Friday Froth: Bats, Balls, Pils and Hops

James Gribbon

Does everyone still have all their fingers after Monday's festivities? You do? Great, because we should really play some catch. Baseball's midsummer classic is coming up, and those of us so inclined are by now completely engrossed in America's pastime. Even those who don't like the game can't escape the news of Derek Jeter's impending 3,000th hit, and everyone should go to Cooperstown: home of the baseball hall of fame and Brewery Ommegang. 

Ommegang is an American brewery which specializes in Belgian style beers. They're pretty damn good at it, too, having taken top awards from Belgian brewers in Belgian beer contests in Belgium. The brewery (656 County Highway 33, Cooperstown, NY) shut down for a few weeks this year to undergo comprehensive remodeling in order to meet the needs of customer demand, which has doubled in the past year, and make the experience better for visitors. The new 4,000 sq. ft. Cafe Ommegang on site offers bar seating and communal dining starting at 11a.m. seven days a week with all six year round Ommegang brews on tap, as well as a selection of limited edition beers. Traditional Belgian fare like frites, stews,crepes and beer steamed mussels (moules) are on the menu next to their recommended beer pairings. 

During the time when they were closed for the remodeling, Ommegang partnered with Brasserie d’Achouffe in Belgium, makers of my beloved Houblon Chouffe (more on that in a future column) to make Gnomegang, a collaboration between the two breweries. The name comes from the the little fellow in the red cap who bears a striking resemblance to a lawn ornament and appears on most of Brasserie d’Achouffe's bottles. Thus Gnome+Ommegang=Gnomegang. 

Ben Harper probably wasn't singing "you look like gold to me" about Gnomegang, but he could have been. Uncork the bottle and this beer pours 24K aurum into your glass with a frothy head and a mild aroma of Belgian yeast and hops. This is a wonderfully rich golden ale reminiscent of Duvel, which is appropriate, since Duvel Moortgat owns the d’Achouffe and (recently) Ommegang breweries and has brewed Ommegang in Belgium before. Gnomegang is made in New York in limited quantities. Check it out. 

Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning is what they call an "Uber Pils." This pils is significantly more honey colored than a traditional example of the variety and the slight hop aroma when the glass is placed under one's nose is a brief amusement before a strong dose of pilsner malts crosses the lips. Set the glass down and admire the sticky lace left on its edges as you contemplate the reason why they put the "Uber" part in the name: there is a lot of malt to this beer. This is no heavy drinking ballast stone, though - Small Craft Warning is a good mid summer brew that is light on hops, but not on flavor. Or alcohol, for that matter, weighing in at 7%. Maybe that's where the "Warning" part comes from...

Speaking of hops, and we always are, Citra hops are a new variety which came to market just a few years ago. This hybrid strain's popularity with brewers has lead to it's being given a name instead of the clinical alphanumeric it used to possess, which has since been appropriated by Widmer Brothers brewery in Portland for their X-114 IPA. Part of the Rotator series from Widmer, the X-114 pours an inviting gold color with those aromatic hops producing strong pine and citrus smells. It has a very smooth mouth feel with a rich and almost exotic flavor despite its domestic roots. The series are numbered, and I had a bottle from #924. I have no idea if the batches vary very much, but this was a good one. There's something cool about these hops - they're outdoorsy and possess a very fresh "green" flavor. They make me feel like building a canoe out of a tree. 

I always have found inspiration in beer, though, for better or worse. But hey: how else would I have known what campus looked like from the top of that magnolia tree? My life's the richer for it. Enrich your life: drink good beer. Just don't climb pines. The sap is murder on a seersucker suit.