In the middle of March, I decided to take a day and drive on out to Cooperstown, NY. Most people would take this trip to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame, but I am not most people. One of my favorite American breweries calls Cooperstown home: Ommegang. It is a bit of a drive for me, but always worth the trip. You will quickly realize, as you drive up to the old hop farm, that a visit to Ommegang is not like many other breweries .
The first place you will visit when you get to the brewery is most likely the recently-constructed gift shop. Here you can get almost anything you desire from the Ommegang-Duvel-Maredsous-Chouffe family of beers. They have everything from flags to bottle openers. They also have all of their currently available beers that you can buy for take away (I was able to get Art of Darkness about a month before it was available at my local store). If you go and you don't have any of the glassware yet, I would really like to suggest you buy some. There are few things better in my mind than drinking a beer out of its intended glass. The tours leave on a somewhat frequent basis from the gift shop, so you can just mill around until they tell you that the tour is leaving.
The tour guides are extremely knowledgeable and friendly. If you don't know much about the brewing process, you should really pay attention on the tour, because Ommegang goes into some depth that other breweries don't actually get into. On the day that I went, they were actually brewing, which is kind of rare to be on a tour for. While my tour guide wasn't initially sure what they were making on that day, he made sure to find out and let me know. It seems like a small gesture, but I really like when people follow through like that.
Ommegang is a pretty well known brewery, especially in the US, but unlike many other similarly popular breweries, all of the brewing and bottling is done on site for Ommegang. I'm not saying it is bad to have brewing at a different site, but rather that it is cool to see such high volume going through at one location, and with such care. They walk you through the whole place, allowing you to see the progression from brew to bottle (the bottling line was pretty cool to see as a mechanical engineer). Did I mention that the tour is free? Pretty cool.
After the tour, you will certainly be ready for a drink or two. Lucky for you, the tasting portion of the tour is only $3 and comes with the sweet glass. The glass is just over 1.5 ounces, but don't let the small size get you bothered, you will get to try plenty of beer. Before you even get to the beer, they will put out a spread of pretzels and crackers with a number of mustards, cheeses, and dips that are made using Ommegang beers. If your first thought here is, "Why would I want food? I want to get DRUNK!", please don't go to Ommegang. All of the food is delicious, and it is fun to pair beers with food made with those beers. On any given day you will get to try at least the year-round Ommegang beers: Witte, Rare Vos, Hennepin, Belgian Pale Ale, Abbey Ale, and Three Philosophers. You will also have any of the one-offs and seasonal releases to try, depending on when you go.
If you are still hankering for some delicious beer and delicious food after your tasting is finished, just stroll into the cafe and order some up. I personally didn't stop in because I was on a schedule, and I have been regretting it since.
A trip to the brewery can be a wonderful thing to do any day that you have free. Visit www.ommegang.com to make sure that they are available on that particular day and get directions (I really like their new site design). Grab a date and head to the farm. If you don't have a date, that's ok, the staff are extremely friendly and will chat with you as long as you like. Take your time and enjoy the atmosphere. You don't have to spend your day drinking beer, although you should.