High quality Abbey Ales were not always readily available in the United States. However, sixteen years ago one local brewery started working with this beer style. Brewery Ommegang, in Cooperstown, NY has become a go to destination for Belgian beer fans from across the country, and around the world.
Driving into the Brewery Ommegang complex, I realized that this was not going to be a typical brewery experience. The main parking lot was full and we had to use the overflow parking. Walking over to the main building, the air smelled heavily of the yeast used in the beer production. The visitor’s center was packed with people and we were told there would be an hour wait for the next tasting and tour. Obviously, after having driven so far, we were not going to say no! While waiting, we perused the gift shop, filled with both Ommegang’s own beer, as well as beer from their parent company Duvel. There are also a variety of shirts, mugs, and more to purchase.
Ommegang has a large café where visitors can purchase food during their visit. Unfortunately the wait to get in and eat was just as long as the wait for the brewery tour so we had to pass on trying it out. It looks like they have a nice variety of food with some Belgian specialties thrown in as well. The cost for a tasting is $3.00; the tour itself is optional and free. While doing your tasting, other products such as the Abbey Ale Horseradish mustard and various cheese spreads are also available to try. It was all very delicious but the large crowds at the tasting caused much jostling of elbows. Here are the beers that we were able to sample while visiting.
- 5.2% ABV
- Wheat Ale
- Hazy, 25% Unfiltered.
- Dry, sweet orange peel and coriander notes.
- 2nd most carbonated beer they produce.
- Light, crisp, and flavorful.
- 6.2% ABV
- Belgian Style Pale Ale
- Most hop forward; created for the American market.
- Pelletized Cascade hops.
- Hoppy, but I like it.
- 6.5% ABV
- Amber Ale
- Means “Sly Fox” in Flemish.
- Contains coriander, orange peel, and grains of paradise.
- 2012 Gold Medal for Amber Ale at the World Beer Cup.
- A bit spicy, good flavor profile, and a nice finish.
- 7.7% ABV
- Farmhouse Saison
- Most heavily carbonated beer they produce.
- Most popular at Ommegang, perhaps because people get drunk off it fastest?
- A bit of a sour barnyard funk, but not too bad in that regard.
- Same spices as Rare Vos but also includes some ground ginger.
- 8.2% ABV
- Trappist Style Dubbel
- Their flagship beer, and also the most heavily spiced.
- Contains star anise, cumin seed, dry licorice root, orange peel, and coriander.
- Rich, complex, and flavorful; good for chili and crock-pot cooking.
- 9.7% ABV
- Trappist Style Quadrupel
- Flavored with Liefman’s Cuvee-Brut beer to borrow the cherry notes.
- A big, complex beer with lots going on.
After our tasting, we went on the tour. Ommegang actually schedules tours every thirty minutes but make sure to get there early unless you don’t mind waiting around. The tours book very quickly! While on the tour I learned that they are on a 50 barrel system which runs twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week! Given the popularity of their beer this really comes as no surprise. The spent grain from the operation is given to local farmers to feed their cows.
Ommegang also has an open fermenter. When I asked if they are concerned with wild yeast and bacteria getting in as opposed to their preferred strains, I was told that the room does have some safeguards for people going in and out. I also assume they have enough of their preferred strain in the wort to keep other wild strains from becoming predominant. It only takes Ommegang five days to ferment the beer at the site. The beer is then bottle conditioned to allow some carbonation in a secondary fermentation process.
Water comes from the wells located on the property. Ommegang uses over 2 million gallons of water a year! Originally the site was a farm that produced locally grown hops. Some locals purchased the property and created Brewery Ommegang back in 1997. Then, in 2003 it was bought by Duvel and became their import and distribution hub here in the United States.
While on the tour you get to observe the entire beer making process as well as Ommegang’s extensive bottling line. For me, that was the most interesting part of the tour as I don’t normally get to see the bottling systems up and running at full capacity. 60 – 70% of their yearly sales are from bottles.
For every beer fan, Brewery Ommegang is a must visit destination. They produce some very high quality beers and are proud of what they have accomplished in the area. For more Belgian beer goodness, I highly recommend going to their yearly festival – Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, and partake of over 200 Belgian and Belgian-style beers.
Do you know what the National Dish of Belgium is? Moules Frites, aka Mussels with Fries, may be found in Belgian bars and restaurants around the country. Be sure to try some at Brewery Ommegang where they steam the mussels in beer first! Oddly enough, this is a dish I still have yet to try but hope to rectify that situation in the near future.
656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown, NY 13326
Visited July 15, 2013
Blog post written by Thomas Andersen.