Wednesday, July 9, 2014
If it had been a baseball game, it would have been called on account of rain. This was no game, however — this was the Deadly Serious business of beer tourism, and neither rain nor snow ... well, actually, snow would’ve been an abomination and frankly unacceptable after That Particular 8-Month Expletive Deleted Winter recently endured — so yeah, this far into June snow would have been less welcome than even a downpour of frogs and serpents, and would have sent us scurrying right back home to hide under the bed.
But, anyways, it WAS just rain, so we soldiered on, once again following (more or less) the path of the old Erie Canal via the I-90 before finally veering south into unexplored territory, a bit east of Syracuse.
Cooperstown, New York, is best known for baseball, of course: back in 1839, Abner Doubleday invented the Great American Pastime in a cow pasture there, in much the same way that back in whenever-the-hell Buddy Bolden (or was it Jelly Roll Morton?) invented jazz — which is to say that the stories, while appealing, are perhaps about as reliable as accounts of Paul Bunyan logging entire forests with a single swing of his axe...
At any rate, baseball, whatever its mythical origins, wasn’t the draw for us, even if it put Cooperstown on the map: we drove 4 hours so that we could drink Belgian-influenced beers at Brewery Ommegang...
In my college days back in the ’80s, I drank beer because I was more or less old enough to do so, and it was fizzy and cold and refreshing and an effective intoxicant. I didn’t savor beer for its taste, obviously — because it didn’t taste very good!
However, as long as it went down without too much difficulty and dimmed the pressing concerns of a worrywart college kid, it was Extremely Adequate beer!
I first tasted great beer in Bavaria, the first summer I worked at a music camp there. Bavarian beer was shockingly different, AND varied, AND delicious, and I tried everything poured in my direction: sour pale beers, dark beers, wheat beers, beers with syrup drizzled in them, and on and on.
My friend Robert, a fine Bavarian saxophonist and clarinetist, was my German beer ambassador (“You MUST try this...”), and as he presented me with glass after glass he solemnly told me that German beers, and especially Bavarian beers, were the best in the world, and I knew he must be right.
Then I went to Belgium.
Belgian beer was downright exotic compared to German beer: spicy and ... musky? and ... strange — but compelling and delicious! My OTHER friend Robert, a Belgian trombonist, solemnly told me that Belgian beers, and especially Flemish beers, were the best in the world, as he reverently passed foamy glasses my way. Bavarian Robert, seated across the table from Belgian Robert, maintained that German beers were superior — and to be certain of his opinion, he savored each and every Belgian brew put in front of him.
When I reluctantly returned to the States and resumed my college life, I had to leave those wonderful beers behind: in the mid-Eighties in my western Wisconsin slice of the universe, at least, German and Belgian beers were entirely unobtainable.
I went back to drinking American beer because I was in America, dammit, and that’s what there was to drink!
This revealed a lack of imagination on my part.
The folks who started Brewery Ommegang, on the other hand, faced with that same predicament after being smitten with Belgian beers and not being able to find them in the States, refused to surrender: first they tried to import them directly from Belgium and, when that proved unsatisfactory, decided to just brew the damn beer themselves!
Eventually Ommegang got good enough at it that they were acquired by the legendary Belgian producer Duvel.
These photos include a few rainy shots of Cooperstown, including Otsego Lake and the old-fashioned, clean, comfortable, and just slightly shabby Tunnicliff Inn where we stayed; Ommegang in all its glory; the unexpectedly delightful Farmers’ Museum; and our FANTASTIC final flight of beers at Council Rock Brewery — a presumed competitor highly praised (correctly!) by the folks at Ommegang as Very Worthy of a visit!
The last two shots are just pure Beer Porn: two lovely bottles purchased at Ommegang’s store, from their “sister” brewery, Boulevard Brewing Company, based in Kansas City and now also owned by Duvel: Tank 7 in particular was a marvelous and spicy saison that we’ll be seeking again...
(Click on any image to launch slideshow view — highly recommended!)