Harvest Ale and a Country Bumpkin Pilsner

I absolutely love beers from the Ommegang Brewery of Cooperstown, N.Y., including the delicious Scythe & Sickle Harvest Ale, which is a fall seasonal brewed with barley, wheat oats and rye. I meant to taste it in the fall season, but just got around to it now.

Ommegang was founded in 1996 by Belgian beer champions Donald Feinberg and Wendy Littlefield, the married couple behind the Vanberg & DeWulf, a Belgian beer importing company (, with financial help from the Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat (makers of the truly world-class Duvel Golden Ale). In 2003 the couple sold the rest of their shares of the brewery to Duvel Moortgat.

When I first discovered Ommegang and started writing about it in the first years of this century, the head brewer was Randy Thiel of New Holstein, Wis. Since February 2008 Thiel has been brewing at New Glarus (and is an invited guest, as is New Glarus founder Deb Carey, to the June 14 Door County Beer Fest and Homebrewing Championship – stay tuned for details or visit

The idea behind Ommegang beers was simple: Feinberg and Littlefield loved Belgian beers and had been importing them for American consumption for more than a decade. Why not found a craft brewery with Belgian sensibilities, and not only in America, but in the home of baseball, Cooperstown, N.Y.

Why Cooperstown?

“Don was a pitcher at Yale,” Wendy told me in an interview more than a decade ago. “He really didn’t play a lot of baseball after he left college, so as a surprise for his 30th birthday, I sent him to Yankee Fantasy Camp and it was held in Cooperstown. That was the first time we saw the place. We eventually got a weekend house here, and then we went from that to full time.”

And in 1997 they built a Belgian-style brewery there on the site of a former hop farm and began creating breathtaking beers.

Scythe and Sickle Harvest Ale is no different. A rich aroma of malt and then bright herbal fruitiness is the first sensation unleashed when you pour this beer. A big, white head follows on top of the cloudy, copper-colored liquor.

And the taste? Creamy, smooth with a finishing hop bite. This would be a great session beer while sitting around a campfire with a harvest moon shining down.

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I was really looking forward to tasting Victory Prima Pils from the Victory Brewing Co. of Downington, Pa., largely because on the label it calls itself “a refined pilsner beer” and I am a sucker for refined pilsner beers. There are so few of them out there compared to the numbers of ales and bland American lagers on the market.

But, no, the label lies. This is not a refined pilsner, say in the style of Budvar (known as Czechvar in this country due to a conflict with Anheuser-Busch). This is a rough-hopped American-style pilsner, which is a very far cry from the very refined Euro-pilsners I love.

Victory Prima Pils is a tasty beer, but to call it a refined pilsner is false advertising, I think. It is too hop forward to be a refined, balanced pilsner. It pours a bit cloudy, while refined pilsners are known for their crystal clarity. It’s more like a country bumpkin cousin of a refined pilsner, but thanks for playing, Victory!