Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Pink Boots at Ommegang

"Don't rule out working with your hands. It does not preclude using your head." ~Andy Rooney

July 31-August 1: Drove from Rochester to Cooperstown in about four hours. It takes other folks three hours, but dragging the trailer behind my van slows me down. Got off I-90, the NY Throughway, onto NY Route 28 which curved and turned and took corners through all sorts of very small towns. Once I got off I-90, the Route 28 appeared to go up and up.

I filled up with gas at the McDonalds-Mobil station on the north side of Richfield Springs. That's where I took the photo of this live bait vending machine (below right). Dave Web Enterprises should franchise to Oregon, although Oregon is more a catch-and-release and fly fishing state than a live bait state. Inside the McD-Mobil I found an exact replica of New Holland's Elvis, except of course this one didn't dispense beer. I also found some gourmet sodas and I can report that Saranac Ginger Beer is nice and spicy with a fresh ginger bite, but personally I would have preferred more bite and less sugar.
Kept driving up and down hills, through small farming towns, and around lakes. Even saw an Amish family travelling down the road in their horse and buggy.

Apparently Cooperstown cellebrated their annual induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame last weekend, and I am glad I missed the crowd. Considering how far out in the boonies Cooperstown feels, it looks like a nice small town and a lot of the houses are very cute with gingerbread woodwork under the eaves and around the front porch posts.

Arrived at Ommegang after most of the staff had retired for the evening. Only brewers Mike McManus and Wes Nick were left, brewing the last of the six batches for the week. They were both pulling a 12-hour, 6:00 pm to 6:00 am shift. If you haven't already figured it out, brewers work very hard to bring you your libation!

I didn't hang out with them as I hadn't spoken with Director of Production, Phil Leinhart yet, to find out what was kosher for me to do during my visit. Every brewery has things they are comfortable with me doing and seeing, and I aim to make no enemies during my visit. Therefore I missed participating on the last brew of the week.

However, Mike and Wes brought me to Ommegang's tasting room and set me up with a real glass (no plastic cup for the road brewer) and a bottle of their current limited release, Ommegeddon. This beer is on the trucks headed all over the country as I write. If you buy some, buy two bottles because this beer will continue to change over the next two years, and you'll want to save a bottle for later.

The base of this beer is similar to the Ommegang Abbey, however it has been infused with Brettanomyces and dry hopped. The extra hops is subtle, but the Brett is definitely present. As QC Manager & Brett-Wrangler Jason Parrish told me, you have to be patient with Brett. Jason thinks most American breweries overpitch the Brettanomyces, but Jason likes it to grow and flower and slowly develop its characteristic horse-blanket, copper-penny flavors and aromas.

Now, if you haven't tasted a beer with Brettanomyces before, this is a good starter Brett beer because the Brett character is still fairly subtle. You may think the beer reminds you of the flavors in a slightly funky French or Italian wine. Then wait six months or a year (or two) and try it again. Voila! Mondo funkadelic. But not now. Now it is baby-barely-funk.

I'd parked in the back of Ommegang's country rural gravel parking lot. I opened my trailer door about 8:00 am and the sun was low behind the hill of trees, it's bright light muted with field fog. I put on my pink boots and looked for Phil, who had been my email contact. Phil had a full day ahead of him because he and his crew were installing a brand new labeller.

Phil's been in the brewing industry for a long time, starting at small brewpubs in New York City, spending some time at Anheuser-Busch, and now at Ommegang brewing a completely different kind of beer.

Phil had me job shadow Joe Poliseno who was training Andre Demidenko. Photo at right was taken from the second floor. Andrew in red, Joe in green. Note the gift shop right in the middle of the cellar at lower left next to Joe. That's nuts!

Then Brewmaster Randy Thiel took me to join a sales rep tasting/training session where we tasted four non-Ommegang Belgian beers that their distribution arm sells. That was fun because I was able to help provide descriptive words that the sales reps might use at a tasting or beer dinner.

Randy began working for Ommegang ten years ago, just before they opened. He worked under a Belgian brewer who got homesick, then was promoted to top brew dog. Not only did Randy attend Siebel, he attended the Brewmaster program at U.C. Davis. And he's a fellow Wisconsinite/Cheesehead, as am I.

Next we tasted a test batch of Ommegang's next limited release, a Belgian Chocolate Stout. How it tastes is a secret until they hammer down the recipe.

Ommegang is busy preparing for a huge expansion that will occur within a year, or so - these things are moving targets. They are also busy with summer tourists who come to Cooperstown for baseball or the lake, and then visit the brewery. Lots of tourists.

By the time we took the photo most of the brewers were gone so we grabbed the packaging crew for the photo. They were mostly cleaning today because of the labeller installation. In the photo at the top of this page, L to R, Top: Jason Parrish, Mike Weller, Phil Leinhart, Andre Demidenko, Teri and Brett Frasier. Bottom: Randy Thiel, Jim Gott, Justin "Scooter" Backus and Casey Morris.

After work Randy took me to dinner and then gifted me with some of Ommegang's unique Belgian-style beers. No driving tonight. Burlington, Vermont is about six hours away at the pace I can drive. Good night.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed a podcast from Pacific Brew News Radio (?) with Randy. He seems very comfortable with Ommegang's relationship with Duvel. I think it is great that these two excellent breweries have teamed up to bring good beer to America!

I will look for Ommegeddon in local stores. It sounds like a good addition to my cellar!

Ted in Fort Collins