Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Exploring the Cooperstown Beverage Trail (part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of yesterday’s blog, an anecdote of me and my girlfriend’s trip to the Cooperstown Beverage Trail over the weekend. If you missed part 1, you can check it out here. Now back to the story…
Brewery Ommegang
Ommegang is by far the biggest venue of all the stops on the trail, with a full service café, a tasting room, and gift shop all located behind the brewery. When we arrived we went straight to the café and ordered a few beers and dinner. I tried their new Cooperstown Ale, a 5.5% ABV blonde ale which really impressed me. Renée got the Fleur de Houblon summer ale, which she liked since she tends to enjoy Belgian pales, witbiers, and tripels. Later on, we each ordered a glass of the Hop House, which is kinda/sorta Belgian IPA-ish (I think it’s their best regular offering now).
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My friend Scott Veltman, a brewer at Ommegang, met us for some drinks. That was really fun since he’s a laid-back guy with a great sense of humor who loves to talk beer. I brought a bottle of my homebrew IPA which won the “SMASH” category at the Ruck’s homebrew competition last week. Scott and another brewer tried it and both said they liked it, which I took as a major compliment. Afterwards, Scott gave us our own private tour of the brewery. You can tell he loves his job by how excited he is to describe what his job is, the brewing process, what each individual piece of equipment does, and the inside baseball of the brewing industry.
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There’s nothing quite like drinking a great beer at the brewery with the person who made it.
By the time we finished the tour it was well past 7pm on Saturday evening and we knew two of the three other places we wanted to see were closed, so we decided to call it a day and head home. We came back down late Sunday afternoon to visit the last stop on the trail and hit up two additional destinations while we were in the area. Here’s how Sunday’s itinerary went:
Bear Pond Winery
Much like Rustic Ridge, this is a familiar small town winery complete with a gift shop, outdoor patio, and even homebrew supplies (I was not expecting that). As for the wine, they had a fairly large selection available for sampling including two champagnes (both of which I tried and enjoyed). I found a lovely Rosé on the menu that pleasantly surprised me, so much so that I decided to take a bottle home for $11.
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This was the final stop on the actual Cooperstown Beverage Trail, and we were able to retrieve our souvenir glasses while we were there. Renée and I both opted for the beer glass which has all the logos of the trail members etched on it. Even though I already own too many shaker glasses, this is one I’ll actually appreciate since it will be a reminder of a fun weekend excursion.
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Cooperstown Distillery
Though not a partner on the trail, Cooperstown Distillery is listed in the Quench magazine and on the trail’s website among the “recommended destinations.” The venue itself is quite impressive as it appears to be a warehouse that was converted into a distillery and gift shop/tasting room with a cool metropolitan vibe to it. It recently opened in October of 2013.
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They had three types of spirits available for complimentary sampling: vodka, gin, and bourbon. They were dispensed in tiny pours, which was appropriate since each of the spirits were 80 to 100 proof, so they were quite intense. While I’m not a connoisseur of these types of drinks, it was still fun to try them. The woman running the tastings was very friendly and knowledgeable and was able to describe the distilling process and the flavor notes in layman’s terms.
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I didn’t take home any booze, but I did buy a $10 box of “Bean Ball Bourbon Fudge.” It’s a non-alcoholic confectionery made with the spirit of the same name by Tin Bin Alley, another local Cooperstown business.
Council Rock Brewery
This is a brewery I was not familiar with until shortly before we left (thanks to my friend Jesse for pointing it out). It’s not mentioned on the beverage trail’s website nor in their brochure, which is odd since it would fit with the theme of this cuisine trail perfectly. I checked their website and was happy to see they are open much later than all the other businesses on the trail, plus they are a brewpub with a pretty standard and reasonably priced lunch and dinner menu. Cooperstown Beverage Trail 076
One of my favorite activities as a craft beer enthusiast is stopping at a local brewpub and sampling all their offerings. However, I often find brewpubs of this type tend to make rather generic, non-experimental, pedestrian beers. They seem to present themselves as a restaurant that happens to make their own beer rather than a brewery that is also a restaurant. That was definitely the case with Council Rock, as nearly all the beers were “meh” at best, though a few were borderline undrinkable. Diacetyl and phenols were prominent in nearly half the samples. I tried to point these flaws out to Renée, but being a newbie she didn’t really pick up on the off-flavors I described. I suppose that’s a perfect example for how venues like this get by – the majority of their customers probably aren’t beer connoisseurs so there’s no reason to have stringent Six Sigma-level quality control or to brew something of a niche style.
There were nine total beers on tap, two of which were guest taps (and one of those was a cider). A flight of five 4oz pours is priced at $8.50 (about 43 cents per ounce). Since it cost us $17 to sample the entire lineup (with one duplicate pour), I’d say that was an overpriced sampling.
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There’s not much point in reviewing the beers individually, though I should mention they had a California Common that was surprisingly good. If you really want to know what I thought of them, check my Untappd account. I should also mention that the food was very good. I ordered a turkey sandwich and Renée got a pastrami sandwich, and we really enjoyed them. We kept hearing people at other stops on the trail recommend we try Council Rock’s famous garlic pesto fries (served with chipotle aioli), and they did not disappoint. Additionally, the waitstaff was very friendly and the service was fairly quick. So the experience as a whole was still positive, even if the beer was, in my opinion, rather sub-par.
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In conclusion…
Would I recommend exploring the Cooperstown Beverage Trail for yourself? Absolutely! It’s not too far from the Capital District and the scenery along the trail is beautiful this time of year (even I-88 is easy on the eyes). The people are very friendly wherever you go and you never feel like you’re in some cheesy tourist trap. While some of the beer isn’t exactly world class, the quality of Ommegang single-handedly makes up for it. Plus the fact it’s not exclusively beer-centric, so wine and spirit drinkers will probably enjoy it as much as beer drinkers.
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A good way to spend a weekend would be to get a hotel room in Cooperstown and take one of the trolley tours that visits all the stops on the trail, that way you don’t have to drive. You can probably see all the stops on the beverage trail on a Saturday and then spend a Sunday afternoon at the Baseball Hall of Fame. If you plan on commuting as we did, you shouldn’t have much trouble at least sampling a few of the beverages available at these venues. Sometimes a sip is all you need to enjoy the experience.

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