Tag Archives: New York

There’s an upstate New York, and they make rad beer – Pt. I – Brewery Ommegang

As we left Quebec I think the bittersweet emotions were mutual, and even though I told the border officer I had missed the US the entire time we were gone the reality was a bit less straightforward. While the language barrier is minor thanks to the excellent Canadian English language education, a definitive separation between the cultures and customs in the US and French Canada still exists. In our case, the border crossing meant parting with some amazing French-inspired brews that rarely make it out of French Canada in exchange for the ability to find a bathroom a bit more easily. Luckily as we drove away from the tree-lined road I knew we were heading toward upstate New York and some of the best beer in the states.

This is how you make an entrance!

Our first destination was Cooperstown, where Duvel’s American step-brewery Ommegang operates a brisk business in delicious Belgian-style beers. We arrived in the early afternoon and attached ourselves to the rear of the formation on one of the tours. The guides were informative and fun, explaining most of the equipment in just enough detail to be interesting and fun but not encourage the know-it-alls on the tour. I’m never sure exactly what to expect when an intrepid tour-goer asks a seemingly innocuous question, but more and more I’ve noticed folks asking questions only to answer it themselves, which can be funny when viewed through the right eyes.

Every brewery should have a crest and a coat of arms - then when the brewery wars come I can just pick out the people with Clydesdales and The Rockies on their tabards and stab them first.

The tour begins outdoors, with a view of the silos and fermenters. The fermenters are huge, and you can see what awesomeness having a bit of cash on hand can buy – I can’t say I wasn’t jealous (who doesn’t want to make a 6,500 gallon batch of their favorite homebrew recipe?) I’ve got a Belgian Sweet Stout that’s just begging to be made!

The world's largest Klean Kanteens

After a quick jaunt inside we were introduced to the brewhouse, a sweet system churning out beer almost non-stop. The lab and some smaller fermenters and brite tanks live in the same building, along with another sign of the good times – a centrifuge filtration beast that pulls miniature particulate matter out of your beer so you don’t have to do it with tweezers at home. The brite beer appears to get packaged only in the building next door, though there were a few random containers around that were likely for experiments, special friends, and to make me wish I was a better burglar.

Where the magic meets the road - the brewhouse.

The packaging hall is warm, with a long bottling line that is used for both 12 oz. and 750 ml offerings. The kegger sat lonely in a corner waiting to make out with the next keg that will come it’s way early on Monday morning. Since all the machines were off the hall was deadly silent, but I could imagine the lines humming away and the immense amount of racket that must be kicked up when everything is in full swing.

This keg stack is only 1/6 the size of the warehouse, so there are 6 times as many full kegs inside. This makes me happy.

Following our walkthrough of the buildings we saw the outside of the refrigeration building, where everything is kept in storage waiting for trucks, as well as the kegs-in-waiting piled high on pallets in the parking lot. That led to the obviously best part of the tour – samples poured from 750 ml bottles of each of the year-round Ommegang offerings, which included Witte, Rare Vos, BPA, Hennepin, Abbey, and Three Philosphers. I’m going to take my cue here from the Aleheads and list each beer individually for quick reference.

But before the beer talk - beer porn!

The Liefmans Cuvee is added to Three Philosphers for a little fruity kick, but is on tap a la carte in the taproom - is good!

Witte – A thin straw colored pour from the 750 into a tiny plastic taster glass on the tour still gives off a pretty impressive bouquet of citrus and spicy yeasty smells. The taste doesn’t miss either, truly a head-on interpretation of a classic wit that tastes as it should.

Rare Vos – Intended to be Ommegang’s every day beer, the 6.5% amber ale was so good I went ahead and ordered myself one in the taproom as well. A terrifically balanced amber ale with strong carbonation makes for a happy time for me, a dark ale drinker with a taste for Belgians.

Belgian Pale Ale – The only Ommegang offering I’ve had before on tap was from a bottle at the brewery, the reverse of my normal situation. That having been said, the beer is still excellent and has pronounced Belgian yeast notes that many Belgian pales lack. It seems that you can either make an IPA/PA and ferment it with Belgian yeast (OK results usually) or craft a recipe around the Belgian style and add some additional hops (better results to my tongue) – this is the latter.

Hennepin – My first introduction to saisons a few years back, this farmhouse beer is still among my favorite versions of the style. Yeasty and funky with just the right balance of malt and bitterness you can’t go wrong with Hennepin on a hot day.

Abbey – The original Ommegang offering is dark brown with all the hallmarks of a Belgian Dubbel – sweet, earthy fruits, mellow finish, and the closest you’ll get to wine people admitting beer is amazing.

Three Philosophers – A quad clocking in near 10 percent and with residual sweetness from one of Belgium’s best sour beers, it’s easy to say this beer is fantastic. An enormous amount of sweet aromas and flavors head your way with each sip, from raspberry and vanilla up front to fig and dark cherry in the finish. The beer is like a juggler with something always in the air and something else landing on your taste buds – simply a delight.

And with that we made our way to the tasting room for a Liefmans’ pour and Rare Vos to accompany some Belgian-style frites. The menu in the taproom looked good as well, though we were mostly in it for the brews. The tour tasting also has a nice little array of pretzels and Ommegang-flavored spreads available to go with the beer samples – pretty awesome.

If you’re in Cooperstown for any reason don’t miss Ommegang – a fun, free tour that includes good info along with good beer and good food – what’s not to like?

As we drove away and headed toward Oneonta to stay the night we started to get excited for more of Upstate’s finest, and Ithaca was not a far way away. Until next time – Cheers!

Bars and Brews in NYC – A weekend of craft beer

Good afternoon folks, on this warm 4th of July weekend I thought it would be a good time to sit down and have a little chat on the state of craft beer in NYC. We just finished our stay in Brooklyn a few days ago, and though the thrust of our tour across the continent is visiting breweries, we spent more time in beer bars during our stay in the Big Apple because the breweries either don’t offer tours or were full up. So Brooklyn Brewery and Sixpoint were not visited, we made it to Barrier in Long Island, and we spent a good deal of time in bars both in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

We got a few tips from locals of places to hit up, and the two that kept coming up were Pony Bar and Blind Tiger Alehouse both in Manhattan. Each had a board of about 20 beers, and to its advantage Blind Tiger also had a few cask offerings available the night we were there. Both featured a similar tap board, with a few offerings from Sixpoint, Brooklyn Brewery, Pretty Things, and Captain Lawrence. As I don’t get any of this beer in San Francisco I pretty much dove into the lists as much as possible going with a sampler and a pint for myself at Blind Tiger and another few pints when we arrived at Pony Bar. The co-pilot played it conservative, sticking to a pint at each bar and only lighter beers. I made my way through Pretty Things Jack D’or, Baby Tree (hers) and American Darling – a saison, quad, and lager in turn. Each of the beers fits nicely with the ale project theme, a bit off of the style but still drinkable and pleasant, only Baby Tree was a bit much for me with a strong alcohol flavor and not much “quad” flavor. I can’t say when it was brewed or how long it’s been in a keg, but that may have had an effect. The Brooklyner Weisse was a pleasant wheat beer, though I expected a bit of sour from the name and it was a straight ahead hefeweizen. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing that stood out either – a good hef for a warm day. I moved on from there to the Sixpoint stout (diesel? the board just said stout) and enjoyed the dark roasty notes of the beer after the funky and sweet brews that preceded it. The stout hit a lot of good notes, but was lacking a finish that had punch – not necessarily a bad thing if you’re looking to drink a few beers.

From that tasting at Blind Tiger we walked up the Highline toward the Pony Bar, past Anthony Bourdain shaking hands for the camera, and arrived at the bar parched and thirsty. I couldn’t resist a Festina Peche upon arrival, but turned to the Captain Lawrence Brown Bird for my second beer – a light brown and only about 5% alcohol this fit the mood of the place perfectly. Standing in a crowded Manhattan bar drinking a mild brown ale as the sun began to go down and contemplating my walk back to the train to Brooklyn where I knew dinner would be cooking soon, I felt extremely at ease. The trip to this point has constantly fluctuated between hurried and lethargic. Time to walk through another city and be a tourist rather than a local was refreshing if only for a moment.

The day of our departure from Brooklyn we aimed Red toward Long Island before we made our way toward Connecticut. Barrier Brewing in Long Island is once of those places you just don’t miss. I hadn’t heard back from the brewery (in fairness there are only two of them) and was debating getting on the road north sooner rather than later, but I had heard too many good things about this little brewery to pass it by. I’m glad I chose to head out their way, because they couldn’t have been more welcoming or more helpful.

Brewing up a single barrel, that’s 31 gallons, at a time Barrier is among the smallest breweries we’ve visited and also has maybe the widest variety in it’s roster. I tasted through a fair portion of the available offerings and still didn’t scratch the surface of what they have available – but more importantly everything I had was good. And good at minimum – most were somewhere between great and god damn! The Mollycoddle Mild I started with was perfect for carrying around as I shot photos of the brewery, pleasantly biting on the finish with some floral hop notes that complimented the low alcohol and malty flavor. I moved from there to Gosilla, the salt-spiked coriander-laced version of traditional Gose on offer at Barrier. This beer is one you can’t miss – a surprising take on a classic style it lacks the overly salty throat-drying effect of other versions of the style I’ve tried, leaning more toward a bright hop flavor married to coriander as an up front flavor, and mellowing to reveal a subtle salty background finish that cleans up the aftertaste and leaves you wanting more. This is a beer to sip with friends and enjoy at a tasting party before moving to the hard-to-drink stuff. I then moved onto the American Red, which brought me back to the West Coast with its hop profile and aroma – drinkable and moderate in alcohol a solid red ale all around. The Ruthless Rye IPA was the other of Barrier’s beers that stood away from the already impressive pack, with a perfect amount of spicy rye notes to undercut the strong hop flavors of the IPA this beer is exceptionally drinkable and enjoyable.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had an awesome time in New York, and while we didn’t ever come across the shrine to beer, Toronado type of bar that I’m sure exists somewhere in NYC, we still managed to drink tons of local beer and see an amazing brewery in its early stages – all in all a successful weekend.