The Foodie Review
Ommegang Brewery, Cooperstown, New York
When you find a place you like and go there for years, you tend to have reasonable expectations. When you take the time to plan the trip, drive for more than an hour and a half, get there you would like to experience a welcome and a sense of being a part of it all. Going to that effort—especially in view of the time, effort and the likelihood of dropping a substantial amount of money at your destination—you’d reasonably expect some appreciation. Well, those days are over.
Used to be you’d go to the home of a company and you’d be treated with hospitality, like visiting royalty. Given the grand tour, get to sample the product. Enjoy some really good, unique food and beverage. Well, those days are over, too!
A bit of the history…
The Ommegang Brewery opened its doors in 1997 as a microbrewery specializing in artisan beers brewed in the Belgian tradition. That’s about the time we started going there and we became regulars visiting 2-3 times a year and making our beer purchases of what then were good and unique beers. The trip usually became a day trip with the beautiful drive through vintage farm country and rural beauty to the brewery and its amenities nestled in the hills, lunch on the lovely café-tabled patio with rich botanicals from local nurseries, smiling service, and very good food. If the day didn’t turn out sunny and summery or comfortably cool and autumnal, we could opt to sit indoors in the scant, often very loud but genial dining room. If we brought guests or met friends at the brewery, we’d do the tour and then the tasting, which was free as you’d expect, and then head for the retail store to drop $200-300 on a couple of cases of our favorite artisan brew. The next stop could be Cooperstown or some other interesting place for dinner, a stroll, and then the drive home. Sound idyllic? It was. Well those days are over, friends. We won’t be making that trip again any time soon!
Here’s Why? Ommegang Brewery went to hell in a Belgian bread basket.
When a corporation gets involved say Goodbye! to quality, service, and overall enjoyment. By 2003, the Belgian breweries had all been absorbed into large corporations. Feinberg and Littlefield sold their share of Ommegang in 2003 to Belgian brewer Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat, brewers of the world-renowned Duvel Golden Ale. Duvel Moortgat brewed limited amounts of beer for Brewery Ommegang in 2006 to help meet demand, but has not brewed any since then. And of course, everyone loves and trusts New York governor Andrew Cuomo, so when he announces that Ommegang along with the Roscoe NY Beer Co. to be the winners of the Taste NY Inaugural Craft Beer Challenge. All of 5 New York craft beer breweries competed.
The corporate involvement in this small craft brewery is mindboggling. Just trying to trace who owns what is an acid trip. But the bottom line is that Ommegang sold out a couple of years ago to Duvel Moortgat, a large Belgian beverage corporation, later Anheuser-Busch purchased considerable interest in the Duvel Moortgat corp, and then the international beverage megacorporation InBev acquired the companies. In short, Anheuser-Busch and InBev got their greedy fingers into the operations of the quirky Ommegang operation after Dubel Moortgat showed interest and acquired the brewery. That’s when things started rolling downhill to hell in a Belgian breadbasket.
In fact, Ommegang Brewery lost its status and privileges in New York as a craft brewery once it started sleeping with the large corps. In an article appearing in The Street, “5 Craft Beer Brewers Who Have Lost Their Craft Privileges” The bottom line is: ” The craft beer community will put up with a lot from its small brewers, but it won’t suffer defections to big beer.” Ommegang now fits that category of defectors to big corps and excommunication from the craft beer classification and its privileges. Not only that, Ommegang over the past several years has received considerable amount of New York State money in the form of tax credits. For example, in 2012 they received $140,000 from the state and requested another $360,000 that same year (Cuomo continues economic development tour). The abuses never get to the public’s ear and you won’t get a hint of the public’s money that’s gone into Ommegang over the years. You certainly won’t enjoy the benefits of your tax dollars in terms of hospitality or anything else at Ommegang. It’s all corporate bottom line now.
Despite the glowing reviews on Tripadviser and Yelp, to their discredit, and keeping in mind that of the tens of thousands of suckers that visit Ommegang each year, a mere handful of positive goody-two-shoes, wanna-please types or simply beer-swilling slouch couch potatoes does not make put the place on the A-list by any means. It’s the loyal, legacy visitors and patrons who over the years have noticed the downhill trend Ommegang has taken under it’s ever-changing and ever oblivious-to-the-notion-of-hospitality corporate owners, and the strategists they call hospitality managers.
The current manager of the “visitor center and hospitality”, Andreas Handrinos, describes himself like this:
Dedicated and enthusiastic operational manager 15 years in the hospitality industry, and 10 years of management. Recently developed a high-end brewery taproom concept from the ground up, balancing the needs of brand image and manufacturing hurdles during daily operations while developing the venue for brand, and private company events. Efforts resulted in an average 30% increase in on-site revenue over the last three years. Currently seeking new challenges in creating and developing premium event and service concepts with an emphasis on big picture business growth.
That’s Handrinos’ goals and mission statement taken verbatim from his LinkedIn bio. If you can find anything in there about caring about customers, patrons, visitors, people, service to the public, or anything akin to traditional hospitality in that idiotic rant of corporate gibberish, I’ll buy you a pint. But that’s the type who’s managing the “visitor center and hospitality” at Ommegang. Given that statement, you’ll have no problem understanding what follows. Dedicated to What? To “big picture business growth” not to customer service and satisfaction. But it’s your money that he’s after because it means revenues for his handlers and gets him closer to his goals.
Utter misinformation and double-talk is the Ommegang message. In my discussion with the on-duty manager at the time of our visit, Carie, I referred to the bar as a bar. Her miffed response was that “This is a café not a bar.” Sure as hell fooled me. Looked like, smelled like, sounded like a bar to me. A bar with noisy children romping about. Is that legal in New York? Does a bar become a café just by calling it a café? Alcohol and drinking at every table on every inch of the premises and it’s a café? C’mon people, let’s get back to reality. Ommegang is a brewery. They make alcohol! They sell alcohol. They serve alcohol. If you visit their official site at Wecome to Brewery Ommegang, you can’t even get on the site until you confirm you’re 21 years or older! If you click I’m not, you’re told you can’t enter the site. You’re not exposed to virtual alcohol on the site but it is a site about alcohol and you have to be 21 or older to enter! How is it you can be under 3 years old and sit in the “café” [the bar!], run around wildly while your parents are enjoying their brewskies? Something’s a bit crazy in Cooperstown, wouldn’t you think?
It’s quite obvious that Ommegang not being quite sure of what it is: Here’s another inconsistency. Go to the Ommegang Facebook page and what do you read at the top? Let me tell you: “Ommegang Bar and Brewery“!!! But Carie, the manager, tells me “This is not a bar, it’s a café.” And you’ll read the same thing on several Ommegang Internet pages. I think they need to have a meeting to get their stories straight. I also think the state of New York has to take a look at what’s going on. I think the whole Ommegang outfit needs to be re-examined.
Ridiculously Outrageous Prices for Some Pretty Lousy Food and Worse Service!
In fact, when these reviewers actually give high marks for food prices and praise the quality of the food that along sends up red flags as to their credibility and whether they’re employees or shareholders in the corporation. Deception is a truly American art form. Here’s an example of some of the ridiculously outrageous prices (straight from the Ommegang café menu) for some pretty lousy food:
Endive and arrugula salad $14
A small paper boat of french fries “frites” $9
Croque monsieur (not really!) $16
Bratwurst and kraut $19
Soft prezels with mustard $11
Bottled beer $7
Canned beer $6
Draft beer (about 8 oz. cup) $7
THEN: As I mentioned above, until about 2 years ago, you could sit on a lovely patio at umbrellaed café tables amidst a beautiful array of potted trees, shrubs and colorful pots of flowers. Very European, in fact. There was real atmosphere. The servers were cheerful, young people, probably college students. The food quality was very good. The beer was cold and served in attractive glasses. The cutlery was stainless steel. The condiments, ketchup, dips, etc. came out in nice ramekins and were house made. It was worth the trip from Albany to Cooperstown. Really.
NOW: If you want to enjoy the weather outdoors you’ll have to sit under a tarp at ugly picnic tables. You can sit along the edges of the concrete slab patio at a café table for 4 but it’s a gamble (1) to find a table, (2) to find a clean table, (3) to find a table where you can have a conversation amid the screaming, running children and the loud adults pitching beanbags (Really!!!). There’s no table service anymore and you’ll have to stand in line to order and to pay. The sombre-faced ordertaker will glumly take your money for the overpriced food and beer, and then hand you a table stand with a number on it. You’ll place that on your table so that a runner can find you and deliver your food some ridiculously long wait later. Once it arrives it becomes a post-mortem experience trying to identify it (see below).
Your food will arrive stuffed into a cardboard boat. If you’re really lucky it might arrive hot or warm. You’ll spend a minute or two trying to identify it because it won’t look anything like what you expected or what you paid for. You’ll look at your companions with a half-smile of disbelief and a questioning look on your face saying, “I don’t know if this is what I ordered. Does yours look familiar.” Your glances will be met with similar glances from your companions, while your table neighbors will be shooting furtive glances in your direction, probably wonder, “WTF!!!”
The food is manufactured and prepared out of a large food truck, similar to what you’ll see on campuses and on Manhattan streets. The beer is distributed from taps on the side of a large refrigerator truck and is now served in perilously frail plastic cups of dubious content. For example, my $7 cup of draft ale came in such a frail cup that I had to be very careful not to wear the contents. Oh! And when I got back to the table, my companions and I had a ribald conversation trying to guess whether it was a 6 oz. cup 8 oz. cup. It was definitely not a pint cup, or if it was, it didn’t contain a pint of beer. Whatever. It was disgusting. Not the beer. The one cup that I did [not] enjoy was good, it was the presentation and the price that put you off and deprived you of any feeling of enjoyment.
Back to the food. The croque monsieur was disgusting and not a croque monsieur. It came in a paper boat atop a small mound of french fries. A slab of thick fatty bacon-like meat was on a small piece of baguette soaked in some sort of mayonnaise-like pinkish dressing (French? Maybe.) On top of that was a whitish sauce or cheeselike sauce. It was hard to say but the imagination went wild. Soggy, greasy. All this heart-unhealthy greasy belch crap for only $16.
The two pieces of bratwurst appeared to be either grilled or steamed. Again, it was hard to say.
The bratwurst and kraut was equally disappointing. Again, it came out in a paper boat. The sauerkraut was crisp but absolutely tasteless. The two pieces of bratwurst appeared to be either grilled or steamed. Again, it was hard to say. But however they were cooked they were so loaded with spices and grease that they were more like a spicy Cajun or chorizo than a bratwurst. The bratwurst was brought on top of a mound of sauerkraut. I waited for a roll or a piece of bread but when it became obvious that none was coming I went to the counter and asked if the brats came with a piece of bread. Looking at me as if I came from outer space the two persons behind the counter said “No. That’s how it comes. You don’t get bread with it.” I persisted saying that I had never had bratwurst without at least a piece of bread or mustard with it and they repeated “That’s how it comes.” No one. NO ONE thought to fix things by offering a slice of bread or baguette or some mustard. I repeat: NO ONE thought to fix things by offering a piece of bread or some mustard. This cost me $19.
Not enough insult and abuse? When you ask—and you will have to ask—for cutlery, a knife and fork, you’ll be unceremoniously told that there is plastic ware on the other side of the patio. There you will find quite flexible cellophane packaged plastic knives and forks packages with a piece of paper product, presumably a napkin but more of the consistency toilet paper. The toilet paper consistency was probably responding to the quality of the food and service. Well, trying to get that fork into a bratwurst was like trying to have sex with an overripe banana. The tines of the fork actually broke and I had to find it before continuing with the so-called meal. The knife was useless and couldn’t cut through cottage cheese without bending.
Where once we were served delicious dips and ketchup or mustard in a ramekin, you now either don’t get a selection, or you get prepacked Sysco ketchup in small packets, or you don’t get any at all—even if you ask.
Her reply was, “I am the manager.”
After the experience with the bratwurst and the ordertakers, I decided enough was enough and I went into the dining room to find a manager. Servers didn’t notice so I had to actually almost go behind the bar to get some attention. A server asked if I needed help and I asked to see a manager. I waited. And waited. I got her attention again and told here where I was sitting and that I wanted to speak to the manager. I returned to my seat and waited. And waited. I went back in, went to the bar, asked for the manager again, and waited. And waited. Finally, a woman, apparently a server, approached me with the words, “I’m Carie.” I replied, “That’s nice. Can I help you? Are you supposed to be the manager?” Her reply was, “I am the manager.” I responded that it would have been nice had she included that information in her initial approach.
I explained to her my dissatisfaction amid her numerous defensive interruptions which included everything from Why they’re using paper and plastic products to their employee training. Her main argument for the paper and plastic products was of all things, children!!! She mentioned that because there were so many children about and that they were breaking glasses, they had to resort to unbreakable plastic and paper products. I remarked (1) that it was a bar environment serving alcohol and should be no place for children to be romping about, and (2) that most of the adults were more likely to be dangerous than kids. Her response was that “This is a café not a bar.” Sure as hell fooled me. Looked like, smelled like, sounded like a bar to me. A bar with noisy children romping about. Is that legal in New York? Does a bar become a café just by calling it a café? Alcohol and drinking at every table on every inch of the premises and it’s a café? C’mon people, let’s get back to reality. Ommegang is a brewery. They make alcohol! They sell alcohol. They serve alcohol. If you visit their official site at Wecome to Brewery Ommegang, you can’t even get on the site until you confirm you’re 21 years or older! If you click I’m not, you’re told you can’t enter the site. You’re not exposed to virtual alcohol on the site but it is a site about alcohol and you have to be 21 or older to enter! How is it you can be under 3 years old and sit in the “café” [the bar!], run around wildly while your parents are enjoying their brewskies? Something’s a bit crazy in Cooperstown, wouldn’t you think?
Here’s another inconsistency. Go to the Ommegang Facebook page and what do you read at the top? Let me tell you: “Ommegang Bar and Brewery”!!! But Carie, the manager, tells me “This is not a bar, it’s a café.” And you’ll read the same thing on several Ommegang Internet pages. I think they need to have a meeting to get their stories straight. I also think the state of New York has to take a look at what’s going on. I think the
“They were indifferent. They just didn’t care.”
When I got to the part about the brats and my failed request for bread and mustard, Carie’s managerial response was, “Were they rude to you.” I replied, “They were not rude. Rude I could handle. They were indifferent. They just didn’t care.” Carie’s apparent canned response was a very robotic, “We put our employees through rigorous training, and we have a protocol.” My response was “Rigorous or not, the training certainly doesn’t include customer relations or customer satisfaction. That’s obvious.” I also remarked that the use of the word “protocol” was troubling. Protocol means a set of prescribed actions and behavior, very corporate, that rules out any discretion on the part of the employee. This is how you do it or else. That explained the “indifference” they were simply corporate robots doing it by the book. “Brats don’t come with bread or a roll; you’re not getting bread or mustard. Brats don’t come with bread or mustard. It’s not in the book!”
Does Ommegang give a shite about your experience?
We all know that usually when a restaurant gets a complaint the manager or the server will normally try to make things nice and either comp something, bring a little something extra to the table, send over a house drink. They do something, anything to patch things up and to show they care. At Ommegang that doesn’t happen. Did the manager even come to the table? NO. Did the manager make any sign of sympathy or empathy? NO. Just defended their practices. Did the manager comp anything or try to make us feel better? NO!!! Did I get my bread and mustard? Nope. Does Ommegang give a shite about your experience? Do I need to answer that for you?
I gave up on expecting anything from Carie and finally simply asked for her name and that of the general manager. She didn’t seem pleased that she hadn’t convinced me of her consummate good will and interest in guest satisfaction, and grudgingly went behind the bar and returned a few minutes later with a chit of paper with the incorrect spelling of the general manager’s name and his email, and her name.
We left Ommegang Brewery promising ourselves that this was our last visit. We left Ommegang Brewery after a lousy meal and a bad experience. The meal cost us about $60. We didn’t make our usual beer purchases and left without spending $200-$300 for this seasons beers. Ommegang and their corporate handlers not only lost money that day, they lost previously loyal and regular customers.
Avoid this place:
Summary: Rating POOR. Inconsistent Message, LousyService, Disgusting Food, Extremely Expensive.
656 County Highway 33
Cooperstown, NY 13326
General manager: Andreas Handrinos.
Our recommendation based on our years of experience with Ommegang: Forget about getting guest treatment at the manufacturer’s home base. For example, up until recently the brewery tour and tasting were free. Now the tasting is $6, and you shouldn’t expect a discount on the beers you purchase afterwards. We find you can get Ommegang and other craft beers for the same price or even less at your local beverage center! Save yourself a longish drive, a lot of money, and the disappointment of being taken for a ride by people who don’t give a shite. There are plenty of local family owned and operated businesses that need your support and will be grateful for it. Forget the foreign corporation owned “craft” beers, forget Cuomo’s political recommendations, forget the fake ratings. Get great wurst and meat products at Chester’s Smokehouse in Albany Find great unique beers locally at one of the many locally owned beverage centers who will be grateful for your business. Find a local picnic area along the beautiful Hudson River and enjoy Mother Nature’s free ambiance.
Post-publishing note: We have forwarded a link to this editorial to Mr Andreas Handrinos, general manager of the visitor center and hospitality at the Ommegang Brewery, and to the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce. We are awaiting their comments or responses. Mr Handrinos was not available at the time of our visit. You’d think the manger of the visitor center and hospitality would be available on the weekend, the busiest time of the week?