The Beer Nut: Brewery Ommegang's heart is in Belgium
Brewery Ommegang may be physically in Cooperstown, N.Y., but their brewing heart is in Belgium.
Brewery Ommegang takes traditional Belgian-style ales and puts its own twists on them, making Ommegang one of the best U.S. breweries today.
"The U.S. has its own brewing heritage, but it's been borrowed from other countries," said brewmaster Phil Leinhart. "Now we're really making our own heritage."
Brewery Ommegang, named for a traditional summer Belgium celebration, opened in October 1997.
The brewery itself (which I visited on my summer vacation to two years ago) is built on a former hop farm. The building itself is based on a traditional Belgian farmhouse.
The brewery is owned by Belgian brewery Duvel Moortgat.
Leinhart took over brewing duties in February of last year. Since then, Leinhart has brewed some fantastic beers to go along with the already established line.
The Biere De Mars is the newest widely available in bottles. It came out last year, but in very limited amounts.
"It's kind of a continuation of our foray into wild beers," said Leinhart, who used to brew at the Harpoon Brewery in Boston, as well as the now-defunct Commonwealth Brewing Company, also in Boston.
"It'll change if you age it," he continued. "The flavors will open up if you save it for 10 months. It's a very living beer."
A wild beer is a beer brewed with wild yeast most breweries try to keep out of their beer, rather than cultured yeast. The Biere De Mars features Brettanomyces, a yeast that typically imparts a tartness to the beer.
Leinhart is also responsible for brewing what I named the best beer of 2008 , the Rouge, a Flemish red ale.
This is simply an amazing beer purposely sour, refreshing and downright drinkable. If I had to decide between two bars I wanted to go to and only one had the Rouge, that's the one I'd go to.
This year, Leinhart said the brewery will produce about twice as much as last year. Despite that, it will still be draft only.
"A lot of people seem to really enjoy that beer," he said. "It's very sour, and people have given it a good response."
The Rouge will be back in bars beginning in the next few weeks, Leinhart said.
Brewery Ommegang's most popular beer is the Hennepin, a saison with a twist, and is one of five year-round beers .
"It's unique," said Leinhart. "It has ginger, which gives a little snap to it."
A lot of Ommegang's beers are spiced, although it would take a trained palate to pick up exactly which spices are in what beers.
"We don't like to spice a beer so heavily that you can pick up individual flavors," said Leinhart. "Some Belgian brewers say if you can pick it out, you're using too much."
The brewery's first beer was the Ommegang, based on a traditional Belgian-style abbey ale. It has a slightly fruity taste to it, and licorice root is one of the ingredients.
The Rare Vos is a Belgian amber ale, with a slight caramel flavor from the malts.
The fourth year-round beer is the Witte, a traditional witbier, brewed with unmalted and malted wheat, orange peel and coriander.
The final year-round beer, Three Philosophers, is a personal favorite. It is a big (nearly 10 percent alcohol by volume) quad which is a Belgian strong ale. It is also brewed with 2 percent Belgian Kriek, or cherry beer.
There is so much going on in this beer some chocolate, cherry, sweetness from the malts and a slight roastiness to it.
It is also supposed to be a beer that ages well, so I'm putting that to the test I have three separate vintages in my cellar, waiting to see how they compare when the 2009s come out.
Brewery Ommegang also brews other specialty beers. The Ommegeddon is another of the wild ales that they brew. Called a funky ale it's another tart beer, more so than the Biere De Mars.
When this beer came out in 2007, I thought it a little disappointing because the wild yeast-created flavors never really developed, but in 2008 it was much improved.
"It's a changing beer," said Leinhart. "It's something that will change slightly every year."
Another speciality beer is Chocolate Indulgence, a Belgian-style stout brewed with Belgian chocolate. Unlike a lot of chocolate stouts, the chocolate does not overwhelm all other flavors. Rather, it acts as a complement to the beer.
This year, Leinhart is doing something new brewing a Belgian Noel beer, or Christmas beer. Noel beers are often dark, malty and brewed with spices.
"It'll be along the lines of a traditional Belgian-style Noel, with our own little twist on it," he said. "I'm focused on that right now."
Norman Miller is a Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 508-626-3823. Check out the Beer Nut blog at http://blogs.townonline.com/beernut/.