Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, NY
A few weeks ago, my dad turned the big 7-0 and like the golden child I am (yeah, right…) I organized a giant surprise family getaway weekend to Cooperstown, New York. Why Cooperstown? The man had religiously watched 70 complete, start-to-finish MLB seasons and had never visited the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite living within driving distance for the last 15 years. Unbelievable! Really, a travesty. Thus, the idea for a big birthday blowout celebrating both the end of summer and the boys of summer seemed appropriate. My brother joined in and set up a fishing trip on Lake Ostego, my mom rented a couple of lakeside cabins for the whole brood and we were off, heading five hours North on dusty back roads to the town that once produced the bulk of our nations hops: Cooperstown, New York.
As always, my beer geekdom trumps most everything and I knew I just had to incorporate a stop at Brewery Ommegang into the birthday weekend. “He’ll love it!” I assured my mom, conveniently leaving out the fact that Brewery Ommegang is famous for their delicious line of rich Belgian-style ales (Dad’s a tried-and-true lager lover from years back, occasionally branching out to a pale ale on a special occasion with much coaxing, but definitely not a witte guy). “Who doesn’t love a brewery tour??”
The answer? No one! I called up to the brewery to inquire about getting a private tour and hooking my dad up with a cake at the café for a pre-tour lunch and they were more than accommodating. At lunch, my niece and nephew scarfed down the pomme frites as the adults daringly ventured outside their beer comfort zones, sipping on the new Game of Thrones inspired Take the Black Stout (my sister-in-law embraced her nerdiness and took home a whole case) and enjoying the spicy Hennepin Saison and smooth, malty Rare VOS Amber I recommended.
After lunch, we gathered in the tasting room, a beautiful little nook abutting the café. Brewery Ommegang is more of a campus than your standard brewery – no back lot, industrial park, 30 barrel outfit, this operations has grounds. The surrounding rolling hills are dotted with hop vines grown by nearby Cornell University in an effort to combat the region’s debilitating blight. The café itself is a veritable estate, with a busy retail shop, a tasting room and a large restaurant with giant, communal tables. As soon as you walk through the heavy wooden doors, you’ll immediately know why HBO contacted Ommegang to propose their Game of Thrones partnership – it just makes sense. The place was packed but we managed to pony up to the bar and grab our adorable little tasting glasses, reading them for the six pours to come: Witte, a creamy and lemony Belgian white ale; BPA, an excellent 6.2% ABV Cascade-hopped take on a pale ale with a Belgian twist; Rare VOS, a rich amber with a hoppy bite and dry finish; Hennepin, a deceptively strong and deliciously bubbly Saison; Abbey Ale, a Trappist Dubbel flavored with dark cherries which blew my dad’s red wine-loving mind; and the aforementioned Take the Black Stout, a creamy Belgian-style stout brewed with four different dark malts, star anise and dried licorice root. Needless to say, we were well satiated and ready for a nap at that point.
After the tasting, we stumbled outside to meet Sarah for our private brewery tour. The two-building brewhouse is a big barn-like structure lined with giant metal silos. Sarah led us around and filled our wobbly minds with knowledge, filling us in on Ommegang’s brewing processes and vision. Ommegang was founded in 1997 by Cooperstown locals Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, famed owners of Vanberg & DeWulf import company. As a startup company, Don and Wendy took on family-owned Belgian brewery Duvel as investors, allotting them 40% of the company. Later, as demand outdid supply, Duvel offered to purchase the struggling brewery in full, buying out the remaining 60% ten years ago and gifting Ommegang the state of the art brewhouse and café my family full enjoyed that very afternoon. Duvel continues to parent the company and their reach is impressive – Brewery Ommegang is available in 46 US states, Canada, Mexico and US Virgin Islands. While their emphasis is on traditional Belgian styles, Ommegang’s brewhouse features a small pilot system and a team of chemists excited about developing new brews and improving the old – innovation, of course, is the cornerstone of craft beer.
The coolest thing I learned that day? All of their beers are bottle conditioned. Whether you’re enjoying your Hennepin in Hawaii or Cancun, that sucker’s carbonation is 100% au natural. That’s some serious quality control.
We left the brewery full, happy and just a tiny bit more knowledgeable about Belgian beers. I can’t wait to introduce my dad to more rich strong ales that mirror his beloved Cabs and my sister-in-law continues to geek out about her GoT purchase. We made it back to the cabin safely, thanks to my amazing designated driver girlfriend, and were present and accounted for at the Hall of Fame the next morning. Birthday mission, consider yourself accomplished.