This past weekend was the 8th annual Belgium Comes To Cooperstown Beer Festival held at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, NY, not only one of the best beer events in the Northeast, but in the entire country. A gathering of beer aficionados pretty much unlike any other, this year the powers that be that organize the event, the importers and distributors that make the beer available to us, and most importantly the brewers that create these delicious specimens, seemed to yet again raise the measuring stick for how it’s really supposed to be done when it comes to appreciating craft beer.
This was the third year for our “contingent” for going, which included 2 fellow KegWorkers, and an unbelievable time was had by all. I think for me, what made it extra special is according to veterans that have been coming since 2003, this was the first time it didn’t actually rain for a period of time from noon Friday to everyone’s departure on Sunday. Lots of beer festivals are outdoor events in the summer months, but what makes this one unique is that participants have the opportunity to camp on the beautiful, serene grounds of the brewery which used to be a former hop farm. The result is one huge party, a tent city, a community of fellowship and camaraderie among beer geeks unlike anything else I experience all year. Obviously people attend this event for the tasting of hundreds of beers that drip creativity, with multiple one-off brews created specifically for the event as well as classic examples that are the benchmarks for what Belgian beers are all about. But I, as well as many others, look forward to seeing people from around the region that I have made friends with over the past three years, and that is what makes this gathering so very unique.
Clearly it’s easy to lose track of all the beers one has at this event, but I wanted to share a few of my personal highlights that really struck a chord, four of which were sampled at the tasting, and 2 which were brought by friends:
Stillwater Stateside Saison – Overall, the biggest surprise of the festival for me were the grocery list of beers that this undiscovered gem of a brewer from Baltimore offered. One of the girls pouring their beers was nice enough to serve me the entire flight of 8-10 beers they had, in her order of preference. Everything I had was very well done, and I hope to see their beers make it to the Upstate New York Region soon; they currently have distribution in New York City. Read more about them at the Stillwater Ales Blog.
Keegan Ales Four Philosophers – Tripel is one of my favorite styles; I don’t care if one is released by Trailer Park Brewing Company, if it exists, I have to try it. The fine folks at Keegan Ales, whom already are an A+ in my book, provided this dynamite barrel-aged Tripel, with a name created obviously as a nod to Ommegang’s own Three Philosophers.
White Birch Brewing Barrel Aged Tripel – Looky here, another Tripel! Until this weekend, I only knew White Birch by name, and while their entire line they offered was great, this was something special. Thanks to Jim for the full pour of this nectar.
Ommegang Cup O Kyndness Belgian Style Scotch Ale – Not yet available commercially until September, but on tap at the festival, this beer is as good as you will expect it to be. Scotch ale is one of my favorite styles outside of all things Belgian and English, and I love it when breweries focusing on Belgian styles take on a Scotch ale. Rich, balanced, and malty, it will easily find a place in my fridge as well as my cellar once it hits the shelves.
Alesmith Decadence 10th Anniversary Ale – Out of all the treats Murph brought back from a recent trip to San Diego, this was the second bottle of Decadence that we had (the other being the 2009 Weizenbock) and it was a grand slam. It redefined for me how an Old Ale is done properly. Retired by the brewery and no longer made, it will obviously be tough to find, but if you see any bottles in any stores, grab it and run.
Williamantic Brewing Company Flower Infusion – Jim brought many a beer that made me sit down and take notice, but this one almost stopped time for me. A Cuvee De Fleurs style farmhouse ale, it is brewed with European malts, wildflower honey, hopped with Marynka, and infused with Lavender, Calendula, Chamomile, Rose Buds, and Hibiscus. Couldn’t they have come up with something a bit more original?
So, in a sea of an overdose of everything that’s good, these beers were special, and surprising. I always say to people, like the Great American Beer Festival, TAPNY, and the Beer Advocate Festivals in Boston, this is one event that every fan of craft beer MUST attend at least once, to see what it’s all about. In the past, tickets have gone on sale for the event April 1st, and they’re gone in the blink of an eye. Do yourself a favor and pencil this one in for next year – I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Photo credit: Sarah Ryder
[techtags:BELGIUM COMES TO COOPERSTOWN, OMMEGANG, BEER FEST, BEER EVENTS]