Brewery Ommegang is located on a 136 acre farm in Cooperstown, New York, a setting that seems appropriate for the beers they produce. Their focus has always been beers in the Belgian tradition, and that focus is evident in the quality of the final product. Numerous awards at the most prestigious competitions world wide, increasing sales in 46 states plus overseas, and currently featured as brewery of the month at Mr. B’s–what more is left for them to accomplish? (Maybe the Mr. B’s bit is not as impressive). Entering their third decade, Ommegang is not resting on its laurels as new beers continue to be released that are just as impressive as their staples.
They are owned by Duvel Moortgat, a company that also owns Firestone Walker, Boulevard, Liefman’s, Achouffe, Maredsous, Vedett, Del Ducatto, ‘T \Ij, Bernard, Bel Pils, and De Koninck. All of these breweries produce beers where the driving force is quality and excellence. Being under the Duvel umbrella allows Ommegang to collaborate and grow with their sister breweries in a way that’s exciting for the beer drinker–i.e. more good beer in the world. I exchanged an email with Phil Leinhart, brewmaster at Ommegang, to talk about where he started, his beer, and Ommegang’s future. What follows is that exchange.
What were your early inspirations to brew beer, and where did you get your professional start?
My older brother who is also in the brewing industry was a big influence as well as the book The World Guide to Beer by Michael Jackson. My first brewing job was at The Manhattan Brewing Company in New York City; one of the first brewpubs in the country. I started there in 1984 just after receiving a BS in Chemistry and attending the MBAA Short Course in Malting and Brewing Science.
What was your experience like working for Anheuser Busch? What made you transition to Ommegang?
I’ve gained valuable knowledge and experience at every brewery I’ve worked, but AB was unmatched. AB had arguably the deepest, most knowledgeable brewing staff in the world. To be able to work beside and learn from some of these people as well as what they did to make a consistent glass of beer was invaluable.
I started my career in brewpubs and small breweries. Despite thoroughly enjoying my time at AB my heart was back in a small brewery. I always respected Ommegang and Duvel and enjoyed their beers. I have a brother who’s lived in the area since 1990 so I met the founders and stayed in touch with the brewery over the years. When the opportunity presented itself….I took it.
After making the jump to Ommegang, what were your goals for the company and the beer?
#1 was to grow volume by increasing the capacity of the brewery. Although the beers were generally very good, I focused on raising quality and consistency by implementing specific procedures and through capital project improvements.
You and your team make wonderful renditions of Belgian styles. What is it about these styles that inspire you to brew them? Are there any styles you’ve yet to attempt? Any plans to work on Lambic inspired offerings (forgive me if you have)?
Thank You! I think it’s the variety and deliciousness of these types of beers that continue to fascinate us. Our Belgian (and American) Colleagues also inspire us. At some point in the future I would like to explore making sour beers here but we need a separate facility for that. No plans for Lambic at this point….;)
What techniques and methods have you learned from your Belgian counterparts that you employ? Has any particular method thrown you for a loop, you went for it anyway, and it worked?
I would say not specific techniques per se, but I have gained a lot of insight into things like bottle refermentation and using sugar to lighten and dry out a higher ABV beer.
I love the beers that you’ve brewed at Liefman’s (Brunetta, Rosetta, and Pale sour. Am I missing any?). Can you talk about that experience? And do you plan to brew more there?
We did a beer just after Duvel acquired Liefmans called “Zuur”. It’s been an awesome experience visiting and working in a brewery that’s been brewing since the 17th Century and is one of the classic producers of Oud Bruin. I really enjoy the Liefmans beers…. they are well-blended and well balanced with a clean, mild lactic acidity; somewhat of a sweet/sour character. No etched in stone plans right now but we have a few things in mind…
Have you brewed your perfect beer?
Nah…there is no perfect beer that could satisfy all my tastes all the time….:) Ommegang has established itself as one of the best breweries of Belgian styles not in Belgium. I feel that a lot of craft breweries (especially very new ones) have a hard time establishing an identity in a somewhat saturated market. Ommegang clearly has a strong identity and great company support from Duvel. Where do you all go from here? We have really stepped up innovation not only along Belgian inspired style beer but also non-Belgian styles. I think we will continue this progression. I would also like to continue to improve quality and consistency by investing in current technologies in in-line instrumentation and processing.
A very large thank you to Phil for taking part in this little blog.