Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Tale of Two Breweries: Part 1

So, I'm sure most will agree that I'm a pretty lucky guy. The fact that my new lady has never been to Cooperstown came up in a conversation a week or so ago, and when the discussion quickly evolved to the idea of heading down there for our upcoming long weekend, it was almost too good to be true. The icing on the cake was that, in addition to the obvious destination, also on our agenda was a trip to the Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown's fine brewer of Belgian-style ales.

We made a reservation at a nice little B&B in the heart of town called the Landmark Inn. We arrived Saturday afternoon and stayed until Monday, visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame for a few hours each day that we were there. In between Hall of Fame visits, we fit in a Sunday afternoon of brewery tours.

Our first stop, of course, was at Ommegang, rurally located just six miles south of the heart of Cooperstown. A brief and informative tour of the small brewery was followed by a tasting of six of their uniquely Belgian-style brews. The tour and the tastings, which included samplings of cheese, pretzels, horseradish-spiced pickles and Belgian chocolates, were free of charge, although I'm certain the brewery made a killing on money spent in the gift shop by the majority of the day's visitors. I know we spent about $70 on five 750-ml bottles of ale, an Ommegang t-shirt, and some tasty snacks, including the aforementioned pickles and a scrumptious horseradish cheddar spread.

Our tour guide was excellent, informing us of the history of the brewery and of what makes an ale distinctively Belgian, in addition to the brewing process itself. He also gave me a free pack of Ommegang coasters as a reward for correctly answering his question about the difference between ale and lager yeasts. The ales we tasted, and my ratings for each, are as follows:

Ommegang Witte Ale: It's probably a little unfair to evaluate this beer at this time of year, but I just didn't feel that it offered the tasty, creamy elegance of my favorite in this style—Portland, Maine's very own Allagash White. Grade: B-

Rare Vos Amber Ale: I've been lucky enough to find this tasty brew, winner of a Bronze medal in the French- and Belgian-Style Ale category at the 2008 Great American Beer Fest, on draft in Cooperstown on more than one occasion. Grade: A-

Hennepin Farmhouse Saison: This golden ale I've found on draft at a couple places in Boston, and it's deceptively strong and flavorful, considering how light in color it is. Grade: A-

Ommegang Abbey Ale: This was my absolute favorite. At 8.5% ABV, I instantly felt a warming sensation in my belly, but most importantly, I was overwhelmed with its wonderfully full-bodied flavor. Grade: A

Three Philosophers Quadrupel: I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Ommegang's strongest brew, expecting it to be much more fruity than it turned out to be. In fact, it's a blend of rich malty ale and cherry lambic, a fine combination that tastes more like a true ale and less like a wine cooler than most Belgian Krieks. Grade: B+

Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence: One of the brewery's fine seasonal ales, this an extremely flavorful stout that is a blast of Belgian-chocolately decadent goodness. Grade: B+

As I said already, we left the brewery with 3.75 liters of Ommegang's finest, which is aging in my cellar as I write this. I use the term aging loosely, though, as I doubt it will last more than two, maybe three months, even given my 40-something moderation.

In part two, I'll talk about the second stop on our mini-tour of Otsego County breweries, the Cooperstown Brewing Company in Milford, New York.

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