The wait help at the Doubleday Cafe on Main Street in Cooperstown wear T-shirts with this on the back: “It’s a drinking town with a baseball problem.” Not original, but we get the point.
Because beer goes together with baseball like baseball goes together with beer, two non-horsehide-related side trips while you’re in the hamlet to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame must be to patronize the two local breweries that make and bottle their own brands.
We batted .500 on the mission.
First stop, Ommegang, off CR33, about five miles south of the Hall. The Belgium-style brewery that produces much of the high-end selections you’ll find at the local pubs and super markets is also a great spot for summer concerts. Coming up: Lyle Lovett, out on the grassy area behind the brewery that’s perfectly set up as an amphitheatre.
The first thing we noted about the Ommegang tour we received — we must also note, we’re in with the marketing director, so it helped a little bit to get some extra cheese and the Whalen’s horse radish and garlic soaked pickles with the tasting — was the smell. Something like the Wrigley Field concourse on a warm, summer day.
Yes, warm beer. In a good way. Not as a recycled beer way.
It’s a product of the environment. The giant stainless steel vats hooked up by hoses and filters and yeast and hops and grains emit the scent of beer before it’s cold. It’s boiled, cooked and heated, even to a point where a giant white mesh bag of spices are dropped into the tank to seep into the mix, much like a tea bag.
The brands we took a special liking to at Ommegang (available online at ommegang.com) range from the wheat light Wittle (5.1 percent alcohol), to Hennepin (7.7 percent, with a real ginger kick), to Ommegang Abby Ale (8.5 percent), which takes the shape of the brand that is created by Trappist monks, to Rare Vos amber ale (6.5 percent), to Three Philosophers (9.8 percent). Some of this goes excellent with chocolate, it’s that rich. Most of it can be used for baking, steaming into muscles and fish, incorporated into cheese spreads. The Duval (pronounced dooo-vul) brand is also popular.
Because it’s close proximity up the two-lane road from the local 22-strong Little League fields, and the city is able draw many by hosting tournaments for the kids aged 9-to-12, and there seem to be rainouts once and awhile in the hot and humid area, the Ommegang brewery becomes a great escape for coaches caught in delays. Just head for the “Brouwerszaal” sign and all is good on the patio.
The discussion will soon turn toward “premature hopping” and why there isn’t a killer brew created for Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew.
Second stop: The local store to find the Cooperstown Brewing Company’s collection.
The actual site of this brewery and bottling company is more of a Mickey Mantle drive — at least eight miles from the Hall, in Milford. But for collectors of beer who want a taste of Cooperstown to take home, this digs well into the batters box and allows the souvenir shoppers to be satisfied — all the way to the bottle cap.
(A design so popular that one of the local Main Street collectors stores offer a cap, smashed down and with a magnet on the back as a $2 impulse buy at the counter)
Unfortunately, we didn’t allow enough time to make it out to the site. But we found our first bottle in the Doubleday Cafe and took a liking to its somewhat pedestrian taste and flavor.
Over at the local stores, it’s packaged well — you can get an eight-bottle mix of all the different kinds. From the bottom of the six-pack box, we’re able to find out that Cooperstown Brewing Company was founded in 1994 in Cooperstown, “an area rich in tradition in beer making.”
Hop farming was big in this area from the 1820s to the end of the century. The Cooperstown Brewery’s great grandfather’s hop far was three miles north of the Milford brewery location.
“We use the finest two-row English barley, select West Coast hops and yeast from Ringwood, England,” they say.
The tours at the site are five times a day on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
As you can see from the lables on their brew, it’s perfect for collectors, with names like “Nine Man Ale,” “Benchwarmers, “Old Slugger” and “Strike Out.”
On the company’s official website (linked here), you can even see pictures of the fuggle hop used in “Old Slugger.” The company store also has bottle wrenches, pub supplies and tap handles. As well as the T-shirts and beer you can have shipped home.
You need more? Check out each site for a better grasp of what you can find. Then consider engaging in a game of beer baseball (linked here).
Knock ’em down and knock it out.