If you’re looking for a beer to impress your friends, pair with charcuterie, or challenge your ability to contemplate both the dizzying effects of high alcohol by volume (ABV) and the subtle mechanics of spice and carbonation, look no further than Brewery Ommegang.
With a philosophy born in the fields of farmhouse breweries in Belgium, brought right here to the USA, this New York State-grown brand is the best of both worlds for Belgian beer lovers with local pride. Ancient in spirit yet always on-trend (e.g., bourbon barrel-finished Dubbel, anyone?), Brewery Ommegang straddles craft beer facets of complex, coy, and more than a little devilish.
Here are 12 more things to know about Brewery Ommegang.
Brewery Ommegang is not as ancient or mysterious as it sounds.
If Brewery Ommegang seems older (or more Belgian) than it is, that’s because the brewery did a very good job at making itself seem ancient and Belgian — when it was founded in 1997 by Don Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield in Cooperstown, N.Y. Littlefield and Feinberg also founded a New York-based Belgian beer import business, Vanberg and DeWulf, in 1982.
It’s part of a Belgian brewery family.
Brewery Ommegang began as a company-level Belgian beer collab between Littlefield and Feinberg’s import business, Vanberg and DeWulf, and Belgian breweries Duvel Moortgat, Scaldis, and Affligem. In 2003, Brewery Ommegang was acquired by Duvel Moortgat.
Duvel, a name you might recognize (and makers of the eponymous “quintessential Belgian strong ale”), had previously acquired Firestone Walker in 2015. Duvel also bought Antwerp, Belgium’s mainstay brewery De Koninck in late 2010.
Brewery Ommegang built a farmhouse brewery before ‘farmhouse brewery’ was cool.
It’s not just a matter of convenience that it built the farmhouse brewery in Cooperstown. For a while there in the 17th century, New York State was part of a territory known as “Nova Belgica,” which sounds like a song by Bjork that we’d hate but just means “New Belgium.” And while Belgium itself is at a more northerly latitude than New York, the climates aren’t dissimilar, so it seemed like the right place to brew beer in the tradition of Belgian styles (which are multifaceted and deliciously hard to categorize).
The word ‘Ommegang’ is a much earlier version of #SquadGoals.
When you say “Omm-uh-gang,” it almost sounds like what would descend on you with the fury of a thousand Sun Salutations should you ever cross the people at your Meditation Yoga class. Actually, “ommegang” is a Belgian word, used to refer to the coming of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles to medieval Brussels in 1549. Charles brought his own entourage and vendors, musicians, and artisans of the city lined up to receive them. The parade was called an “ommegang.” They still do it, to this day, because #squadgoals never die.
Speaking of, their first-ever offering was basically twice the average ABV.
Ommegang’s most recognizable bottle is probably its first offering, the Ommegang Abbey Dubbel, a Trappist-style ale that makes you marvel that monks have such a reputation for contemplation. Dubbels, in general, are between 6 and 9 percent ABV, and they originated at the Westmalle Monastery around the turn of the 20th century, where some clever monks decided to commercialize the stuff they drank daily by doubling the ABV for the (admittedly) sinful public. Ommegang’s Abbey Dubbel lands at the high end of the spectrum, 8.5 percent ABV with a malty, spicy flavor profile — meant to be sipped, not crushed.
Ommegang’s beers are (mostly) not for crushing.
Speaking of crushable beers, unless you’re a madman or Wade Boggs, don’t expect to do a summertime crush-style poolside thing with much of Ommegang’s lineup. Not that it’s all high-ABV: Its roster of offerings combines Belgian styles and its own fresh innovations, including a lighter-style, easy-drinking, lower-ABV beer, the orange peel- and coriander-spiced Witte (witbier) originally released in 2004, which clocks in at 5.2 percent ABV. There’s also the very relaxed Farmhouse Pilsner that combines the fresh, clean lager style with just a hint of delicate biscuity spice. Just don’t confuse a glass of that with some of their barrel-aged Three Philosophers Quadrupel, where the flavor profile is like rich structured beer soaked with dark chewy fruits and the ABV varies with the batch but always lands somewhere around 11 or 12 percent.
Steeped in Belgian tradition, sure, but amenable to craft geekery.
Toward the end of the 2010s, the brewery also bowed to the craft beer geeky masses and began rolling out a short list of IPAs. More recently, Ommegang released its first-ever lager, Idyll Days Pilsner, which reads “cleaner” on the palate (lagers tend to) and rings in at an anytime alcohol level of 5 percent ABV. Fret not, even the pilsner aspires to that “Je ne sais quoi” Franco-Belgian European complexity — it’s unfiltered, made with Czech floor-malted barley, and, in our minds, probably blessed by the European roommate from “It’s Always Sunny.”
You should be pairing Ommegang with food.
There’s something downright devilish (i.e., duvel-ish) about drinking a complex, rich beer all by its lonesome. But Belgian-style beers especially can outright sing when paired with rich dishes. And since we’re all graduating to some next-level maturity when it comes to drinking, and since pairing beer with food is both a bit more affordable and equally renegade, you might try something like Ommegang Hennepin, a 7.7 percent ABV farmhouse saison. Its citrus and spice notes provide enough bite and acidity to pit against anything fleshy or fried, and yet this saison is summery enough to cool your palate when it’s time for Thai-style spicy chicken wings, or pulled pork barbecue.
Ommegang and HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ are tight.
Granted, most of us thought “Game of Thrones” was more interested in dynamic cross-marketing coffee collaborations. But it was Ommegang that actually (intentionally) partnered with the HBO swords-and-sex-and-sadness series to release over a dozen GoT-themed beers. Among them: “Mother of Dragons,” a combination smoked porter and kriek (cherry-infused) beer that’s dark and red and smoky and pretty much deep-down, stone-cold evil; and a “Hand of the Queen,” a barleywine inspired by the character Tyrion, who loved wine and did his best to be drunk all the time (it’s not easy). The final beer, an imperial brown ale called, super pun-style, “My Watch Has Ended” (since, if you think about it, your watch(ing) of GoT has also ended). It received pretty good critical reception from fans of the show and beer alike, unlike the series finale that preceded it.
More bottles and cans are coming.
Brewery Ommegang isn’t stuck in the past. The company capitulates to our American hankering for cracking a cold one with increasing availability of smaller formats, like the Idyll Days Pilsner (available in 16-ounce cans and, because 2020, as a protective face mask) and Neon Rainbows, its Farmhouse New England-style IPA (available in 4-pack bottles or neon yet somehow still classy 16-ounce cans).
Because it’s Ommegang, there’s also canned Three Philosophers, which is a 9.3 percent ABV power-packed quadrupel-plus-kriek (like a sour cherry lambic) that’s also aged in Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux wine barrels (read: not for chugging, unless you’re a wizard or this guy).
Ommegang also makes cider.
Not much more to it, yet. Launched in 2019 and called, aptly, “Project Cider,” Brewery Ommegang has been making two varieties of canned cider by combining the rugged character of local New York State apples with the magic of Belgian yeast. Currently they’re doing “Dry” and “Rosé” styles, both of which are filtered and carbonated — meaning even if the slightly dryer style is more European, the final product is also close enough to the mass-market-appeal of an easy-drinking American cider like Angry Orchard.
You can get married at the brewery.
Unfortunately, you can’t marry Ommegang, but you can get married at Ommegang. Brewery Ommegang is situated in a pretty bucolic little spot near the banks of the Susquehanna River. Brewery owners must have realized early on that they were sitting on prime wedding real estate, because they now offer a polished wedding package that includes customized menu, DJ, tent procurement assistance (and when do we not have trouble with tent procurement?) and, of course, Ommegang beer (you can choose five of theirs, plus wine, plus optional spirits, depending on the kind of open bar your friends can handle). They actually dress the tents up really nice. And hey, this guy loved it.
Published: June 19, 2020