Inside Brewery Ommegang

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I’m not supposed to drink beer. The doctors tell me I have a gluten allergy. When I did drink beer, though, Ommegang made some of my favorites. So when I had the opportunity to hit up a tour and tasting at their brewery just outside of Cooperstown, New York, I couldn’t pass it up, allergy be damned.

Brewery Ommegang is located on a gorgeous old plot of farmland in upstate New York, a former hop farm now devoted to the creation of some of the finest beer in America. Built to resemble a Belgian-style farmhouse, Ommegang’s small complex encompasses the only buildings in sight, humble white outposts that appear suddenly amid luscious green hills. Every visitor passes under an arch emblazoned with the brewery’s name and the years 1549 and 1997, which represent the year of a Belgian festival celebrating the arrival of King Louis V and the year in which the brewery was formed, respectively.

Ommegang takes its Belgian heritage seriously, which is probably one reason Duvel Moortgat bought them in 2003. That sincerity comes through in the brewery’s ales, which range from traditional renditions of Belgian classics to slight experiments engineered with American tastes in mind. We sampled six ales in a pre-tour tasting room decorated with multiple World Beer Cup awards and a large Ommegang sign autographed by various musicians who had played the brewery’s summer concert series.

The tasting started with the Witte, a wheat ale that’s one of Ommegang’s lighter offerings, with a sweet, citrus-y sheen. That was followed with one of their newer beers, the Hop House, a spicy, hoppy treat. Rare Vos, one of Ommegang’s old standards, was next, and it’s as dry, bitter and tasty as I remember. The menu progressed upwards in alcohol content, moving on to the Hennepin (still one of the best) and the Ommegang Abbey Ale, a Dubbel and the bedrock of the line-up. It wrapped up with my old personal favorite, the dark, rich, delicious Three Philosophers, which I miss dearly. No gluten free beer could ever be as complex, yet smooth as this mixture of a quad and a kriek lambic.

After the tasting we were given a brief tour of the confines by our friendly, knowledgeable guide Erica. It didn’t cover much of the brewery, but we saw the large vat in which the beer is brewed, and a brief description of the decidedly non-traditional computer system used to monitor the action. We were then lead into the bottling room, where no photos were allowed due to Ommegang’s contract with HBO. They were bottling the next Game of Thrones beer, Valar Morghulis, and apparently the label design is a highly confidential HBO state secret.

Cooperstown will always be best known as the home of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame, but due to Ommegang, and a handful of other breweries, craft beer might now be the town’s second greatest claim to fame. Take that, James Fenimore Cooper.