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Belgian-Style Beer (Not Baseball) in Cooperstown (Not Brussels)

Originally Posted: August 29, 2006

Lenn Thompson

Who knew that Belgium, or at least Belgian-style ale, is fewer than 300 miles away?

Last weekend, I visited Cooperstown, NY to pay homage to...Belgian beer. Sure, when most people think of Cooperstown, NY, names like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Ty Cobb come to mind. But travel a few miles outside of this baseball-obsessed town in Upstate New York and you'll find a delicious, authentic taste of Brussels.

Founded in 1997, Brewery Ommegang has made Cooperstown a must-visit destination for beer geeks the world over. With traditional Belgian farmhouse architecture located on a former hop farm in upstate New York, Brewery Ommegang crafts unique ales using traditional methods. The quality of these ales was supported a few years ago when Duvel, a well known Belgian beer maker, purchased Ommegang. New York law prohibits the sale of Duvel products at Ommegang because they weren't made there, but antiquated laws aside, Ommegang makes five Belgian-style ales of its own that are sure to satisfy even the most discriminating beer drinker.

Even though the day was dreary and drizzly, the parking lot was full when I arrived. Ommegang is off the beaten path, but clearly draws crowds of loyal and new fans anyway. Tours are offered continually throughout the day and take visitors through the entire process — from creation of the wort all the way to bottle conditioning.

One of the most interesting parts of the tour was learning about the spices and other seasonings Ommegang uses for its ales. Unlike German beers, which can only be made using water, hops, barley, and yeast, Belgians flavor their beer with a variety of spices and seasonings — things like cumin, orange peel, ginger, coriander, and star anise.

Truly the best part of the tour, of course, is tasting the five different beers at the end before heading into the gift shop to buy some.

We started with Ommegang Witte Ale, a pale golden wheat ale that is ideally suited to summer enjoyment. Made in the traditional style of white ale or witbier, it is light, refreshing and offers flavors of lemon, orange and coriander. Don't worry if it looks cloudy, that's just the yeast and it's supposed to look that way. Serve it cold with a slice of lemon or orange on an unbearably hot day.

Next up was Rare Vos Amber Ale, named for a bar in Brussels. It's a nice copper color and offers both aromas and flavors of burnt sugar, orange peel, tree fruit, raisins, fresh flowers and hops — all accented by subtle spice. Spicy barbeque seems a good pair for this brew.

The brewery's original beer, Ommegang Abbey Ale, is a toast to the age-old brewing practices of Belgian Trappist monks. Rich, and deeply colored, it's very complex with fruity, cinnamon-raisin aromas and spicy clove, fig, plum, cocoa and caramel flavors and a spicy-sweet aftertaste. If you like Chimay, give this beer a try for a locally produced alternative.

Saison farmhouse ales are among my favorites, and Ommegang's Hennepin Farmhouse Saison is an authentic rendition that I could drink every single day. Citrusy, gingery and full flavored, this is a beer that can age, much like wine, for up to ten years if stored properly. The brewery recommends drinking it with rustic fare such as roasted chicken, quiche and cheeses. But I think that it begs to be enjoyed with Thai or Chinese food — or even Thanksgiving dinner.

Perhaps the most unique of Ommegang's ales is the Three Philosophers Quadrupel — a blend of strong dark ale and Beligan Kriek (Lindemans Cherry Lambic). Sweet from the cherry-infused Kriek, there are notes of caramel, dark fruit, chocolate, coffee and vanilla. I usually prefer late harvest or ice wine with my dessert, but it's hard to argue with the idea of drinking this with any chocolaty dessert.

Even if you can't make it to Cooperstown this fall, you can find Ommegang's beers at many beer distributors, bars and specialty grocers locally. To learn more, visit http://breweryommegang.com/ and use their "Beer Finder" to find a retailer near you.

When in Cooperstown also visit:

Fly Creek Cider Mill & Orchard for hard cider, apple wine, homemade pies and other culinary treats.

The Farmers' Museum to take a ride on the Empire State Carousel and get a taste for what life was like in 1845.

Be sure to stop for a bite at:

The Blue Mingo Grill (6098 St Hwy 80, 607-547-7496) for unique, fresh fare with creative cocktails.

Nicoletta's Italian Café (96 Main Street, 607-547-7499) for traditional, satisfying Italian cuisine.

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