Kelso's Fuku was the most food-friendly beer we tried at Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. Designed in collaboration with NYC's Momofuku restaurant, Fuku is a smoked, salted wit brewed with German Kolsch yeast. In the wrong hands, this combination could be dreadful, but here, the disparate elements come together in a cohesive, almost playful manner. Each layer—the smoke, the salt, the citrusy hops, and the bready yeast—remains in balance.
Firestone Walker Lil' Opal
Renowned for their big barley wines and IPAs, Firestone Walker pulled a 180° on this year's Belgium Comes to Cooperstown attendees with Lil' Opal. Brewed from the second runnings of Opal—a wheat wine blended into their anniversary ale—Lil' Opal is a bright saison aged in white wine barrels. Tart, vinous and medium-bodied, this 4.3% ABV farmhouse ale can stand up to big boys twice its size.
Duvel Triple Hop 2013
Dry-hopped Belgian ales are relatively common these days. But when one of Belgian's oldest breweries doses their flagship ale with an extra dose of hops, we take notice. The 2013 edition of Duvel Triple Hop drinks like the classic Duvel with a lemony punch from Sorache Ace hops. These citrus flavors add a refreshing character and hide the 9%+ ABV dangerously well.
Perennial Savant Beersel
Offerings from Missouri's Perennial Artisan Ales solidified the brewery's position alongside other, more established, brew houses. Our favorite was their Savant Beersel, a rose-tinged golden ale aged in wine barrels with Chambourcin grape juice. Fermented entirely with wild yeast, this was one of the more complex and enjoyable beers of the day.
I expected to see more gose beers this year at Belgium Comes to Cooperstown. This tart, saline style is the perfect summer beer and does not require the extended aging of complex, sour ales. But only a handful made their way to the tables and our favorite was from Amiata in Italy. Marsilia is a subtle gose dominated by tropical pineapple aromas, lemony flavors, and just a touch of salt and coriander in the finish.
Goose Island Sofie Paradisi
The biggest surprise from Belgium Comes to Cooperstown came from Goose Island in the form of Sofie Paradisi—a limited batch of their Sofie farmhouse ale brewed with fresh grapefruit peel instead of orange peel. Originally, I dismissed Sofie Paradisi as a mere brewery trick to turn one beer into two by substituting such a simple ingredient. But the grapefruit peel completely changes the character and adds a zesty, refreshing quality. With its pronounced hop finish, the Paradisi tasted complete from start to finish and was one of the first beers to run dry.
Brewery Ommegang Iron Throne Blonde Ale
The art of Brewery Ommegang beers are in their subtlety. Instead of hammering the drinker with big hops, big barrel aging, or big fruit notes, each Ommegang brew feel balanced, cohesive, and a bit unassuming. Iron Throne Blonde Ale—Ommegang's first beer in their Game of Thrones series—follows this tradition. The aroma and taste are aligned, with bits of honey, spice, and orchard fruits throughout. This damn-fine Belgian ale may be my new favorite from Brewery Ommegang. Which is a shame, since it sold out within hours at my local store.
Roc Brewing Co. Vern
Another exclusive, Seinfeld-themed beer, Vern is a tiny farmhouse ale that packs a lot of taste into a little ale. Fermented at higher temperatures to preserve the fuller flavors, the mix of caramel notes over orchard fruits and a spicy rye finish managed to be both unusual and refreshing.
508 Gastrobrewery Sour Seduction Saison
Part of their "Pillow Talk" series with NYC home brewer Mary Izett, Sour Seduction Saison is a kettle-soured Berliner weisse/saison hybrid. Tart, clean, and slightly fruity from the saison yeast, Sour Seduction hits all the right notes of a contemporary summer ale. 508 Gastrobrewery poured three variations of this beer—with peaches, strawberries, and Lapsang Souchong tea—but we enjoyed the unadulterated one the most.
New to this year's festival was the #Duvelart Canvas Competition. With a glass of Duvel Single in hand for inspiration, participants took to the canvases alongside NYC artist Mike Perry to create their rendition of an iconic tulip glass. The paintings ranged from absurd to outstanding but the real fun was watching everything unfold after a few pours of strong ale.