Monday, March 31

Beer: The Sad Tale of Ommegang

It is with a heavy heart, on this beautiful finally-spring-in-Philadelphia day, that I write a eulogistic tribute to the Ommegang brews of years past.

Ommegang Brewery, located in Cooperstown, NY, exclusively brews Belgian-style ales. Particularly hailed for Hennepin, their farmhouse saison style, they are in fact owned by Belgian brewerey Moortgat (makers of Duvel), and brew a significant portion of their products across the pond. Since 1997 Randy Thiel has been the head brewmaster at Ommegang, and was evened knighted by the Belgian brewer's guild (Chevalerie du Fourquet des Brasseurs) for his accomplishments. He's turned out such delights as Abbey Ale (their version of a dubbel) and Three Philosophers (a dark strong ale blended with a cherry lambic). We've had both the latter selections on our menu on-and-off since I started at Tria, and I always thought of them as some of my favorite beers on the menu. Like superstars Hitachino and Russian River, I trusted that anything and everything coming out of Ommegang would be sure to please and delight.

However, times have changed.

As of February, Randy Thiel has relocated to his native Midwest. He is now serving as the Director of Quality Control at the New Glarus Brewing Company of New Glarus, Wisconsin. Back in Cooperstown, Phil Leinhart, former Director of Production at Ommegang, has assumed the title and duties of Brewmaster. His credentials are sound (over twenty years of brewing; study in England and Germany, as well as in the U.S.), but his products have left me shocked and dismayed. We blind tasted the Abbey Ale in training, and it tastes flat, limp, and dull. The rich flavors of dried fruits and malty depth are gone, replaced with a one-dimensional palate and overwhelming banana notes. Even more horrifying, I ordered a Three Phils at the South Philly Tap Room, and I actually made everyone at the table taste it to verify that I was served the right beer. The cherry sweetness and uplifting effervescence have been replaced, again, with a strong banana flavor and simplified mouthfeel. The fruity complexity of Ommegang's renowned ales seems to be a thing of the past.

Maybe Phil's time at Anheuser-Busch in Newark, New Jersey tainted his conception of great craft beer. Or perhaps his original function of increasing brewing capacity distracted him from the goal of producing truly quality products. 2007 was, in fact, a record-breaking brewing production at Ommegang--but the lesson many Americans have yet to learn rings particularly true here: "more" does not mean "better".

R.I.P. Ommegang. How I shall miss thee.

For more information read Beer Advocate's synopsis here.


Anonymous said...

Maybe he just needs a new girlfriend..haha

About your fake meat post... I was a vegan for many years and found the fake meat products to be low in nutritional value. But sometimes ya just gotta have those "chicken" fingers, you know? :)

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