Central New York complements its endless beer offerings with homegrown, handcrafted beverages of another variety. Savor a sip from some of New York’s finest cideries, distilleries and wineries in Brew Central.
Central New York complements its endless beer offerings with homegrown, handcrafted beverages of another variety. Savor a sip from some of New York’s finest cideries, distilleries and wineries in Brew Central.
Exciting news! Hopstate NY is back this year with a brand new recipe to showcase the amazing work that NYS hop farmers are doing. This is the second year that we’re brewed a beer with 100% NYS grown hops! Hopstate NY is available now at the brewery store and will be available throughout New York State in early July. If you live outside NY, we’re sorry we aren’t distributing in your area but we’d love to have you visit us this summer so you can give this new beer a try.
Ommegang Debuts Hopstate NY 2016 – Brand New Beer; Same Great Cause
Brewery continues commitment to raise awareness for NYS Hops and its farmers
Brewery Ommegang, located in Brew Central, is once again shining the spotlight on local hop farmers with its 2016 edition of Hopstate NY, an all-NYS hops beer. Brewed in tribute and to raise awareness for local hop farmers breathing life back into the state’s hop industry, this year’s Hopstate NY is an American amber ale brewed with rye, and of course, a healthy amount of hops exclusively sourced from Empire State farmers. The beer will be available on draft and in six-packs, starting in early July.
The release of the new brew will be supported through tastings at farmer’s markets around the state, and the second annual Ommegang RV Tour, set to visit cities from Buffalo to Syracuse and Albany to NYC during the month. Just as in 2015, there will also be educational seminars and presentations on the New York State hops initiative across the region and as far as Washington D.C. – at Savor, a national beer and food celebration put on annually by the Brewer’s Association. These are conducted in collaboration with the Cornell Cooperative Extension and their hop advisers who counsel farmers across the state on best practices and manage a varietal research yard at Ommegang.
“Hopstate NY is a beer everyone at the brewery is extraordinarily passionate about,” says Ommegang’s Innovation Manager Justin Forsythe, who developed this year’s recipe. “For me personally, it is very special as our 2016 version is a vastly different take on showcasing New York hops. It’s an American amber ale by style, but breaking from tradition and expectation, we added copious amounts of the finest NY State Cascade, Chinook, and Nugget hops we could find. I think people are really going to enjoy our take – it’s citrusy and spicy, while being very refreshing.”
The hop industry has deep roots in NY which was the epicenter of hops production in the United States in the 1800s, producing 80% of the country’s hops. Last fall, Ommegang, which is located on the former Lynes Hop Farm in Cooperstown, NY, purchased one ton of New York State-grown and processed hops. The hops were used to brew not only Hopstate NY but were also used in Fleur de Houblon, Ommegang’s summer ale. This is the second year in which Ommegang has purchased local hops for both experimental brews, and local and nationwide releases.
At 5.6% ABV, Hopstate NY pours a deep amber hue with a persistent white head. The hopping is almost entirely late-addition, and with two rounds of dry-hopping in fermentation, the beer has bright aromas of citrus and melon. The flavor is citrusy with a bit of sweet honey and caramel from the malt. Moderate bitterness of the taste is of citrus and tangerine with a slight pine resin presence. The finish is a pleasantly lingering resinous hop finish with a touch of sweet malt. Hopstate NY pairs well with grilled, fried, or roast chicken, spicy foods, pizza, and burgers.
This year, Hopstate NY will only be available in New York but as the local hop industry grows, Hopstate NY may expand to new states, symbolizing its rebirth and vitality. Hopstate NY will be available next month in 12oz. six-packs for the suggested retail price of $13.99. Ommegang’s website offers a beer finder for locating retailers by zip code.
We have a new twist on an old favorite coming out in February. Our first major barrel-aged release, Bourbon Barrel-aged Three Philosophers, goes on sale at noon on Saturday, February 13, only at the brewery store.
Our unique Three Philosophers Quardupel Ale is universally-known as the preferred elixir of life’s meditators, thinkers and theorizers. Now, thanks to Brewmaster Phil Leinhart and the 24 bourbon barrels he got his hands on, mullers of life’s mysteries can ponder all the more deeply. In addition to being released at the brewery store on 2/13, this beer will also be available beginning in early March at select New York City specialist beer retailers. A small amount is also being held in reserve opportunistically.
“We’ve experimented with barrel aging in the past and had great success,” said Brewmaster Phil Leinhart. “Three Philosophers is such a lovely, complex beer and it ages so beautifully that we thought it the perfect fit for pairing with bourbon barrels. The result is exactly what we hoped for: even more complex flavors and a slightly fuller body than the standard. We’re sure this’ll be a crowd pleaser.”
Like the original, Bourbon Barrel-aged Three Philosopherspours a deep burgundy hue with a fluffy, off-white head. Patience through the aging process rewarded the brewers with flavors of caramel, raisin, dried fruit, molasses, and vanilla and aromas of oak, vanilla, and subtle hints of cherry. The body is ample but still finishes faintly dry with lingering hints of malt, bourbon, and cherry. The effects of barrel-aging, eliciting remnant alcohol from the cooperage during the aging process, escalated the ABV of the beer from 9.7% to a significant, yet sneakily subtle, 11.4% ABV.
The release party at the our store on 2/13 is from 12-8 pm. During the day-long event, visitors can enjoy unlimited beer samples for $5, café food specials, and 10% off all beer and merchandise in the brewery store. Visitors are also welcome (and encouraged!) to return to the brewery that night for a special Valentine’s Day dinner. Details about dinner, which will feature the new beer, can be found at here.
Bourbon Barrel-aged Three Philosophers NYC retail locations can be found through the our beer finder following its roll-out to trade in early March.
Next month, we turn 18! And while we’re still a few years shy of the legal drinking age, we’re going to celebrate our 18th birthday with “a very merry un-birthday” party commemorating 18 years of beer, music, fun, and community involvement. The event is Saturday, October 17, from 4-9 pm at the brewery (656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown, NY).
In collaboration with presenting sponsor More Art Space from Oneonta, NY, the event will feature interactive games, art installations, a small shop of wonders where local artists will sell their art work, magic shows, fire throwing, and live music by Bella’s Bartok and Puddles Pity Party, the sad clown with the golden voice. Gourmet food will be available for purchase including whimsical breakfast items like giant pancakes and miniature sausages. And of course, no brewery birthday party would be complete without a giant birthday cake and beer. Lots and lots of beer.
A word from our GM, Bill: “For the past 18 years, we’ve been so fortunate to call Cooperstown home and we truly believe one of the biggest reasons for our success is the support and involvement of the local community. This event is as much about celebrating our community as it is celebrating our birthday. We hope to see both new and familiar faces at our birthday party. No presents are required. Community presence is present enough!”
Thanks to generous sponsorships by local businesses Norwich Beverage Corporation, ISD, Green & Green Attorneys at Law, Northern Eagle Hops Pelletizing Company, Catskill Food Company, and Topstitch, the event is free to the public. For guests who would like to give a birthday present, donation stations will be set up around the event and all donations will benefit The Arc Otsego, which creates opportunities for people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families throughout Otsego County.
Our birthday party is appropriate for all ages and we liken it to our summer concert series: suitable for families but without activities specifically designed for kids. On Facebook? Join the event page for updates and information about artists and their installations, music, the schedule of events, etc.
Brew Central launched one year ago, when it set out on its mission to tell the “Stories on Tap in Central New York” with profiles of the area’s breweries, pubs, cideries, distilleries and wineries.
Tapping into the ever-growing national craft beer market and burgeoning craft spirit scene, Brew Central highlights the one-time hop capital of the country. That rich history and current growth make us “America’s Craft Brew Destination.”
Brew Central boasts more than 50 partners and continues to grow in 2014. As our followers and fans know, Brew Central is about more than tastings. We focus on the people, their histories in brewing and their personalities. Visitors can actually meet and talk with brewers, distillers and craft pub proprietors when they travel to Brew Central.
To date, Brew Central has visited a dozen partners for photo shoots and this year adds video to the mix. Look for featured profiles under each category on this website.
The site launched in June 2013, when the first digital ads appeared on national sites like craftbeer.com, beeradvocate.com and beerconnoisseur.com as well as the Ad Network. Draft and Brew Your Own magazines promoted Brew Central to their readerships via e-communications. We’ve also earned some great coverage from the press.
Print ads were produced and placed in national publications, including Beer Advocate, All About Beer, Beer Connoisseur and Zymurgy, the official publication of the American Homebrewers Association. We’ve expanded this exposure with placement in the Ale Street News, Great Lakes Brewing News and Yankee Brew News. Regional magazines in the Finger Lakes and Capital Region also ran ads.
The series focused on the “Stories on Tap” earned national recognition with Communicator Awards of Distinction in four categories last month. Images focused on the people in Brew Central with strong imagery and teased their stories with short copy in the ads.
The website has done extremely well thanks to our readership and the number of fans and followers on Facebook and Twitter continues to swell.
What else is on tap in Central New York? Well, we’re on the road once again, so keep an eye out for new photos and video as we continue to tell the “Stories on Tap in Central New York.”
In the world of Westeros, Valar Morghulis means “all men must die.” Fans of the hit HBO show decided that “all men must drink” as well when they voted the foreboding phrase as the name of the newest beer in the Game of Thrones collaboration between HBO and Brewery Ommegang as part of a late December Facebook poll. The voting also determined the style of the new beer – an Abbey Dubbel – which is perfectly represented by the “two-headed” coin which will adorn the labels.
Valar Morghulis will be available at retail in fall of this year.
Valar Morghulis is a central thematic element in the critically acclaimed show’s fourth season, which recently debuted to record ratings. As Arya Stark continues her journey to track down what family she has left and to avenge those who have fallen, she adopts the High Valyrian phrase as a mantra against the people she wants dead. As the name for the new beer, the phrase won out during the December poll over Seven Kingdoms (Tripel), Hand of the King (Quad) and Khal (Quad). Thousands of fans cast their votes during the contest, and Valar Morghulis was the clear favorite with almost half of the votes.
“The fan response to the beers has been so incredibly positive that we thought it would be a fun reward to ask them to play an active role in selecting the fourth beer,” said Bill Wetmore, Director of Marketing for Brewery Ommegang. “It’s not uncommon to hear “valar brewghulis” spoken in the halls of the brewhouse, so we were secretly hoping that Valar Morghulis would be the winner. Our brewers are also excited to brew a Dubbel, a classic Belgian beer style, and have some great ideas to make this release extra special.”
Valar Morghulis follows Iron Throne Blonde Ale (spring 2013), Take the Black Stout (fall 2013), and Fire and Blood Red Ale (available now) in the hugely popular partnership between HBO and Brewery Ommegang. The limited runs of Iron Throne and Take the Black sold out in a few short weeks, and Fire and Blood Red Ale is also selling out quickly, despite being brewed at nearly double the volume of the first two beers.
“The fan base for Game of Thrones keeps growing larger as each new season debuts, and the popularity of the beers is growing right along with the show,” said Josh Goodstadt, Vice President of HBO Global Licensing. “For this fourth beer, we found the perfect opportunity to give those diehard fans the power to choose what beer they wanted to drink, and we can’t wait to share this special brew with them this fall.”
Valar Morghulis is brewed with pilsner and other specialty malts and hopped with Apollo and Hallertau Spalt Select hops. The hue is deep amber-brown with a persistent, creamy, off-white head. Aromas include caramel, toffee, ripe fruit, banana and slightly burnt sugar. The taste is well-balanced with rich malty sweetness, caramel and sugar, and just a touch of bitterness to balance. The finish is surprisingly dry and light on the tongue, belying the aroma and initial taste.
“The Dubbel is one of the most recognized beer styles in Belgium and this is a very tasty version of that style,” said Mike McManus, Ommegang Innovation Manager. “Valar Morghulis is a complex beer, much like the stories surrounding the phrase.”
The label art will feature the two-headed coin, given to Arya Stark by Jaqen H’ghar, one of the “Faceless Men of Braavos” – legendary assassins with the ability to change their appearance at will. Each cork will be fire-branded with “Valar Dohaeris,” which is the traditional response phrase to “Valar Morghulis” meaning “all men must serve.”
Valar Morghulis will be available nationally this fall (exact launch date still TBC) on draft (sixth-barrels) and in corked bottles (25.4 ounces). The recommended retail price is $8.50 per bottle.
Brewery Ommegang just announced that it is planning a fourth beer in its Game of Thrones series. The third beer, Fire and Blood, is due out this spring and the fourth beer will follow it in the fall. Voting is now open to fans to select which beer they would like to see. More below …
We’re getting back to our roots and we’re excited to brew a true, Belgian-style ale!
Game of Thrones and craft beer fans have let their opinion be heard and they love the series of Game of Thrones inspired beers, selling out the Iron Throne Blonde Ale and Take the Black Stout in record numbers. Enthusiasm for the launch of the third beer, Fire & Blood (due end of March 2014), is also heating up.
To thank fans for their amazing support HBO Global Licensing and Brewery Ommegang are giving them the chance to help decide the name and style of the fourth beer in the series to launch fall of 2014!
Starting today fans can log onto https://www.facebook.com/GameOfThrones and vote among four great options:
Name Type Description
1) Valar Morghulis Dubbel Valar Morghulis is an Old Valyrian saying closely associated with the desire for vengeance. Thus, a Belgian-style Dubbel was chosen to capture the sweetness of revenge as well as the dangerous consequences that come with it.
2) Hand of the King Quadrupel The responsibility of running a kingdom can only be matched by the complexity of a Belgian-style Quadrupel ale. Rich in flavor and dark in color, a Quad is the perfect companion for waging war, brokering peace, or enduring a Small Council meeting.
3) Seven Kingdoms Tripel The golden Tripel is the universally agreed pinnacle of Belgian brewing achievement, making it the perfect beer to represent the legacy of the Seven Kingdoms. Though supremely drinkable, the Tripel comes with a spicy character that represents the sordid events of the history of Westeros.
4) Khal Quadrupel The Dothraki people, like the Belgian-style Quad, are the strongest of the strong and boldest of the bold. Quads rest atop the pyramid of Belgain beer because of their strength, so this style makes a fitting tribute to the men that rule the mighty Khalisars of Essos.
The voting will be open for 2 days. The selection with the most votes along with the artwork for the label will officially be announced in the spring.
In the 1800s, Otsego County had the distinction of being the largest hops producing region in the then relatively young United States, and now the county is quickly gaining another related distinction, microbrewery capitol of New York state.
At each of the locations, you can enjoy tastings, take a tour to give you a close-up look at how the beverages are made, or just walk around in the specialty shops.
Cooperstownbeveragetrail.com boasts that last year alone, more than 20,000 visitors explored the trail.
Brewery Ommegang President and CEO Simon Thorpe says the beer business is booming, “Over the last four years, basically we’ve tripled the size of the company here. It’s one of the big success stories in Otsego County.”
Thorpe says Ommegang opened for business back in 1997 by a couple of local entrepreneurs, Don and Wendy Fineberg, with the backing of Belgium beer giant, Duvel Moortgat which bought the Finebergs out a few years ago, “We’re here in a farm house and they originally started the brewery with nothing, and today it has the reputation as one of the to 3 or 4 craft breweries in the country for quality.”.
Now, other area beer lovers have turned their passion into a profit making business.
Chuck Williamson, who started up Butternuts Beer & Ale in rural Garrattsville in the 1990s, bought his partner out, and has since purchased Cooperstown Brewing Company in Milford.
Just like Thorpe, Williamson says the beer business is a very good place to be these days.
He says whether its his agriculturally based named beers at Butternuts Beer and Ale, like Porkslap Pale Ale, or his baseball themed beers at Cooperstown Brewing Company, like Old Slugger, he believes his beers would have mass appeal if he were to try and market them to areas outside of the several county region here in Upstate New York where he is currently focused on, “The brands I believe would have national capacity. The question is production capacity to service that market.”
Williamson says one of his most popular brews is his Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ale, but he says there’s nothing pork about it, it’s just a play on words.
He says he and his former business partner used to work at a brewery in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before purchasing land and opening Butternuts in 2005, “Our image and our intention with the Butternuts brand was to kind of take that ‘pretense’ of craft beer off the table. At the time, especially in late 90’s early 2000’s, there was a definite divide between the macro beer drinker and the micro beer drinker. The macro beer drinker felt alienated, so they just would say I don’t like that stuff, because I can’t approach it. And its human nature, if you’re not familiar with it, you just want to say no. So we wanted to try and break that boundary down, and say, hey this is beer, but it is fun. It’s good beer, but don’t be so serious, don’t be overly serious about it, give it a try.”
And that’s what it appears Americans have done with craft beers in general.
According to the Brewers Association of America, 2,403 breweries operated in the U.S. for all or part of 2012, and last year alone, 409 opened up (310 microbreweries and 99 brewpubs).
That’s a 16 percent increase in breweries in just one year, and the year before, in 2011, there was a 13 percent increase.
Brewpubs, if you aren’t familiar with them are restaurants or bars that serve beers that they produce right on the establishment’s premises.
One of those brewpubs that has popped up in Otsego County is Council Rock Brewery on Route 28 in Cooperstown.
Manager Michael Barrow says Council Rock has its own beer naming system, “In our beers we try and incorporate the history of Cooperstown. So for instance one of our beers is called the Leatherstocking Brown, and it has to do a lot with the history and founding of Cooperstown. We also have a Sunken Island Scotch, and actually in town, we have a sunken island in Otsego Lake, so we try and incorporate that as well into the beer.”
Also, Council Rock Brewery itself is named after an actual rock that sits in the water where Otsego Lake meets the Susquehanna River in Cooperstown, which is where the local Indians met in the 1700’s.
So there you go, each brewer has their own naming system when it comes to their beers, even though it really all comes down to taste.
Williamson says beer sales all comes down to marketing, no matter how big or small the brewery might be, “Beer is about marketing, it always has been. I mean you can have the best beer in the world, but people can’t relate to it if they can’t approach it. Nobody will know about it. And in the same breath you can have a very mundane beer, and everybody in the world will buy it. It’s a two way street. I think people have to identify with it. It’s a personal experience, so people want to know when they buy a beer, it’s like saying, ‘Hey this is who I am’, so it’s a big factor.”
So, maybe someday soon we will see Porkslap Pale Ale, Old Slugger and Leatherstocking Brown in stores, bars and restaurants all over the country, not just in Otsego County.
Some 400 craft beer fans packed Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre Nov. 16 in a New York-exclusive event that featured 24 breweries – including five Brew Central partners – serving up some 48 samples.
The New York State Brewers Association’s Craft New York Beer Fest hoped to create a tasty and educational experience for partakers.
“That’s our thing: All the brewers are here. You can meet them and talk to them,” brewers association Executive Director Paul Leone said.
The debut festival of the 10-year-old New York brewers collective keyed in on that interaction, said Tim Butler, brewmaster at Brew Central’s Empire Brewing Co.
“Our movement is just starting to gain steam here,” Butler said, comparing the New York’s beer scene to well-established brew communities in California, Oregon and Colorado. “We have to educate the consumer that our beers are just as good if not better than other parts of the country.
“We’re not competitors here. When we join forces like this, we’re one voice,” he said.
Breweries – a small sampling of the New York State Brewers Association’s 140-plus members – represented just about every part of the state, including Central New York. Likewise, the Craft New York Beer Fest drew brew fans from places near and far.
Ryan and Darcy Hampel of Ottawa, Ontario, were extremely pleased with the variety of beer – a majority of which they’d never tried – and the opportunity to talk brew with the men and women who make it.
“The U.S. has the reputation of being the place for craft beer,” Ryan Hampel said. “It’s very cool to see what the trends are down here.”
The New York State Brewers Association will use the Syracuse fest as a catalyst for future events hosted all across the state, Leone said. The association targeted Syracuse for the inaugural New York brew celebration because of the excellent beer culture here.
“We get great beer here – a lot of people are surprised,” Butler said. “We’re just as well-versed as any other big beer city.”
The Craft New York Beer Fest appropriately capped off the sixth annual Syracuse Beer Week, one of the longest running such events in the country.
Every vacation needs a sublime moment. Ours came drenched in mud, with a handful of garlicky mussels, a cloudy sunset, and Wilco performing “Box Full of Letters,” only slightly distorted by the rain.
But I can’t complain. Wilco, one of those bands best heard in person, was playing on a sloppy night in a giant open field beside my favorite brewery, Brewery Ommegang, set on a farm amid the rolling hills of upstate New York’s Leatherstocking region. I believe I was drinking a Rare Vos, a smooth amber Belgian ale, from a plastic cup.
The venue, a Belgian-style craft brewer just a few miles from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, used to be a secret, where you could down some samples and dip pretzels into cheese after the hipsters who brewed the beer gave you an informal tour. Now it’s a destination, with packed tours that require reservations.
The expansion over the last 16 years has been great. They now have major concerts on the grounds — including the 2012 Wilco concert my wife and I attended — as well as a slew of beer snob festivals and community events, many of which are child-friendly. All of them serve some of the world’s best beer on tap.
Bearded pilgrims in search of craft beer — hailing from places like Brooklyn, N.Y., and Somerville — fill the place nearly every weekend. They inspect the limited edition beers in the gift shop and nod appreciatively when the tour guide discusses the filtering process and holds up the fresh hops.
If you want more than a sample, head to the brewery’s cafe, opened a few years ago, which serves those decadent Belgian fries wrapped in wax paper cones that can be dipped in several varieties of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. I tend toward the cheese plate, accompanied by pickles and dried fruit, followed up with a sticky waffle.
The taps are full of Ommegang and other complex beers from Duvel, the Belgian company that owns the brewery. I’ve spent many afternoons there ordering beer by the flight — progressing from the spiced white beers to the malty darks. My only complaint is that they close at 5 on most nights.
For nearly a decade, Ommegang has marketed itself as part of a beverage trail, which now includes five other places to tour and taste: the Fly Creek Cider Mill, Bear Pond Brewery, Cooperstown Brewing Co., Butternuts Beer & Ale, and Rustic Ridge Winery.
The hottest news coming out of the Great American Beer Festival’s first session Oct. 10 was the announcement of the third beer in the Game of Thrones-inspired series from Brewery Ommegang and HBO. Fire and Blood Red Ale, inspired by House Targaryen, follows Iron Throne Blonde Ale (Spring 2013) and Take the Black Stout (available now). While the beer won’t be released until Spring 2014, a sneak peak of artwork incorporated in the label was revealed and will feature the three Targaryen dragons: Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion (see attached photo).
Unlike any other collaboration in beer realm history, Ommegang and HBO are creating smash hit after smash hit with this series. Iron Throne Blonde Ale set an Ommegang sales record as their fastest selling limited edition beer to date. Take the Black Stout is breaking that record and the third GoT-inspired brew is sure to take it a step further.
Fire and BloodRed Ale will debut in Spring 2014 through Ommegang’s nationwide distributors. Stay tuned for tasting notes and additional information.
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins.” So opens the oath for brothers pledging to the Night’s Watch, a band of characters in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” tasked with securing the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms.
It’s also the basis for Brewery Ommegang‘s latest “Game of Thrones”-inspired beer, “Take the Black Stout,” a sample of which was supplied to The Huffington Post for review prior to its larger release in the coming months.
“With the second beer, we wanted a big, substantial brew, something that would stick to your ribs and sustain you through long nights at watch on The Wall,” Phil Leinhart, brewmaster at Ommegang, said in a release.
It’s finally time to put the bow on the annual extravaganza that is Belgium Comes To Cooperstown at Brewery Ommegang. Every year on the outskirts of the quaint and lovely throwback of a village called Cooperstown, the brewery puts on what has without much argument turned into a bucket-list type of beer festival.
Anyway, to get this all properly shared with you and to close out this 10th anniversary chapter of BCTC at Brewery Ommegang, I’ll again thank the brewery for their hospitality and get on with the sharing in abbreviated bullet format. Also, for the sneak peeks and tastes of new beers from Ommegang soon to be hitting retail shelves, look below for where I mention them.
Theme – Always the clever theme-setters at BCTC, the brewery played up the Seinfeld theme in ways big and small (and probably some I didn’t even notice) throughout the weekend. From the episodes being projected on the side of the building for late-night viewing entertainment, to VIP dinner menu and table decorations, to Costanza’s infamous Timeless Art of Seduction (see pictures for the full picture if you dare).
Weather – Other than a quick storm on Friday evening, Mother Nature offered up a nice respite from last year’s heat. If you’ve been to BCTC multiple times over the years or followed along with The Brew Lounge’s annual chronicle of the event, you know this is always a wild card element of the weekend given the wacky microclimates of the region.
Organization – More than ever, the brewery has battened down the hatches and turned this festival into a well-run and organized event. Keeping the total attendance under 3,000 seems to have helped the brewery find its sweet spot in terms of optimal crowd control and event management. This year, that included expanded parking, the registration tent pushed out into the field, and golf cart transportation hospitality for campers arriving on Friday with all of their campsite gear. That last feature scored big points with many of the VIP guests, including me, who have asked in past years for a more accommodating option to set up campsites in lieu of being permitted to drive on to the property in order to drop off their cargo.
Hop Chef – I love this thing called Hop Chef that they coordinate around the country for a few months leading up to BCTC. The culinary competition, which involves beers from the Ommegang/Duvel family (natch), culminates with the finals during BCTC but I hesitate to say that it’s everything that it can/should be. The celebration of food and beer is played up big time in the regional showdowns and would seem to be deserving of a grander culmination. Whether it was the tasting tables running short of samples or the rather tepid gathering by the main stage for the winning chef announcement, there seem to be elements — and I’m not able to put a finger specifically what those one or two things are — missing that would make the Hop Chef competition finals a more wildly successful conclusion than it currently is.
Extracirriculars – Each year, BCTC offers up a little something new to add to the well-rounded nature of the weekend. This year, it was a bit larger than just a “little something.” A ferris wheel gave rides late into the evening and was quite popular with a seemingly never-ending line of eager riders. Our campsite neighbors even found their way up there for a memorable wedding proposal (and acceptance!). Congratulations to Jen and Jeff!! Adding to the extracirriculars, as well, was an ever-expanding vendor area that included everything from homebrew equipment to massage chairs to a phone-charging station. Food options plus plenty of free bottled water were readily available too. If you follow me closely enough around here, you know how big that last bit about abundantly available free/included water is to me.
Brewery shoutouts – It’s easy to give props to the recurring great work on display from longtimers like Allagash, Brooklyn,Dogfish Head, and, of course, host Ommegang/Duvel.
And then there are the ones not quite as old, but almost as familiar, like Captain Lawrence, Ithaca, Peekskill, Smuttynose and White Birch.
More interesting, still, every year to me is the emergence of the new guys on the scene. This year, I counted nine breweries that not only have I never had a beer of theirs, I’ve never heard of them. Notable amongst the ones I did have this year came from the likes of Good Nature (Hypocritte Witte — refreshing with chamomile), Hopshire Farm (Zingabeer — a Belgian pale with a zing of ginger), Port Jefferson (H3 Trippel — nicely balanced for a 10.1 percent), and Singlecut Beersmiths (Le Von La Saison D’Falle).
New beers from Ommegang – Brewery Ommegang plans to keep the hits coming with four new beers that will be hitting the market in coming months. I’m betting that they’ll be big hits. I was invited to take a quick sample of them with Innovation Manager, Mike McManus. First up, for you Game of Thrones junkies, Take the Black will be released throughout September as the second beer in the series with serious thematic ties to the HBO show. While the first Iron Throne was a pretty good Belgian ale, I’m liking this one even more as it strikes a very nice balance with licorice root and anise. These are two flavors, when in beer, I’d typically be cautious of. However, back to the word balance, the brewery has done such a nice job with a deft balancing of these flavors in a 7 percent imperial stout.
I’ve been high on Grisette this summer, particularly from Sly Fox, as perfect summer thirst-quencher. The Grisette presented by McManus from Ommegang was similarly refreshing, but with a bit more of a pepper spice kick, mostly likely thanks to the pink peppercorns used in the recipe.
Wild at Heart is the 100-percent Brettanomyces fermented beer due out by around Thanksgiving time in 750ml bottles. This was a “bonus beer” that McManus unveiled at the end of the “new beer” presentation and I could not have been more pleased. The beer was undergoing its house yeast conditioning and was exhibiting wonderful tropical and slightly tart fruit flavors without laying on too much Brett funk that you might expect to find when you hear the word Brettanomyces. The brewery employed two relatively new hops from New Zealand, Topaz and Motueka. You should find this beer to be quite the crowd pleaser, full of flavor and delivering plenty of thirst-quenching refreshment. A small taste of this has me looking forward to grab several bottles of this in November for both fresh drinking and a bit of storage.
Last, but certainly not least, while the retirement (or, at least, retirement from year-round production) of the BPA will come as sad news to many of you (myself included), the Hop House is shaping up to be a very fine replacement. Resplendent with a really nice hop flavor and aroma, the 6 percent dry-hopped pale ale should be entering the fold by end of 2013.
That’s all? To close with some nuggets from Larry Bennett, who graciously sat with me to discuss his ten years of involvement in both planning and executing the festival, ” … drinking really great beers with old friends that make up the ‘community’ is truly one of the high points of every year. Meeting new friends and meeting old brewer friends in ‘tent city’ is a fun part of the weekend.” I couldn’t agree more.
Bennett was one of the four original compatriots that conspired to put together this little beer festival on the brewery grounds on a shoestring budget of not even $10,000 and less than three months of planning in 2004 shortly after he joined the company. Tickets were $25 — sold over the phone and in person — and around 800 locals and people from around the region showed up to camp and drink great beer.
These days the health department and fire marshal complete thorough inspections for two days prior to the event and the total undertaking runs into the six digits and people travel from far and wide to attend with tickets that sell out with minutes (VIP) and hours (general). Now, a staff of three headed up by Tara Aitchison (who also oversees the store and café) begins planning around the winter holidays with the construction of an overall theme.
Having Duvel Moortgat USA President & CEO Simon Thorpe, previously a Stella exec, on board certainly doesn’t hurt given his enthusiastic support of the annual event as well as other events throughout the year like concerts (which can draw 3,000-5,000), family-oriented events, and old-time baseball games. Bennett says that Thorpe loves throwing events such as these, even if they barely break even, because they “bring people in, especially a more diverse group, including more women, than ever, to reach new audiences to experience new beer, but profitability is not the first goal in mind when event planning.”
I concurred on the point of introducing new people to new beer. If we still like the term “gateway beer”, I suggested that Wild At Heart (see above) will be a great gateway for all of Bennett’s and Ommegang’s new friends that visit the brewery.
With that, Larry went off to taste some Wild at Heart and I went off in search of the rest of the day’s events at one of the country’s best beer events/festivals.
With Belgian-style beers on almost every bottle shop shelf and tap row these days, let’s take a moment to recognize one company that truly helped make it all happen: Brewery Ommegang.
Here’s the backstory: In the late 1970s newly-married, beer-loving Americans Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield began organizing to import the world classic Duvel Golden Ale to the United States. The über-influential importation firm Vanberg & Dewulf, which would introduce Americans to iconic sour and saison-style brews like Boon Lambic, Rodenbach, Saison Dupont, and others, was born.
But that was just the beginning. In 1997, the couple collaborated with Affligem, Scaldis, and Moortgat (the brewers of Duvel, now known as Duvel-Moortgat) to launch Ommegang, an homage to eighteenth-century Wallonian farmstead brewing and architecture. The resulting ensemble of creamy white buildings situated on a former hops farm along the banks of the Susquehanna River is one of America’s best beer destinations, and the excellent beers they created helped usher in a new age of Belgian beer appreciation in the U.S. (Feinberg and Littlefield are now devoted exclusively to Vanberg & Dewulf.)
We tend to drink a lot of their grassy, refreshing Hennepin saison in the summertime. What’s your favorite Ommegang brew? Tell us here.
And read on for details on Ommegang’s Game of Thrones-inspired beer, a new hop research project, a much-anticipated wild ale release, and a concert by a legendary rock group on September 5th.
Ommegang has five year-round beers, five seasonals, and the occasional one-off or experimental brew, such as their newest, Take the Black Stout, inspired by HBO’s Game of Thrones, to be released this week on-site and available nationwide in October. Their second brew inspired by the hit show, it’s a 7% stout spiced with abundant Northern Brewer hops, star anise, and licorice root.
“We started a hop variety trial this summer,” reports Allison Capozza, Ommegang’s Publicity Manager. “Mike McManus, our innovation manager, is working with Steven Miller from Cornell University on this project. We have a ¼ acre plot on the hill behind the brewery and we’re currently growing 13 varieties with plans to add 6-8 more next year. We won’t have any appreciable hops this year. This is primarily for research purposes – we could conceivably use some hops for small batch and one-off beers. The project is part of our commitment to the NYS hop industry.”
Rock legends The Black Crowes follow in the footsteps of Wilco and Old Crow Medicine Show to play a much-anticipated set on the verdant grounds of the brewery on September 5th. Tickets and info here.
INTO THE WILD
The third beer in Ommegang’s Brewmaster’s Obsession Series is Wild at Heart, an American wild ale of 8%abv, to be released in November in 750 ml bottles. “Wild at Heart pours a rich amber hue with a full white head. Aromas include mango, pineapple, and passion fruit,” Capozza says. “Complex flavors present a touch of tartness carefully balanced with gentle malt sweetness and subtle hop bitterness. We used only wild brettanomyces yeast in the primary fermentation of this beer.” Sounds like our kind of crazy.
A beer based on a TV show seems like it must necessarily be a gimmick. But scratch the surface and it becomes obvious that the Game of Thrones-inspired Iron Throne ale from Brewery Ommegang is a substantial and remarkable brew.
First, consider the brewery that HBO chose to work with. Brewery Ommegang (owned by Duvel Moortgat) is based on the Belgian farmhouse brewery tradition and is known widely as one of the early leaders of the American craft beer movement. Ommegang was the first to brew a saison in the U.S., and beer aficionados consistently snap up the brewery’s other special releases.
More importantly, this Belgian blonde ale establishes its credentials in the glass. Properly poured — with enough vigour to create a moderate, one-inch, nearly white head, but carefully enough to leave the yeast sediment undisturbed at the bottom of the bottle — the Iron Throne ale is a brilliant yellow-gold.
The aroma is driven by characteristic notes of Belgian yeast (a Brewery Ommegang signature), including banana and warm spices, along with bready malt and a grassy-floral note form the hops. Wheat and citrus zest join the show with the first sip, augmented by a powerful dose of carbonation. It is moderately bitter throughout.
The dry finish indicates to me that this beer will gain complexity and smoothness with age. The printed best-before date on bottles for this release is April 2015, but if you don’t mind losing some of the floral hop aromas, I would consider that more of a “drink on” date.
HBO and Brewery Ommegang have announced that their Game of Thrones series will continue this fall with the release of Take the Black stout. Apparently, Iron Throne was the brewery’s quickest-selling special release, so we should thank the LCBO for bringing it to Ontario, and we should keep our fingers crossed that a shipment of the new release will be secured.
If you’re a fan of the TV series, you’ll enjoy the bottle design and maybe the associated marketing hoopla that went with the special release. But even if you’ve never heard of the wildly popular show, it’s easy to appreciate the care that went into producing this complex and delicious golden ale.