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New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Belgium Comes to Cooperstown 2014 at Brewery Ommegang

Woodstock. Bonaroo. The Great American Beer Festival. Belgium Comes to Cooperstown.

What? You haven't heard of BCTC? Well, here's the gist - thousands of people come together in the rolling, grassy backyard of a great Belgian beer brewery in upstate New York. During the weekend of camaraderie and camping, there's an exquisite VIP dinner, exclusive tastings, entrancing entertainment, and on top of all of that there is a fair amount of bottle sharing outside of the official tasting tents.

The event, which has been going since 1999, attracts beer nerds and neophytes alike, some driving just down the road while others may have several hours to make it to the festivities. Tickets every year go on sale on April 1 and they usually sell out within minutes. Volunteering is another option to get into BCTC, in which you volunteer for about 3 to 4 hours and have access to the festival.

For those who missed it this past weekend (or maybe you just want to reminisce), here's a bit about the activities from BCTC 2014.

There was a Vegas-theme this year, specifically "What Happens at BCTC, Stays at BCTC" - which was found on the bracelets and lanyards. I missed Friday night (when the VIP dinner happens) but I heard it was delicious, with ever-flowing bottles of beer.

For the past couple of years, Ommegang has especially used BCTC to highlight/premier their newest Game of Thrones beer. This year it was Valar Morghulis, a Belgian Dubbel. If you bought tickets for the  "Game of Thrones Experience", you got a special glass, a bottle of beer (retail:~$8.50), and a photo on the Iron Throne from the fantasy series. The new beer is expected out in stores this fall.

With the Vegas-theme, the organizers of BCTC did a great job of putting fun, creative twists throughout the festival grounds. There was Vegas-style entertainment - with show girls, cirque performers, an Elton John impersonator, and even Elvis skydivers (or flying Elvii, as I like to call them).

The loyal and regular attendees always get into the theme. This year I saw a fair share of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas characters and Elvii.

Oh, I almost forgot.....the beer was good, too. There were about 75 breweries from multiple countries, with a particular focus on Belgian brews. A fairly complete list of beer can be found here. Some of my favorites included: the Allagash James Bean, Stillwater/Westbrook Gose Gone Wild, and Ommegang's bourbon barrel aged Adoration. The girly-drinker in me also enjoyed the Pink Reserve from Woodchuck.

(from the Ommegang site)

When the four-hour tasting period finished up, there were still food vendors, massages, free hand-designed T-shirts (if you didn't mind the line), music, and beer shares back at the tents - which kind of transform the scenic, hop-filled yard into a tent city for a couple of days.

Even the porta potties this year were well-kept and cleaned.

The only real annoyance was the strict security which is understandable given the size of the event. As opposed to past years, this year, the security guards were extremely vigilant about checking bracelets to make sure people had paid for entry. This became an issue for some late-Friday, early-Saturday arrivals since people weren't able to get their tickets or check-in as volunteers. I, personally, was not allowed in when I arrived for my early Saturday shift because I did not yet have a volunteer bracelet to enter. Again, I understand why they're there. It, unfortunately, just left a sour taste for some in the initial hours --- which then, for me anyway, eventually fizzled away.

VIP tickets this year were about $250 and included access to the 500-person dinner and some exclusive access to parts of the festival. I believe the general admission was about $100 and camping was $20. I'm estimating because I haven't paid for a ticket for two years since volunteering is such a great gig.

Feel free to check out my Facebook page for my photo album on the event, and my Twitter and Instagram (@DanielleSanzone and @DanielleMSanzone, respectively) for other thoughts on this year's BCTC experience.

And for those bummed that you missed out with this event: 1) Go next year, and/or 2) Go to another upcoming event like the Festival of Farmhouse Ales in Vermont this weekend or Troy on Tap in NY's Capital District in early September.


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