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Brussels without the Passport: Ommegang Brewery

Cooperstown, home to the Baseball Hall of Fame and named in honor of its founding family (see: James Fenimore Cooper), emits an aura of pure, blue blood Americana. But each summer, just down the road from the town’s Main Street, Belgium comes to Cooperstown, literally — that’s the name of the festival. For the past 10 years, Belgium Comes to Cooperstown (better known as “BCTC”) has attracted more than 50 breweries from across the country. At this year’s event, more than 2,700 people and 78 breweries were in attendance. Each year, tickets typically sell out within four minutes (mark your calendars for April 1, 2014 at noon...).

“The Most Beautiful Beerfest in the U.S.” stretches across three days, filled with campsite contests, fireworks, Belgian grub, and, of course, Belgian beer. Brewers from all over attend to present their unique takes on Belgian-inspired beer.

Even when the festival ends, Belgium stays in Cooperstown. Brewery Ommegang, the host of BCTC, welcomes more than 40,000 visitors each year to their Belgian-style farmhouse brewery. Employing an open fermenter and bottle conditioning techniques (bottle fermentation rather than added carbonation), the entire brewery is modeled after very specific Belgian brewing traditions. In 2003, Duvel Moortgat became the brewery’s primary owner, and built the brewery’s bottling line and café.

The name Ommegang itself means to “walk about or around,” and was inspired by an event that began in 1549 in Brussels. Held as a reenactment of the original medieval festival that once welcomed King Louis V to Brussels, to this day 1,500 performers dress up, host a parade and walk around; it is the essence of Belgian history.

But one need not travel overseas (or even leave New York) to witness that country’s spirit and tradition. Though Ommegang currently ships to 43 states in the U.S., sipping Ommegang at home or in a bar simply does not compare to a trip to the brewery itself.  Complimentary tours are followed by $3 tastings, which include a flight of six of their core brands, and, if you are lucky, a seasonal ale. An autumnal tasting might include their fall seasonal ode to the harvest, Scythe and Sickle. A favorite from the tasting is Rare Vos (or “sly fox”). Named for a bar outside of Brussels (which once hosted cycling and pigeon races), this ale is made with coriander, sweet orange peel and grains of paradise.

Not to miss before leaving is the Ommegang Café. Belgian beer — and especially the brews at Ommegang — is known for its beautiful ability to complement food. Try a pint with Ommegang’s traditional sausage sandwich, or a savory ham and cheese crêpe. The whole place smells of crisp frites, ready to be paired with moules and a cold Witte ale on tap.

Of course, the foliage and country roads will remind you where you really are at all times, but what’s not to love? You won’t need to learn any French or Flemish words to travel to this Central New York gem. Spend your afternoon walking around this Belgian hillside, New York-style.


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