A trip to Cooperstown, New York, with its classic Main Street and iconic Hall of Fame is like a trip back in time. And the trip to get there is timeless – rolling hills and sparkling waters far from the interstate.
Whether it’s across the country or in your own backyard, this quiet corner of New York state will transport you.
Nestled in the bucolic beauty, you’ll find Brewery Ommegang. The hop bines that line the winding driveway signal you’ve arrived at a destination for craft beer fans, who are greeted by the farm-style building’s signature arch when they arrive.
It’s here that some of the finest Belgian-style ales in the country are crafted – here, among these humble surroundings that include a small hop yard and a large field that doubles as an outdoor amphitheater in the summer.
Ommegang was established 20 years ago on a former hop farm – the first farm brewery founded in the U.S. in more than a century at that time. Nearby aquifers supply the brewery with one of Central New York’s best water sources. Carefully selected hops and grain create world-class beers.
Brewmaster Phil Leinhart has been the steward of these resources for the past 12 years. Well-traveled and well-established in the brewing industry, he was introduced to the area while visiting his brother.
He got his start with English ales at Manhattan Brewing Co., one of the first brewpubs in the country, back in 1984 before moving on to Anheuser Bush. Brewery Ommegang wasn’t his first taste of Belgian-style ales by any means, but they ended up being extremely influential.
“I found the beers to be very interesting, quite different from anything I’d really had and I started exploring those styles from Belgium,” he says.
Leinhart studied chemistry in college, which gave him a sound, scientific base for brewing that is particularly advantageous for Brewery Ommegang processes.
Belgian-style ales are driven by microbiology, drawing flavor from distinct yeast strains and higher-temperature top fermentation.
“Brewing science is kind of like music,” Leinhart says. “You learn the fundamentals and then there are all kinds of different styles that play off those.
“Science at some point becomes art,” he says. “They blend into each other.”
Brewery Ommegang has built a creative culture with an innovation team that includes everyone from brewers to marketers. They routinely release new beers, recently branching out into IPAs that include Nirvana and Neon Rainbows.
Brewery Ommegang beers are distributed coast to coast and a favorite among craft brew fans, especially the popular and much-sought-after “Game of Thrones” that has place them more prominently on the map in recent years.
That came about when HBO approached the brewery about putting together beers inspired by characters. The innovation team went to work creating recipes that captured the personalities. It was a huge hit.
A fun project for Leinhart and the other brewers here, the GOT beers don’t define Ommegang though.
“It’s a sense of creativity and striving toward excellence,” Leinhart says of the Ommegang brand. “It’s continuous improvements, continuously tweaking the process to make the beer better and better and better.
“It’s looking at your process really closely and making it as good as you can,” he says.
The hop history of Central New York has also been an inspiration. The brewery works with Cornell University, funding research of hop varieties and outreach to local farmers and aspiring growers. Hopstate NY was their first brew to feature New York hops exclusively and Ommegang plans on expanding the local theme.
It makes them an important piece of the continuing resurgence of not only hops, but craft beer making in Brew Central.
“Central New York is just a beautiful area and that coupled with what’s going on in the craft beverage industry … it’s just a great place to come,” Leinhart says.