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.


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.