Brewery Ommegang, Cooperstown, N.Y.
Cooperstown doesn't need much help drawing crowds during the summer, but it gets just a little boring once tourists have seen every bat, ball and bronze player plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame. That's where the Belgians come in.
When Don Feinberg opened Brewery Ommegang in 1997, stronger Belgian brews such as krieks, saisons, tripels, quadrupels and even witbiers weren't weighing on the American beer drinker's mind. If you were into craft beer at the time, you liked it hoppy or dark and anything that tasted even remotely sour or was served in a snifter fell into an extremely small minority.
Ommegang helped change that with its Hennepin saison, Three Philosophers kriek/quadrupel blend and Witte witbier expanding craft drinkers' palates and serving as a bridge to Belgian beers such as Rodenbach's Flemish Red, Brouwerij Vehaeghe's Duchesse de Bourgogne and Duvel Moortgat blonde ale. That connection became clearer when Duvel Moorgat bought Ommegang in 2003, making it the only "Belgian" beer -- as opposed to Belgian-style -- brewed in the U.S.
It's a big reason why the
tour of Ommegang's brewery
, which looks more like a farmhouse than a brewhouse, is far different than that conducted at most American breweries. The fermenting in barrels, the storing in cool cellars and the spicing and bittering of the brews is in line with Belgian brewing tradition, but runs counter to the more German-inspired brewing process of the majority of American craft brewers (with Dogfish Head, Pretty Things and others serving as notable exceptions).
It's also a big reason why Ommegang tries not only to draw visitors who are in Cooperstown for a Hall of Fame visit, but encourages them to stick around and visit local cave system/tourist trap Howe Caverns -- where Ommegang stores some of its barrels of fermenting brew -- or to watch a vintage baseball game played on the brewery grounds in June. Despite its Belgian flavor, events such as the 50-brewer Belgium Comes to Cooperstown festival in July, its Waffles and Puppets fall foliage events in October and particularly its September Ommefest featuring local beer, wine cider and cheese are inherently local and a great taste of Upstate New York.