Belgium Comes to Cooperstown Hop Chef Competition at Brewery Ommegang

– Washington Hop Chef winner Jeff Eng of Clyde’s of Tower Oaks, Albany Hop Chef winner Jaime Ortiz of Creo’, Philadelphia Hop Chef winner George Sabatino of Stateside and last year’s winner of the BCTC Great Mussel Tussle Tommy Harder of Blind Tiger Ale House appeared for the conculsion of the competition to determined who would be crowned Hop Chef at this year’s BCTC.

A sampling of the four dishes was the perfect amount food before several hours of beer tasting. I was a little surprised with the outcome, since Sabatino’s winning dish of smoked capon sausage was a little simple for my tastes. I prefer natural casing with a nice crunch and a snap and I feel like steaming the sausage in Rare Vos doesn’t do the texture any justice.

VIP Dinner at Belgium Comes to Cooperstown 2012

– Wow, I’ve been a big time slacker on posting these BCTC pics so I’m going to bang them out real quick by the end of the week. First off I wanna thank Mike (Montrose79 from BA) for hooking me up with a VIP Pass. I’ve been to BCTC all but the first year, and I’ve never done the VIP dinner before so it was definitely a new experience for me. Always a huge plus. Thank you again.

As for the dinner itself, it was really nice and I enjoyed myself a lot. We were seated with a really great mix of people including Dave from The Ruck (who I didn’t know was going to show up, great that he made it out), Howie from Yankee Brew News, and Jeannine Marois, the founder and President of Mondial de la Biere festival (one of the largest beer festivals in North America).

The meal consisted of wave after wave of food. If you left hungry it was no one’s fault but your own. My only issue was that by the time any of the food arrived to our table, it was cold. Cold lobster, cold duck, cold chicken, cold beef. I’m not sure if that was intended or not, but I would have preferred, even in the heat, that the food be served a few notches warmer. Also, most of the beers served were off the shelf Ommegang/Duvel distributed beers. Not that they were bad, but they were nothing special. Dinner was accompanied by a great band that got the crowd up dancing between courses (the beer didn’t hurt).

I wandered a little bit (mostly due to the fact I was just far enough out the reach of free wifi and cell service sucked out there) and got to meet a lot of random people from Ommegang: the President Simon Thorpe, brewer Scott Veltman, and the guy who originally started the first BCTC. Pretty cool.

After dinner we cracked open a few beers by the tents and called it a (relatively) early night. There was much drinking to be done the next day.

Monks at Belgium Comes to Cooperstown

– There was some speculation on whether the monks at Ommegang this year were “real monks” or not, to which I replied “I don’t think real monks wear Tevas.” As it turns out, the monks were from the St. Crispus Friary in Portsmouth, Virginia, a group of non-denominational “beer monks” who spread the good word of beer.

The more you know.

Manhattan, NY: Harpoon Leftovers at Rattle N Hum [Post-Grad Boozin’]

Let me apologize for the pictures I’ll post today from my last trip to NYC since it seems most bars there have their mood-lighting set to “Rape”. Rattle N Hum was the worst offender of the places we went to that day. Cave-like appearance at like 4 in the afternoon, lit mostly by tealight candles. Kinda a shame considering how beautiful of a day it was, but the dark is great for boozin’, not so great for taking pics. Also, being hammered by this point in the day didn’t help the photography, either. I digress.

After JD’s graduation and receiving his Masters Degree from Columbia, celebration was in order. We had several rounds of drinks and eats at a couple of bars of his parents choosing, but after that is was time to get to the real drinking. Rattle N Hum was our first stop, and we took advantage of the previous night’s Harpoon Tap Takeover while we were there.

First two beers were the Harpoon Leviathan Barleywine 2010 and 2011 versions. Both were “just OK” and didn’t really stand out for the style for me. We realized at this point that if we wanted to try the number of beers we planned on having there and still make it to any of our other destinations that day we were going to have to switch to flights. No biggie. We ordered two:

  • Brewery Ommegang – Zuur
  • Founders Brewing Company – Double Trouble
  • Harpoon Brewery – Leviathan Imperial IPA
  • Harpoon Brewery – Leviathan Quad
  • Harpoon Brewery – Rodney’s Solera
  • Rogue Ales – Chipotle Ale
  • Rogue Ales – John John Dead Guy Ale
  • Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – Kellerweis Hefeweizen

Honestly, other than the Double Trouble which I’ve had before, none of these beers knocked it out of the park for me. Most were good or better, some were terrible (Zuur, Chipotle). Next time I go to Rattle N Hum will be for a tap-takeover I am really looking forward to (like the Cigar City one a couple of weeks ago, or their upcoming Founders night).

As for Rattle N Hum itself, it didn’t completely blow me away either. It’s one of those bars that are too small for waiter-service but they have it anyway, and you really just want to go to the bar to grab drinks but you get hounded by waitresses instead. Maybe things are different on a event night. I’ll let you know when and if I make it to one.

Cooperstown, NY: Outstanding Beer Dinner at Brewery Ommegang with Ric Orlando – Part 2 [Hell Dinner]

(Continued from Part 1…)

At this point the wait staff brought out something I wish was sitting on the table the whole night: salted habeneros. This was a simple mix of salt, vinegar, and habeneros ready to kick up any dish that needed a little lot of kick. I put just a spoonful in my mouth and while I had spent the rest of the night determined that I wasn’t going to need a drink of water, I had to break down and take a gulp. This was exactly was I needed on the Tie Dye Pie!

The fourth course was the one I was looking forward to least: Espresso-Habanero Glazed Escargot, Tortelloni, and Edamame paired with the Ommegang Abbey Ale. I’m not a big fan of molluscs of any form (I can sometimes choke them down with a little lubrication from some melted butter, but beyond that, no thanks). They just look… slimey. With a little encouragement from my tablemates, I chowed down. OK, not nearly as bad I expected. And with the habanero sauce, I cleared the plate. I’m not saying I would go out of my way to order this again, but this has definitely squashed me fear of snails and if they end up in front of me I won’t mind tackling them again.

The fifth course was the one I was looking forward to the most. I mean, it had “Harissa from Hell” in the title. After Googling what the hell harissa was, I couldn’t wait to try a ghost chili version. This was served with Lamb Shank Tagine paired with Art of Darkness, the only beer on the menu I haven’t had yet. Expectations were high for this course. But the thing about the harissa is that it has a ton of different ingredients and spices in it, not just ghost chilies. So after having the salted habeneros, this seemed tame as well. So I piled on the habeneros, obviously! This dish “kicked up” was pretty damn good.

At this point of the night the Chef took his coat off and hung out at the table, to have some beers and BS, which was totally cool. (Yes, his shirt says “Got Dim Sum?”. Totally badass.) We finished the meal with a little dessert: Mocha Chipotle Glazed Chocolate Cupcake, White Chocolate Dipped Serrano Chile and Mole Truffle Pot du Chocolate paired with Three Philosophers. I don’t remember a cupcake, but I do remember a Chinese soup spoon filled with chocolate topped with whipped cream with ghost chili flakes. Chocolate and chili go together so well. It’s one of the reasons I like Cigar City’s Hunahpu so much (which would have paired incredibly with dessert, btw). All of this was amazing, except the serrano. This was the hottest thing we tasted all night. I don’t even know why this was. Serrano’s aren’t even that hot. But I took one bite and threw in the towel and I was not the only one. Many did not even touch the thing. I don’t blame ‘em.

I can’t get over how good this dinner and the night as a whole was. Ommegang’s new digs are beautiful and was the perfect setting for a dinner like this. I can’t wait to go back (for BCTC and Darius Rucker). Chef Ric Orlando puts on such an amazing spread and is such a good storyteller he provided the meal and the entertainment for the night. If you’ve never gone to one of his New World locations, stop what you’re doing and do so immediately. And if you’re smart, you’ll keep an eye out on the Great Beer Deserves Great Food Blog and make sure you hit up the next event.

Cooperstown, NY: Outstanding Beer Dinner at Brewery Ommegang with Ric Orlando – Part 1 [Hell Dinner]

While I’ve been to Ommegang since they’ve opened their new visitor center and café (during last year’s Belgium Comes to Cooperstown, arguably THE best beer fest in the area), this is my first time at going in, checking it out, and having a meal there. With Chef Ric Orldano of New World and Chopped fame at the helm, I couldn’t have picked a better meal to start with.

Now, I’ll admit. I was a little weary when I received the email from Ommegang’s Event Coordinator last Thursday and saw some of the menu items. Chicken livers, rice cakes, snails, edamame, lamb shank tagine, harissa? Um, no thanks. Some of this stuff was just out of my comfort zone. I was starting to get disappointed. Luckily, the feelings were completely unfounded, and I’ve learned to just put my trust in Chef Orlando’s hands.

I walked in and checked out Ommegang’s new digs. This a serious upgrade to the previous space which was pretty nice on it’s own. I didn’t get to see the bar area as it was closed, but they ushered us into the new café pretty quickly. It is absolutely gorgeous. It seats about 60 people, which means we had a full house. Each table sat about 8 people, and we were lucky enough to be seated at the Brewmaster’s table. I didn’t know how cool that was going to be until later in the evening.

We got about a half hour of tastings of pretty much everything they had on tap. I tried a few of the beers I knew weren’t going to be offered later for the dinner and the Chef brought some sauteed chilies to munch on before dinner began. These weren’t too hot, but they were a preview of what we had in store for the rest evening. Chilies, chilies and more chilies!

We were asked to take our seats, and like I said earlier we were seated at the Brewmaster’s table. Across from me sat Ommegang’s Brewmaster Phil Leinhart and his wife, and the rest of the table was filled out by his family, Chef Ric’s wife Liz, and some more Ommegang crew. Chef Ric came over to check on the table between each course and I was giddy like a schoolgirl to sit here and chatting with these folks the whole night.

Both Phil and Chef Ric got up to say a few words before the first course was served. Phil discussed the direction that Ommegang is taking Great Beer Deserves Great Food. Chef Ric gave an intro to this idea of Hell Dinner, where the dishes get progressively hotter and hotter through the night. Each dish was rated on the “Ric-ter” (har har) scale, a 1-10 scale specifying the heat of the dish. All of the dishes that night were rated between 5 and 10, and at this point I was probably drooling on myself.

This first course was Piri Piri Chicken Livers with Berkshire Bleu and Celery Salad paired with Ommegang’s BPA. Piri piri is rated at 50,000-175,000 scovilles, but this dish was pretty mild. That was fine with me since I knew it was only going to get hotter through the night. The liver was better than expected. This was followed up with Pork Belly Jigae with chewy rice cakes and kim chee paired with Hennepin. This was, without a doubt, my favorite dish of the night. I still crave it today, and can’t wait to make it in my own kitchen. It had the perfect amount of heat: enough to make your nose start to run but not so hot it would hurt you.

The next course was interesting. “Tie Dye Pie” was a small pizza with “Purple Haze” sauce and four cheeses paired with the Rare Vos Amber Ale. This Purple Haze is a habanero sauce blended with red cabbage to give it the color of its name, along with ginger and pineapple for flavor. The crust and cheese were great, but I’ll admit I was a tad disappointed in the sauce. It was an 8 out of 10 on the Ric-ter scale, and had habeneros in it; I was ready to burn. That didn’t happen, but Chef Ric did come out and explain to us that the habaneros tonight were a little on the milder and so would be the sauce. Oh well, I still want to try it again at New World, either in pizza or shrimp form.

Continued in Part 2