Belgium Comes To Cooperstown – Brewery Ommegang’s beer festival review

by Daniel on August 8, 2012

I spent this past weekend at one of the most epic beer festivals that occurs each year in the U.S., and it’s one that has its prime focus on Belgian style beers. Belgium Comes To Cooperstown, or “BCTC” for short, is a full blown weekend marathon hosted at Brewery Ommegang that has grown immensely in the past few years.  I would argue that behind the Great American Beer Festival, it is the best beer festival in America, and should be on any extreme beer seeker’s bucket list.  If you haven’t been, I’m going to do my best to convince you to go, and tell you how you can get the most out of your experience.

View of the tent village and Brewery Ommegang

Since the Mayan calendar has predicted the end of the world coming at the end of this year, the theme for this year’s event was very fitting: “The End Is Beer.”  I hope the Mayan’s were wrong for a whole list of reasons, but going to this event again definitely tops my list.  It is a bit out of the way at a 1.5hr drive from Albany, 2hrs from Syracuse, and 4hrs from NYC, but it’s worth it being away from everything, and out in some beautiful New York scenery.  Although the main event is on Saturday, many people choose to show up early Friday in order to grab the best campsite locations and to volunteer ahead of the main event.  Volunteering gets you a commemorative T-shirt and free admission to the main event.  However many of the volunteer shifts are serving beer during the main event, which has its advantages, but can also take away from your tasting time.  Also, if you choose to purchase VIP tickets to the event, there is a special dinner hosted on Friday that includes not only an exclusive six course dinner with beer pairings, but also some swag to take home with you.  Part of my volunteering job was helping Friday morning setting up the 69 tables and 690 chairs to seat all of the VIPs for the event under the main tent.

Brewery Ommegang tasting room

If you have the ability, bringing either some home brew or some beers from the area of the country you’re visiting from that might not be found here in upstate NY.  That way you’ll not only have some beers to enjoy yourself while you’re camping before & after the event, but there’s lots of people to share and trade with.  The group I traveled with included many home brewers from the Upstate NY Hombrewers Association, so we like a fair number of other campsites even had multiple beers on taps being served out of tap towers and jockey boxes.

They actually provide six showers (in two trailers) so you can bring toiletries to keep yourself fresh.  That’s something I wish I’d known beforehand, but I was able to manage anyway.  Outdoor games & other pass-times are great too for before and after the event.  Even if you’re not with a big group, you’ll find there’s lots of friendly people to hang out with.

As for beers at the event, you’ll find breweries from all around the country, and also some of the best Belgian and Trappist beers being offered through the importers.  Duvel importers had offerings from themselves as well as Chouffe, Liefmans, Maredsous, and De Koninck.  Other importers supplied Tripel Karmeliet, La Trappe, Orval, Westmalle, Rochefort, Malheur, St. Bernardus, and Val-Dieu to name a few.

BCTC tasting tent

A highlight of the craft breweries included Allagash Brewing Co., Brooklyn Brewery, Heavy Seas, Dogfish Head, North Coast Brewing Co., Olde Burnside Brewing, Olde Saratoga Brewery, Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project, Roc Brewing Co., Sly Fox Brewery, Spider Bite Beer Co., Stone Brewing Company, and Victory Brewing Co.  There were many others also on the docket of course.

What beers did all these guys have you ask?  The event program did include most of them (some were “TBD”), but all in all there were far too many to list here, let alone taste!  There is something for everyone, though.  Although the theme is Belgian beer, one can still find “lighter” beers under 6% and a huge variety in terms of Belgian styles, sours, and beers with all kinds of different spices.

I suggest you pace yourself, and bring lots of water and gatorade-type drinks with you on this trip (and food of course).  It was hot this year, and there’s not much shade to be had in the area.  That’s a tough combo in terms of staying hydrated and staying sober.  You don’t realize how much water your body is giving off during the event, and meanwhile you’re consuming more and more beer, so it’s very easy to quickly overdo it.  While if you’re going to overdo it, this is the event to be at, you’ll certainly put yourself out of an opportunity to continue on tasting more amazing beers if you rush things.

Overall I can contently say that if indeed the end of the world comes, I had enough amazing beer to last me into the afterlife, because as the Germans sing: In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here!”

See my other beer festival reviews here.  If you like this post, please subscribe to my blog in the box in my sidebar to get email updates.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

50K August 15, 2012 at 9:58 am

Wow, I can’t believe you were lucky enough to attend this festival! We toured this brewery last year, it was amazing.

Keep up the good work on the blog, love reading your posts. Very educational.

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