Cooperstown Beverage Trail (Part 1)

1/22/2014

I decided to put the site opening off for a couple weeks so I could tweak it and start off with a bang: The Cooperstown Beverage Trail- a dear old friend which is in fact where my passion began. But I lied a bit, this is more of a series of reviews built into two parts rather than one review since the trail follows a number of breweries and wineries. Stay tuned next week for the second half. Back to the trail! I was pleasantly surprised at the recent additions. It’s been a while since I’ve been back to the old college stomping grounds (shout out to Hartwick and SUCO). In 2012 two new establishments made their way onto the beverage trail, bringing the tally up to six. Each of the stops on the trail is conveniently located from one hot spot to the next, which makes it a simple trip to stick your DD-or baby brother in my case- in the driver seat and have him cart your beverage tasting butt around. So, off we go!

My first stop on the trail was the Bear Pond Winery (listed on newyorkwines.org). The store gives out a great first impression with a quaint gift area and check-out center to the left of the bar area. Toward the back, you can find some unique gift ideas: everything from corks and corkscrews to bottles, crates, and brewing ingredients.

Enough with the store though, let’s get down to business: a taste of six wines for $3…need I say more? There are twenty-nine wines on the list from white and red to dessert, all varying in flavor. Most of the wines on the list are processed and bottled for the Bear Pond brand while the others allow you to sample other fine wines from other NY wineries. With this many wines on the list, there’s always something to fit your palate whether it be sweet, dry, red, or white.

I decided to stick strictly with the Bear Pond wines this time to make it a true review of this specific winery. I began my tasting with their Chardonnay. It was quite aromatic for a chard (which is nice), well balanced and mild as far as dryness/sweetness. It was not my favorite white, but done well all the same. I progressed to my personal favorite wine preference: Rieslings. Their regular Riesling proved to be crisp, clean, just sweet enough for a Riesling, and delicious. Next was the clever names Rrr-Riesling which is a late harvest style. It was still crisp and clean to taste but much, much sweeter than a traditional Riesling thanks to the grapes being left on the vine a bit longer (a technique used to create this effect).

Their Cabernet Franc was a good way to transition to reds. At first taste, it was an ordinary drinking red; however, its fruity notes paired with subtle dryness made this easier to drink while still demanding respect. I made my way to the Drought Rose, a Rose made with Niagara grapes. Drought was a bit drier than a typical Rose.

To complete the spectrum from one end to the other I finished my tasting with their Bruiser black and blue fruit wine, which is produced solely with blackberries and blueberries. Fruit wines tend to receive less respect from connoisseurs and enthusiasts as they are less traditional and easier to make than dealing with temperamental grapes. In addition, they have a tendency to be much sweeter than other wines including some dessert wines. The Bruiser, however, was less sweet than even some whites I have tried. Overall? A tasty blend of berries. As with every winery, there will be wines you like more or less than others. Taking into account the store, the staff and most importantly the wine, I give Bear Pond Winery a 7 out of 10- a must-see stop along your travels. With my beverage trail booklet stamped and the complimentary corkscrew in hand, we set off down the country road to our next stop.

Just a few miles away in Milford, NY is the Cooperstown Brewing Company. My personal favorite, Cooperstown still serves five of the six beers that made it a local favorite. The small bar, self-guided tours (“go on back and check it out”), friendly staff, and atmosphere are second to none. The employees are extremely helpful in explaining the brewing process- they’ll even let you smell the hops that they use if you’re daring (advice: take small whiffs).

For a $3 tasting, they take you through all of their beers, each of which are bottled, starting with the light and flavorful 9 Man Ale. The 9 man may not be the most popular amongst other beer enthusiasts but I think this Golden Ale has a ton of flavor and is fantastic on a warm summer day (or, you know, the end of December). Next one on the list is their flagship Old Slugger Pale Ale, which is not too harsh but still hoppy enough for a Pale Ale- definitely, an easier one to drink for those not crazy about the traditional bitterness that comes with Pale Ales. They follow Old Slugger with Backyard IPA (India Pale Ale) which I find mild and delicious. However, to truly critique this brew I must say that its 6.1% abv (alcohol by volume) and relatively moderate hoppy-ness make it more enjoyable for me but in this new movement of “hopheads” I think it would be considered mild at best.

Beer number four is a unique and very intriguing “special Ale” called the Pride of Milford. The Pride of Milford is a special Ale because it doesn’t fall under set confines and stereotypes of traditional Ales though its appearance gives the taster preconceived notions of an Amber Ale. In this new age of beer experimentation (which I love) I would call this Special Ale a precursor; brewed when they first opened…they would not tell me its secret ingredient. I tasted a lot a malt and a hint of cherries. Maybe the cherry tones were in my head? The final beer on this tasting and my personal favorite was the Benchwarmer’s Porter. This Porter has traditional notes of a little bit of malt, dark chocolate and coffee. A chocolate scent to the nose, yet coffee to the tongue. It remained bitter, yet creamy, relatively carbonated for a Porter, and produced a small head. Overall very, very drinkable; I love this beer. The atmosphere, the beer (not to mention heavy-handed pouring) and free coasters make t extremely hard to pull away from. I give the Cooperstown Brewing Company an 8.4 out of 10. I strongly encourage you to check them out in person and check them out on Facebook.

Next stop along the trail brings you to Brewery Ommegang, the most well-known of the establishments on the trail (regionally, nationally, and worldwide)! Upon arrival at Ommegang you’ll drive through a beautiful old stone archway leading you past the brewery towards parking by the bar. Your $3 fee gets you a guided tour as well as the tasting and a complimentary tasting glass. They being lighter with less alcohol and work up from there. Not only are their brews delicious but they also stack up to mass produced and even worldwide competition with Rare Vos taking home gold in the 2012 World Beer Cup (not to mention numerous other awards)!

To start off, you have the option of going through a guided tour of the entire facility where all of their unique processes are explained. You’ll find that you can ask however many questions you want, as everyone working as a guide seems to be knowledgeable. If you’ve done the tour before, you can also skip it and head right to the tasting.

Once the tasting began they started us off the Witte. Ommegang’s Witte is a light and refreshing Wheat beer. Lighter in color and alcohol than even some mainstream “light” beer but certainly not light on taste. The following beer was actually my first time tasting their new Hop House. The Hop House replaced their dry hopped BPA and was very aggressively hoppy for only 6% abv. The tasting progressed to my personal favorite (and apparently a lot of other peoples as well), Rare Vos. Rare Vos is a Belgian style Amber Amber Ale with malty and fruity notes that come across as mild sweetness with a slightly bitter and dry finish. I consider it to be moderate, well balanced, and full of flavor all at once; this beer is truly crafted masterfully well.

Though being stuck with trying to follow that up, Hennepin does its best to try to hold its weight. This farmhouse saison is full bodied with a mild hoppy-ness and crisp finish.

The flavor for Hennepin falls flat for me but could have to do with not cleansing my palate after the flavorful punch from Rare Vos. Ommegang’s flagship Abbey Ale is second to last. Abbey is another rich and fruity Belgian style brew. A double Ale brewed with licorice root and star anise that I was able to taste and smell immediately. The tasting concludes with Chocolate Indulgence; a double Chocolate Stout. This was not a traditional Stout as it was much less thick than expected and, even though I’m sure it was used, I tasted no coffee and almost entirely chocolate. I did enjoy this one, though it would not make it to my top 10 chocolate stouts.

I must admit I have never had Ommegang brew from the bottle as each time it has been on tap, but I would be interested to give it a try in a less crowded atmosphere. Also worth mentioning, Ommegang is the only stop along the way with a full restaurant. They serve up terrific food with a fun atmosphere that makes it easy to try your hand at pairing your foods with your brew. You should definitely believe the hype on this one. I give brewery Ommegang an 8.8 out of 10. A ton of fun, usually a lot busier than the others, but you should also check out ommegang.com to find all the info you want about tours, festivals and even concerts.