Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Jon Bear Journal: The Ommegang Brewery

The Ommegang Brewery  http://www.ommegang.com/ in Cooperstown, New York is quickly building a name and reputation for itself as one of the best microbreweries in the Northeast United States.  A kind of Industrial Revolution in regards to microbreweries has arrived in the United States since the turn of the century.  We are finally loosing the grip of mass produced pilsners or ales such as the commercialized beers from Coors, Michelob and Budweiser (drinks that I affectionately refer to as sugar water with alcohol) on the people of North America.  In fact, many of the companies a la Anheuser Busch who produce these beers have even begun to churn out some microbrew alternatives to try to keep pace with the new wave of more discerning beer drinkers in the States.

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 Much of my family lives near Cooperstown and as such I have taken a bit of pride in the success of Ommegang as it has grown in popularity.  This past week I visited with my mother, oldest brother's family and my sister in South Central New York.  We have visited the Ommegang Brewery in the past but decided to make a return visit to the picturesque, rolling hills of Cooperstown since the release of Ommegang's new limited edition beers related to the very popular HBO t.v. series Game of Thrones.

The brewery has changed and grown a lot since our last visit.  The brewery's expansion owes it's success primarily to the product they create but has been aided by their location on the path to the mecca of baseball, the National Baseball Hall of Fame located north of the brewery in Cooperstown near the beautiful Glimmer Glass Lake.  The brewery is also taking advantage of the new publicity due to their link with the Game of Thrones. 

One way the Brewery has grown and progressed since my original visit some 4 to 5 years ago is in the new cafe and gift shop located next to the tasting room, which remains from our initial visit.  We had lunch plans prior to our visit so we did not check out the Cafe, but I would love to do so when we go back again.  I have not yet read any reviews of the food they offer or looked into the menu at length, but I hope to be able to give a review here upon my return visit.  The Brewery gives tours for it's patrons which give some insight into the ingrediants used and the brewing process.  On this visit we did not take the tour which we have done in the past.  I think the tour is a great thing though for visitors who may becoming from afar and do not have the luxury of the 20 minute drive to the Brewery that we do. 

My favorite beer upon my first visit and even now remains Ommegang's Rare Vos or "Sly Fox" which is a Belgian Pale Ale.  Belgian Ale's tend to be typified by their fruitiness and spice.  Ommegang really seems to specialize in these kinds of beers, including their Witte Beer and Hennepin as many of their beers use similar ingredients and spices in different proportions.  Some of the darker or heavier beers like the Three Philosiphers are also very enjoyable.  

There are 4 beers featured in the Game of Thrones that are part of the breweries limited edition which began this past summer with the "Iron Throne Blonde Ale" beer, a beer in looks and taste that is very similar to the wheat beers that I've come to love so much from Ommegang.  While I did not love it as much as the Rare Vos, it was an impressive example of what I think they do best - that being their Belgian Ales.  The second beer, just recently released by the brewery is the "Take the Black Stout" beer.  I am very intrigued by the Take the Black Stout as I have not tasted a Stout beer from Ommegang before. I love dark beers too and given the other beers I have tasted I have little doubt that they can produce a quality stout beer.  The fact that it strays a little from their typical beer though makes me a tiny bit curious as to whether or not they can pull it off.

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The other two beers in the series should be released sometime over the course of next year. Once a new beer is released the production of the previous one is discontinued.   I regret that in part, because my comparison of the beers in judging my favorite will be hampered a bit having to go off of memory.  My mother was just able to get the last 9 beers in production for us with the Iron Throne Blond Ale.  I gave one to my friends and drank the other myself. While I could save a least one bottle of the final three beers, I will not have the first in the series to make a direct comparison.

If you or someone you know is a beer enthusiast in the Upstate New York area, I hope that you will take the time to visit the Ommegang Brewery.  They are now also highly involved with outdoor concerts, attracting some of the biggest and best Indie bands both nationally and internationally.  If you have the opportunity to see a band you love, enjoy great beer and the beautiful scenary with friends... well I can't think of a better weekend expedition than that.


  1. I didn't know spices are added to beer. What does beer taste like?

  2. Not all beers have spices but many do. They add things like ginger, coriander and grains of paradise and licorice flavored spices like fennel or anise to many of the wheat beers made at Ommegang. During the tasting they pass around cups full of the some of the spices they use for people to smell. Your question isn't easy to answer Carlyn because so many beers taste so different. In general, most beers are going to be made from three key ingredients: hops, barley and yeast. I am no beer expert mind you, but those tend to be key ingredients in most brews. There are many rice beers though too. The more hops that are used tend to create beers that are more bitter tasting. IPA (Indian Pale Ales) tend to use hops heavily in their brewing. Some of the beers from Ommegang that I wrote about have fruity accents to the alcohol. To say it tastes like orange or lemon or pear would not be accurate, but accents of those flavors often exist to varying degrees in a Witte (Wheat) Bear. There are Dark Beers that often have accents of Chocolate or Coffee in their flavor. Heineken Dark is one of my all time favorite Dark Beers. Most beers though get their flavor from the balance of hops and barley or wheat or rice used in the beer and I'm sure different yeasts are used in the fermentation process. Time and temperature and what the beer is brewed in will also influence the flavor. It's quite an intricate process really. =)


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