I remember when Transformers first came on the scene back in 1984. I thought they were the coolest things on the planet. Part robot, part vehicle or some other object like a cassette player, bug or gun. Transformers could be two things at one! Man they were cool. Turns out, I’ve always been interested by combinations. When two things are combined to create something else, magic happens. Take for example Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Stereo Units, ManBearPig or Smart Phones. Stands to reason then that if you combined a summer road trip with camping and a Beer festival, you’re putting together something on that’s more than meets the rye.
Welcome to Belgium Comes To Cooperstown or as those who’ve attended call it “BCTC.” It happens ever mid-summer on the grounds of the Brewery Ommegang. It’s an annual summer Beer fest where dozens of craft breweries offer samplings along with Food, music, a 500 person VIP Beer pairing dinner, cooking competitions and the best part, camping! More than 2500 people show up to not only taste & discover Beers but also pull out brews from their secret stash or home brews. It’s one day and two nights of fun, food, friends and foam!
I’d never been before so when my good friend Patrick Donagher invited me to join his wife Roz and most adorable poch ever, Jameson to road trip it up there, I knew I was in for one super fantastic mega awesome Beerified weekend.
It’s a long ride up to Cooperstown from NYC. With no direct route you’re going to spend 4-6 hours in the car, depending if you take the scenic route or the major routes. But the moment you turn the corner and see the cars lined up in the field next to the brewery, you can’t help but get excited. Why? Because you know BEER IS NEAR!
The key is to get in and get your tent up as soon as possible. That way you can relax, take in the beautiful rural views of the brewery land, relax and start tasting some Beers!! The sun is going to drop rather quickly and you want to be in full on fun mode as soon as you can. I’m told some people skip camping out the first night, only showing up for the festival day and honestly, I have no idea why. If you love Beer, there is nothing like camping, at a brewery, with a bunch of fellow Beer nerds as you are guaranteed to taste the best of what’s out there.
The next morning comes quickly and as soon as you arise, you’ll feel the excitement in the air. People start to battle hangovers with coffee, Breakfast Sandwiches, Gatorade, showers and more likely than not, Beer. Be sure to take a moment to walk around the camp ground and soak it all in. Once the festival gets going, the pace starts to pick up. The campground offers showers and port-o-pots for those in need but other than that, you’ll need to bring it in.
What happens when you go to a beer & camping event with a bunch of bar owners, Beer distributors, brand managers and other beverage industry specialists? You have the most awesome camp ground ever. Especially if you camp with Patrick and my other bud, Mike Burmil. Found on tap at our camp site, known as “the ghetto,” you would find Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout, Bear Republic Racer 5, Barrier Unimperial IPA and more. And we had the most awesome mascot of the fest, JAMESON! If you’ve been to BCTC and you’ve seen a big friendly golden retriever with a mohawk, you know Jameson.
While everyone is primping & priming for the day, all the breweries start to set up in the big central tent behind the brewery. There’s a few VIP parties here and there if your connected to the business that happen just before doors or I guess in the case of tents, flaps open.
Once the festival kicks up, things start to get really exciting. The breweries line up at tables in the big tent and once the gates open, it’s beer-mania. You’re standing in a huge field, in the middle of nowhere, under a gigantic tent with some of the best Craft Beer available in the world. Brewers from from near, far and farther away to display their best brews. It’s nearly impossible to try them all.
One such example was Lagunitas tapping a keg of their Lagunitas Sonoma Farmhouse Gueuze. The brewery purposely tapped the beer at 4:20 and had a crowd of people waiting in line to taste this soured blend of barrel-aged saisons. People we so excited in fact that when a couple of us start a “GUEUEZE-GUEUEZE-GUEUEZE-GUEUEZE” chant, everyone joined in.
Feeling a little stressed out or just need a break from the crowd? Pop into the BCTC massage tent. 5 minute massages are provided for free by Ommegang by a small fleet of professional masseuses. While I was getting a massage we received a little performance from Sergio Flores. You’ve probably heard of him by his more commonly know name, The Sexy Sax Man.
Once the festival ends, everyone heads back to their camp sites and that’s when the party really begins. What to do after a day of tasting the best of the best Craft Beers? DRINK MORE CRAFT BEERS! Feel free to walk around and say hello, it’s a friendly scene at BCTC. If you have something to share, chances are, you’ll be invited to taste something someone else brought. As the night falls, bands hit the stage and smaller parties, often held by breweries or a collection of beer industry professionals kick up. One of my personal favorites was the 2nd Annual Thoroughly Unofficial BCTC Brooklyn Brewery Weezer Blue Album Singalong. Join Corey Bonfigilio as he leads a kumbaya style sing along, with lyric sheets provided, underneath the Brooklyn Brewery tent. Back in “the ghetto” we were treated to a late night sax performance from Chris Cuzme which included the Muppets theme song!
Of course a long with the Beer and and fun, there is also the Food. Lot’s of people show up with all kinds of tasty treats. Eventually someone unleashed me on the coals and I grilled up Pizza Rolls, Mac N Cheese, BBQ Chicken, several kinds of Sausage, Ribs and more. I also invented what one person described to me as “this is the best Sandwich I’ve ever eaten!” It was a spicy Italian Chicken Sausage topped with Nacho Mac N Cheese served in a Martin’s Hot Dog Potato roll.
Later in the evening, one of the best part of the festival takes place, the fireworks show! You may have seen some rad fireworks, I dont doubt, so have I but there is nothing like this. After spending and entire day drinking absolutely amazing craft Beers from around the world, hanging with some great people, when the massive BCTC firework show starts up, people are AMPED.
Right. Thanking myself for the reminder. This is a Burger blog and I make a general promise to stay on topic. While most people bring their own Food and the brewery does offer some unique meals, there is also some food stands out near the tents. After a few too many tasty Beers, a little too early in the day, I decided to wander off for some eats. I knew soaking up the suds was a key element in ensuring the rest of the day was a good time. That’s when I happened upon the “Create Your Own Burger Burger Bar.” DONE.
I’d love to tell you that this was a freshly ground, cooked to order, delectable Burger made with care, love and with quality ingredients but Momma Rev taught me it’s not nice to tell lies. The patties are pre-cooked to a medium well, the Bacon is skimpy, the shredded Cheese is store brought and the Bun is just a standard white Roll. It was pretty boring and unexciting to be honest. But, it did do the job of creating the very necessary foundation I needed to get back into the tent and try more beer like the incredibly amazing Golden Dragon from Empire Brewing Company. This delicious Beer is decribed by the brewery as ”A Belgian style Golden Ale, spiced with Thai Basil grown at Empire’s own organic garden. Light in color and medium bodied. 7.7% ABV.” It’s bright, easy to drink and there is no mistaking the intense but refreshing flavor of Basil in the Beer.
But I digress. Making Food to server 2,500 people is no easy feat and I would be out of my mind to expect a restaurant quality Burger in this situation. Look, forget the Burger ok? Belgium Comes To Cooperstown is the most fun, exciting and unique Beer festival in the whole world. I can’t wait to go next year and every year after.
Thanks to Ken, AJ, Cherisse and everyone from the Brewery Ommegang family for all the hospitality.
Thanks to Mike Burmil for the tasty kegs of Beer and the Saturday 6 am wake up argument. Ha ha.
Thanks to Sean “Footware” McCain for letting me borrow the flip flops. My festival experience would’ve been completely less comfortable without you.
Mark Sljukic, without you and the very necessary Coffee & greasy Breakfast sando, my Saturday would’ve been much harder to kick start.
More than anyone else, thanks to Pat, Rox & Jameson for taking me. I can’t believe we survived the ride home and I’ll never forget what happens to a mini-van that gets over 100 miles an hour!
THE BURGER COUNTQUEST
August 4, 2012 – 3:11 pm