Cooperstown, New York, is a mecca for baseball fans, but there is another, albeit less-traveled, destination only a short drive away from the Baseball Hall of Fame. Just a few miles from the center of town, but 3,624 miles away from Brussels, is the Brewery Ommegang, an outpost of artisanal Belgian beer making that bills itself as “the only brewery in America dedicated to producing all bottle-conditioned Belgian style ales.”
Ommegang, a Flemish word meaning “to walk about," refers to the Ommegang Pageant, an annual celebration in Belgium that commemorates a festival held in the 16th century by the Magistrate of Brussels in honor of King Charles V.
A wide archway at the entrance to the brewery, a pristine white oblong building located on a 136-acre former hops farm, marks two dates: 1549, the year of the first Ommegang Pageant, and 1997, the year that the brewery was founded by its original owners, Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, who have operated a business importing Belgian beers into the United States since 1982. They selected the location in part because of Otsego County's history as a major center for hops farming. During the 1800s, as much as 80 percent of the hops produced in the United States came from farms in and around Cooperstown.
Brewery Ommegang is modeled on Belgian farmstead breweries, which, in addition to brewing and selling beer, sell agricultural products as well as breads and cheeses based on ingredients used in the brewing process. The Brasserie DuPont in Tourpes, Belgium, is an example of the typical Belgian farmstead brewery. Brewery Ommegang does not produce any of its own bread or cheese, but shares its spent grains with local artisan bakers and cheese makers.
Unlike German beers, which are made strictly with malted grain, water, hops, and yeast, according to a German Purity Law dating back to 1519, Belgian Beers are typically infused with spices during the brewing process. Orange peel, star anise, ginger, coriander, and other spices provide a complex balance of peppery, sweet, and citrus flavors to the beers produced at the Brewery Ommegang.
The brewery produces three styles of beer (Ommegang Abbey Ale, Hennepin Farmhouse Ale, and Rare Vos Brabant Style Ale), all of which are bottle conditioned, which means they undergo two fermentations, the second taking place in the bottle, so that the flavor of the beer continues to develop well after it leaves Cooperstown. In fact, the brewery suggests cellaring the beer as one would store and age wine.
The brewery is committed to Belgian culture, as well as beer making, and sponsors events throughout the year, from a "Waffles and Puppets" celebration in October to an annual evocation of the Ommegang Pageant in July. Tours and tastings are offered throughout regular business hours.
Brewery Ommegang, 656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown, New York (800.544.1809).