Team Paradox from Schroon Lake, NY ready for action as the fest commenced.
By Cat Wolinski
What do you get when you bring 3,000 beer drinkers, 377 beers, 117 breweries, fire dancers, and reptiles together between the Catskill and Adirondack Mountains? Big Top BCTC (Belgium Comes to Cooperstown), Brewery Ommegang’s annual festival that took place Aug. 5-7, themed this year around the circus. (Although no one at Brewery Ommegang was able to pinpoint the festival’s origins, by ASN calculations, this was the 14th year.)
In any case, the festival has certainly progressed. “In the early 2000s, there were a couple of tents and a couple of kegs,” said Phil Leinhart, brewmaster at Brewery Ommegang since 2007. “It’s grown quite a bit since those days.”
BCTC’s circus theme was, as is typical, vaguely in effect: a few striped tents, a ferris wheel, a sad singing clown (Puddles Pity Party was back yet again), and the aforementioned fire dancers. No matter, though: it’s not the theme that keeps 3,000 attendees coming back year after year. What does, we can agree with Leinhart, is “the whole feel, the pace, the setting, the surroundings in such a beautiful place…and [attendees] camping, brewers camping, it’s communal that way. It definitely has a very special and unique feel to it.”
The scenery is stunning, no doubt, but let’s get to what really brings us here: the beer. The generous plethora featured mostly local New York brewers bringing their BCTC best, along with a respectable amount of out-of-towners and imports that did not disappoint.
No kissing booth to be seen at this circus, but sour/wild ales and fruit were in full force at BCTC this year. A few favorites were KCBC Into the Machine, a kriek aged in red wine barrels with Balaton tart cherries (“It’s literally the jam,” Tony Bellis, KCBC co-founder, told us); Community Beer Works Flanders Red, aged for 28 months; and Flying Bison Secret Stache Batch #2: Patrona Imperatrice, a wild saison with apricot puree fermented in oak barrels.
IPAs may dominate craft beer buyers’ market, but they were few and far between at this fest. Clemson Bros. Brewery poured a pleasantly light-bodied Brewers Mistress Session IPA; Ellicottville Brewing Keepin’ it Peel Citrus IPA with lime and grapefruit peel was appropriately pithy, tangy and bright; Brewery Ommegang brought out its Nirvana IPA, as well as its Hopstate NY 2017, brewed with New York State hops, which we regrettably missed.
On the cider front, guests were impressed by Nine Pin Cider Bourbon Barrel-aged Lion’s Share, a collaboration with Ommegang, fermented with what Leinhart refers to as “the Ommegang yeast strain,” or the strain used in its core beers like Witte, Hennepin, Rare Vos and Three Philosophers.
Although a few quick rain showers teased attendees throughout, BCTC was, thankfully, a principally beer-soaked success. We look forward to another wild festival, but request this of next year’s brewers: if you’re going to bring so many sours, please bring the Tums.
Brewery Ommegang provided the author with press badges to Big Top BCTC.