one time at Equinox brewing last summer.