A Dispatch From Cooperstown

Over the weekend, I visited Brewery Ommegang for an annual event I found unusual and intriguing. On Saturday, I had a moment to sit down and reflect on what I was seeing. (Full disclosure: Ommegang flew me out and put me up.)

After a day of constant drizzle that turned the grounds into a mud bog, today a warm sun is peeking between fluffy clouds over Belgium Comes to Cooperstown at Brewery Ommegang. It’s an annual festival famed in these parts—and mostly unknown out west. Campers arrive on Friday and pitch tents on the lawn, in the shadow of the brewery, or in the fringes of the forest, and spend the weekend doing something that resembles a music festival, a beer fest, and tailgate party all in one.

It’s an interesting contrast with the Oregon Brewers Fest, which happened last weekend and which is focused entirely on beer. The beer fest portion of the event doesn’t even start until today; yesterday campers pitched tents and started their own private parties while taking the opportunity, when the rain slackened, to wander around and socialize. As I walked in, I had to dodge campers hauling in an armada of coolers with their gear.  

The beer festival component features Belgian-style ales, but very few actual Belgian ales. Brewers from the East Coast (largely) are in attendance, and I spent two meals getting to know The brewers from Upland and Bhavana. I also saw a couple of guys in hats reading 1886 Malt and charged over to learn that, indeed, they are one of the new craft malteries springing up around the country. (They’re from just outside Syracuse and have a Bavarian drum kiln; Ommegang has used some of their malt.)

The fest is surprising;y decentralized. There are little pockets with food trucks, cornhole, stages, and fun places hang out, like the the Neon Rainbow (so named for the new hazy—yup, everyone has a hazy, even Ommegang): 

At the center of all of this is the brewery itself, which is one of the prettiest I’ve seen on this continent—or any other. When Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield joined with Duvel Moortgat to build this place 21 years ago, they really went all out. I can’t help but think they chose the rolling hills outside Cooperstown because they so closely evoke Belgium. Driving in on increasingly smaller roads was reminiscent of my experience navigating the fields and countryside of West Flanders.

The brewery itself? More to come on that front. I hope to tour it with brewer Phil Leinhart this afternoon. I have seen exterior photos of this building, but it’s the inside that really interests me. Also look for some podcasting. I did a great interview with Good Beer Hunting’s Michael Kiser yesterday, and I hope to catch Phil as well. More to come—