Belgium breweries, unlike American breweries, typically put the name “brewery” before the company name. This is true of Cooperstown, NY beer maker, Brewery Ommegang. I was fortunate enough to share a round with Ommegang Publicity Manager, Allison Capozza. Allison told me about the wonderful Belgian traditions that Ommegang weaves into each of their beers. She also shared some Game of Thrones information, and of course, the proper amount of time to age a beer.
The Brewery: Can you tell us a little about how you entered into beer publicity?
Allison: Sure, I received an English degree with a writing minor from Siena College, which is near Albany New York. When I graduated I joined the Army as a signal officer, so I did communications work. About halfway through my time in the military I had a job that involved public affairs, writing press releases about what my unit was doing in Iraq. After I left the military I moved back home to Cooperstown, where I am from originally. I applied to Ommegang to do publicity work and shortly after I was hired to do just that. I’ve been here for about two and a half years now.
Do you know where the name “Ommegang” originated?
There’s an Ommegang festival that’s held in Brussels every year. It started in 1549. It was to welcome Charles V to the city. The word “ommegang” in Flemish means ‘to walk around’. There was sort of a festival/pageant that went around the city. That’s where the name came from. We’re named after that festival.
Which Ommegang offering do you enjoy the most?
I am really into our seasonals. I love Glimmerglass which is our spring seasonal. We have a new beer out now called Hopstate NY, which was released just a few weeks ago. It’s brewed with 100% New York state grown hops. That’s probably my current favorite beer, partly because it’s delicious and partly because it’s a real feel good story. I had the opportunity to meet the growers who we bought the hops from. I have a personal connection with that beer having had the opportunity to meet those people. So, Glimmerglass in the Spring, and Hopstate NY right now.
Locally grown hops is exciting, do you have any beers brewed with all New York ingredients?
Hopstate is probably the closest with the New York grown hops. But we don’t currently have a beer that is straight New York for all of the ingredients.
Since Ommegang is located in Cooperstown, New York with the Baseball Hall of Fame, is there a big connection with baseball at the brewery?
There’re a lot baseball fans here, on the staff. I grew up in Cooperstown, so I have a real connection with the town itself and baseball. I may be the only Red Sox fan at the brewery. I probably shouldn’t share that information though. We draw a lot of inspiration for our beers from the local area. Glimmerglass is named after the lake. It’s the name of the lake in James Fenimore Cooper’s book. We have Cooperstown Ale that we release each spring. We think Cooperstown is very special. I know that everyone here loves being able to call Cooperstown home for the Brewery.
With such diversity in beer drinkers these days, what market do you find Ommegang actively seeking out?
We’ve had good success with higher ABV, more complex offerings, like Three Philosophers and Abbey Ale. Now we’re also seeing really good success with more accessible beers like Witte, which is a wheat ale, Rare Vos which is an amber. And we have a new American style IPA called Nirvana that’s out now.
You mentioned Three Philosophers, who would you consider a modern day beer philosopher?
(laughs) I’m terrible at questions like this. Really, I think our brewmaster Phil Leinhart, who we joke and sometimes call him our ‘Chief Phil-osopher’, is really for me a beer philosopher. He has these sort of inspirational and sometimes funny, but really fantastic things that he says. Particularly when we’re talking or I hear him speaking with brewers. Kind of like these nuggets of beer wisdom, or pearls of beer wisdom if you will. I’ll hear it and think ‘gosh, that’s such a smart way to look at that beer’ or ‘that’s a really great analogy’. So, he’s my modern day beer philosopher.
750 ml bottles with the corks may be the coolest way to open and drink a beer. Was that design an original intention at the brewery from the start?
That was our traditional bottle from the start being that we’re Belgium centric. The 750ml bottle is very traditional for Belgian beer. The one we use is actually called ‘The Belgium Beer Bottle’. Our higher ABV beers do typically come in that format. We have beers that are offered in 12 ounce. Actually I think all of our beers are offered in the 12 ounce. There’re some beers that are only offered in the 12 ounce bottle because it’s more fitting for the style.
Ommegang promotes aging several of their higher ABV offerings. What’s the most aged beer you have ever had?
My most aged is actually not an Ommegang beer. It was from our sister brewery Liefmans in Belgium. When I was there last summer visiting, I had the opportunity to try a 1987 Goudenband which is just a few years younger than I am. It was wonderful to taste and experience, but I wouldn’t sit down with a bottle of it. It was one of those beer moments that I think everyone in the industry has a couple of, something that they will always remember. I asked Phil about the oldest bottle he’s ever had, and he said he had a 10 year old bottle of Three Philosophers from Ommegang. He said it was good, a little past its prime. When he drinks Three Philosophers he likes it between the 3 to 5 year range.
While we’re on aging, is it hard to promote a beer that might not be immediately enjoyed?
I don’t think it’s difficult at all. All of our beers are drinkable and delicious right from the warm cellar. The higher ABV, more complex beers like Abbey and Three Philosophers will reveal kind of more complex flavors and aromas as they get a little age on them. We recommend ‘buy two, have one now and have one in three to four years and tell us what you think the difference is. It’s really all about what tastes good to you. If you like it fresh, you like it fresh. If you like it with a little age, that’s fine too.
I was surprised the see that Brewery Ommegang isn’t available in every state.
We’re in 43 states. We’re not available in North and South Dakota. There’s a couple other states around the Dakotas that we’re not sold in, and also Mississippi. But we are sold in 43 states and also the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Is there any reason that Ommegang wouldn’t be available in those states?
There’re a couple of different reasons. Part of it is that there wasn’t the market in the state. I know that there are Ommegang fans all over the country even in the states where we’re not available but part of it is not having a deep market in those states, and there are also alcohol laws. If there’s a 5% law that exists, we can’t sell in those states because we don’t brew anything under 5%.
For someone who has never had a Brewery Ommegang offering before, what beer do you recommend they start with?
We typically would recommend Rare Vos, it’s kind of a ‘middle of the portfolio’ beer. It’s an amber ale, it goes great with pub food. But you know, if you’re someone who is more into PBR, try Witte. If you’re someone who is more into North Coast Stout, try a Three Philosophers. Again, we like to find out what people are used to drinking, what they like to drink and then we can recommend something within our family that would probably suit their taste. When we used to receive reviews from people that weren’t really favorable about one beer, I frequently asked them on social media ‘tell us what you do like to drink, maybe we can recommend something else more your speed or your taste’.
It’s no secret that you brew the wildly popular Game of Thrones beers, did Ommegang seek out HBO, or did HBO come to you?
They came to us. Their licensing team was looking at craft beer as a brand extension for the show. They had a short list of American craft breweries and we were on that list. We had a couple of conversations and it was just such a perfect fit for us in terms of the kinds of beers that we brew and the look and feel of our brewery. It fit very nicely with the show. It’s been really an incredible experience working with their licensing team and having this really unique inspiration for our innovation team to take and craft beers around. And it’s very much a collaboration between HBO and Ommegang. We work together. They’ll give us kind of what they’re looking for as a theme and we’ll take that back and the innovation team will work on what kind of style would work best for this. Or what are the ingredients that would tie in nicely. Then we work together on marketing it. It’s a comfortable collaboration. We’re heading into our sixth release that is coming out this fall. It’s really been fantastic.
As a fan of the show and of course beer, it’s been exciting to see the releases. You even reached out to the audience for ideas naming one of the beers.
That was the fourth release, Valar Morghulis. And that was a lot of fun to do on social media. There were so many responses, but Valar Morghulis was the clear winner for that poll that Game of Thrones put up on their Facebook page.
What’s next for Brewery Ommegang?
I mentioned Hopstate, that’s a new beer for us. We released our first American IPA, Nirvana, in April. That was a big first for us. That’s currently available in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. That’s a year round beer whereas Hopstate is a limited edition. I mentioned the Game of Thrones release in the fall which I can’t talk about. We also have a summer concert series that going on. We have been doing this for a few years now. This year we have eight concerts. We hosted The Pixies in May. This past weekend we had the Avett Brothers and John Prine for our biggest event ever. We’ll also host Old Crow Medicine Show, The Decemberists and Primus in July, and then Bonnie Raitt and back to back shows with Brand New in August.
That’s a great line up.
Yeah, so it’s a very busy summer for the concert series and our events team. The brewers are working hard every day down in the brewhouse, and then packaging on the other side of the brewery too. We brew 24 hours a day, 5 days a week, and packaging packages 5 days a week. It’s pretty busy here all of the time.
I would like to thank Allison for stepping away from her busy schedule to talk about Brewery Ommegang. I applaud her tight lipped resolve after I further probed her for Game of Thrones beer information. She would not even give me a hint, but what else would you expect from ex-military? I look forward to trying the new releases Allison mentioned. I hope you all seek out some Ommegang soon, and remember what Allison says, “Buy two, have one now and one in three or four years.”