COOPERSTOWN, N. Y. — Every vacation needs a sublime moment. Ours came drenched in mud, with a handful of garlicky mussels, a cloudy sunset, and Wilco performing “Box Full of Letters,” only slightly distorted by the rain.
But I can’t complain. Wilco, one of those bands best heard in person, was playing on a sloppy night in a giant open field beside my favorite brewery, Brewery Ommegang, set on a farm amid the rolling hills of upstate New York’s Leatherstocking region. I believe I was drinking a Rare Vos, a smooth amber Belgian ale, from a plastic cup.
The venue, a Belgian-style craft brewer just a few miles from the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, used to be a secret, where you could down some samples and dip pretzels into cheese after the hipsters who brewed the beer gave you an informal tour. Now it’s a destination, with packed tours that require reservations.
The expansion over the last 16 years has been great. They now have major concerts on the grounds — including the 2012 Wilco concert my wife and I attended — as well as a slew of beer snob festivals and community events, many of which are child-friendly. All of them serve some of the world’s best beer on tap.
Bearded pilgrims in search of craft beer — hailing from places like Brooklyn, N.Y., and Somerville — fill the place nearly every weekend. They inspect the limited edition beers in the gift shop and nod appreciatively when the tour guide discusses the filtering process and holds up the fresh hops.
If you want more than a sample, head to the brewery’s cafe, opened a few years ago, which serves those decadent Belgian fries wrapped in wax paper cones that can be dipped in several varieties of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise. I tend toward the cheese plate, accompanied by pickles and dried fruit, followed up with a sticky waffle.
The taps are full of Ommegang and other complex beers from Duvel, the Belgian company that owns the brewery. I’ve spent many afternoons there ordering beer by the flight — progressing from the spiced white beers to the malty darks. My only complaint is that they close at 5 on most nights.
For nearly a decade, Ommegang has marketed itself as part of a beverage trail, which now includes five other places to tour and taste: the Fly Creek Cider Mill, Bear Pond Brewery, Cooperstown Brewing Co., Butternuts Beer & Ale, and Rustic Ridge Winery.