Belgium Comes to Cooperstown Day 2
We woke up to some much welcomed blue skies on Saturday, the main day of Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. VIPs like us were able to get in to the 3pm-7pm tasting a half hour early, so we were counting down the moments until 2:30. Several partiers walked by our little canopy and asked us why we weren't drinking yet. Why weren't we? Because we weren't stupid.|
Thankfully, the Ommegang gift shop opened at 11am for shopping and tours, so we had something to do to kill the time. Strangely, we really haven't been on many brewery tours. Checking out Ommegang may be the first official one we've ever done.
First impression of the brewery itself? Small. Much smaller than I expected. It dumbfounds me that they can turn out that much beer and ship to 40+ states which such a quaint facility. The tour guide mentioned that the brewery runs 24 hours a day with shift workers. Even given that, I still find it seriously hard to believe. They are definitely doing something right there.
The best part about the tour was the wonderful aroma throughout the building. I remember going to Busch Gardens as a kid and being appalled by the smell of the Busch brewery there. Is my nose different now or do craft breweries smell better too? The bottling facility was pretty impressive. The same line could do bombers or standard bottles depending on which sections were bypassed. It was kind of sad that we couldn't see it running. Overall, the tour brought on equal parts excitement and fear when it comes to our personal homebrewing aspirations. It's definitely a complicated process.
After the tour we hit up the gift shop/merch stand and spent too much money. We each got a t-shirt and I picked up a new hoodie. It's a bummer I have to wait until fall to wear it. Their bottled beer selection was pretty amazing too. We opted to pick up a few bottles of Aphrodite for ourselves and friends. It's their latest special edition beer. We were able to nab this a bit early, but craft pubs and stores (like Tap and Mallet and Beers of the World) seem to be already getting it in. When we bought it we hadn't even tried it yet, but that would soon change.
After our tour and shopping, we only had a bit of time remaining before the proper event began. We entered the tents a bit early to see what was going on. Several places started pouring early, including one of our absolute favorite breweries, Ithaca. In my opinion, they easily had the best lineup of beers at the event (not counting Ommegang/Duvel, but it was their event). The best of their offerings was Dark Humor. In a way, Dark Humor is this year's edition of the amazing Super Friends. It's a keg only beer that isn't even bottled in their Excelsior series. The similarities stop after amazing and rare though. Super Friends was an IPA. Dark Humor is a must have porter. It has an interesting taste that really makes it a unique experience. Heather describes it best as having an old-fashioned candy quality. It's definitely the kind of beer you should go out of your way to try. If you are a Rochester local, I know that Tap and Mallet recently mentioned on Twitter that they should have a keg coming up soon. Keep an eye on their draft list!
Ithaca rounded out their amazing lineup with two sours from their Excelsior series, Brute and Le Bleu. I would drink both of these on a regular basis, but I love sour beers. Heather, who isn't really a sour beer fan, still enjoyed Le Bleu. It had a fruitiness to go along with the tartness that created a good balance.
Making up the entire end of the largest tent, the Ommegang/Duvel stand offered the largest quantity of beers by far. Several attendants poured all sorts of different beers from pitchers and bombers. The most exciting beer was a festival exclusive known as 11 By Volume. Described in their guide as a Belgian abbey/porter hybrid, it did not disappoint. I always have mixed feelings about trying beers like this. While they are amazing, it's just demoralizing to know that the experience is a one-time thing.
We were also both able to try the previously mentioned Aphrodite. Wow is it intensely fruity! It's the kind of beer that causes certain types of drinkers to make wine cooler jokes. In a way, it's very similar to the Liefmans Fruitesse we had at the dinner the night before. Something about it just makes it more beer-like though, which is definitely preferable.
There are too many other beers at the Ommegang/Duvel booth to list, but some of the other highlights we tried are Duvel Single, Mc Chouffe, Duvel Tripel Hop, and Ommegang Chocolate Indulgence.
Obviously, there were many more than two booths at the event. We tried lots of other beers. There were three other standouts really worth mentioning. Most notably, the guys at Butternuts brought an incredible sour harvest ale from 2008 called Autumn Harvest. Another sour beer that easily converted Heather, the wonderful mix of traditional fall seasonal and sourness was something I'm thoroughly glad we didn't miss. We went back later in the event for a second helping and were seriously bummed it had been kicked.
Another stop I'm glad we made was at the Pretty Things booth. I randomly had a saison from them back in March on our Boston Trip. We had flagged Babayaga in the BCTC program because we like our stouts. The beer didn't disappoint, and the attendants were very nice. They mentioned that they were loosely associated with the Owl House restaurant in Rochester. That's apparently where we need to go to try Pretty Things beers. We found a new local restaurant to check out!
The last beer I'm going to mention is some good ole Saison Du Buff. I thought this beer was long gone so seeing a tap handle at the Stone booth made my day. A nice fresh beer to enjoy at a summer event like BCTC.
There weren't a ton of food vendors at the event, but we found one with a portable wood-fired oven making fresh pizzas and that's all we needed. Called Farm to Hearth, they are a great little restaurant from Connecticut that actually shut down their shop to bring their oven to Cooperstown for the event. They defended this decision by simply stating their love for good beer. While chatting, we got to watch our two personal sized pizzas get made right in front of us, from dough spreading to toppings to cooking. After getting our pizzas, we hit a booth for a beer fill-up, went to our tent, and had a wonderful dinner. My favorite pizza of the two was topped with caramelized onions, potatos, and prosciutto. The other, which was also amazing, had tomatoes and chard.
As the event wound down, we were relatively happy with how we paced ourselves. We tried a ton of great beers and weren't folded over sick like many of our once-rowdy neighbors. Knowing that we were picking up our new puppy the next day, we decided to call it a night relatively early. While relaxing at the tent, we were surprised by a wonderful fireworks show. It was a cool way to end the evening.