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Your Beermonger: Ommegang and the Changing Face of Craft Beer

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

My wife and I are taking a weekend to visit New York City this weekend. I don’t get out of town often, and haven’t visited NYC in about eight years so it seemed like a good time. Seeing as I won’t be around, I asked Mike Berry from Ommegang Brewery/Duvel USA to fill in for me at the Arrowine tasting table. We’ve hashed out a tasting lineup that I believe reflects Ommegang’s commitment to innovation and pushing craft beer forward.

Founded by Belgian beer importer and aficionado Don Feinberg in 1997, Brewery Ommegang has always been dedicated to producing classic Belgian-style beers with respect for the traditions and ingredients of Belgian brewing. Situated in Cooperstown, NY on what was once a hop farm, Ommegang set about establishing top-notch recipes and introducing Belgian-style beer to parts of America where styles such as Dubbel, Tripel, and Quadrupiel were unheard of.

In 2003, Feinberg sold Brewery Ommegang to Duvel-Moortgat, brewers of… well, Duvel among other beers (Liefman’s, Maredsous, La Chouffe to name a few). This is where Ommegang’s story starts to become really interesting to me: more often than not when a small brewery is bought by a bigger one, they crank the production of the small brewery’s best-known products through the roof in an effort to maximize the profit from their new purchase. This often comes at the expense of the small brewery’s experimenting with new ideas and smaller run beers.

When I first started seeing the classic Ommegang lineup (Hennepin, Three Philosophers, Rare Vos, Abbey Dubbel) on local grocery store shelves, I wasn’t the only beer geek fretting that they’d gone ‘mainstream,’ that we’d never see anything beyond the year-round beers anymore. But that’s not exactly what happened: while the best-known Ommegang beers were now staples at groceries and big chains, a succession of short-run, experimental brews started rolling out. As a fan of Ommegang, it makes me happy to feel like I still have a place in helping their success, and as a beer geek I always look forward to new Ommegang releases.

With beer conglomerates eyeing craft breweries for purchase seemingly every day now, and the tensions that always arise when smaller breweries ‘go big’, it’s a joy to see how Duvel has handled Ommegang since its purchase. It seems that the folks at Duvel are genuine fans of Ommegang and their work, and want it to grow and develop while expanding their fanbase through Duvel’s massive distribution network. The Ommegang of today is a fine example of what craft beer can be as its share of the overall market continues to grow.

If you’re in the neighborhood this Saturday, stop by Arrowine from 12-3 PM to meet Mike Berry and try out some great limited and rare Ommegang beers, including their fantastic new Harvest Ale called Scythe & Sickle; the award-winning Witte; the oak stave-aged Biere de Hougoumont (a Biere de Garde); the cocoa-infused Belgian-style Porter Seduction; and Art of Darkness, a dark Belgian-style Ale that develops insanely complex notes using nothing but hops, yeast, water, and malt. I’ll be back in-store next weekend. Until next time.

Cheers!

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

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