Home » Chris (Editor/Head Geek) » Interview with a Craft Brewer: Brian Henrici of Brewery Ommegang

Interview with a Craft Brewer: Brian Henrici of Brewery Ommegang

Chris: So first off Brian thanks for taking the time to talk with us
Chris: So lets just start at the beggining what exactly is your role at Ommegang
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I am one of the night shift brewers so my duties rotate bi-weekly from the brewhouse to the cellar
Chris: For the readers who may be new to brewing what do you mean by “the cellar”?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Well the term cellar refers to the lagering hall. Its called the cellar because it was typically the lowest point in the building, and they would rely on gravity to move the beer from the kettle to fermentors and then to packaging.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: So this is where the wort ferments into beer and it is then chilled down, filtered into our bright beer tanks, prepped for bottling conditioning and then sent to the packaging hall
Chris: And Ommegang botle conditions all of their beers?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: there have only been a few exeptions
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Obamagang was never bottled and Zuur is not bottle conditioned
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: and one-offs for BCTC
Chris: BCTC?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: ah sorry, thats our abbreviation for our festival Belgium Comes to Cooperstown
Chris: And that takes place at the end of July? Is Ommegang preparing anything special for this year?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: If you can find it, New York state has some strict laws about serving un-licenced beer
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: For example last year we had BPA, Tripel Perfection and a Scotch Ale on tap but it was not advertised.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: But our new Scotch ale will be being served for the first time
Chris: Wel before I ask you about the Limited releases you guys have done this year let me go back to the bottle conditioning real quick. A lot of Belgian breweries bottle condition. As a brewer do you think that bottle conditioning is important to the Belgian style? And if so what would you say is that one factor that makes it so?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Well first of all its tradition. Beer is pretty sacred to the Belgians and I wouldn’t want to deviate away from that.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: The mouthfeel from the high carbonation gives it a different experience than say British beers that are not as highly carbonated.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Carbonation also helps to cleanse the palate and since Belgians are often had with food this is a great asset.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: And lastly it fits with the aging of the beer. The yeast inside the bottle means that the beer is always changing, just adding on another complexity for you to consider.
Chris: Now speaking of the Belgian brewing tradition Ommegang is actually owned by Duvel. How much input or influence do they have on the beer brewed at Ommegang?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Duvel’s brewmaster Hedwig comes over a few times a year to see the brewery, but the decisions on our beer are by our brewmaster Phil Leinhart.
Chris: Now you mentioned earlier the Triple,BPA,Zuur and the Scotch ales which are Ommegang’s new Limited release beers that you are trying out this year. How did these beers come about?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Well the Triple was something that one of our brewers Wes Nick had been working on for a couple of years. Another brewer Michael McManus came up with a version of BPA and the Scotch for last years BCTC. After BCTC Jason Parish our R&D guy worked on the recipes on our pilot system and then finalized the recipes with Phil. Phil went over to Liefman’s last year and working on a blending recipe to create Zuur.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: We had gotten the go-ahead to make some new beers this year and these beers, along with slight changes to Chocolate Indulgence and Adoration are the result.
Chris: Well so far they have all been excellent beers! I just had the Zuur last night and it was a great beer. Are there any plans to release any more Limited edition beers in 2011?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Without really going into it, yes.
Chris: Ahh ok very cool. Will it be a similar release time table?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: That is yet to be determined.
Chris: The end game for these limited releases is to find a new year round beer, correct? And if so when will the 2010 “winning” beer make an appearance in the line up?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: There was a press release earlier this month stating that BPA will be kegged full time in September with bottles coming full time in January.
Chris: ahh excellent!
Chris: So if there was only one style of beer that you could brew what would it be and why?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: ahh. That is a tough question. I dont think I would ever really want to do just one, but if I had too perhaps a Dubbel. Lots going on there and lots to play with.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: But I also really enjoy dark lagers and have never had the chance to do one.
Chris: now on the flip side are there style you tend to stay away from brewing?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I tend to brew mostly Belgians, but I enjoy drinking all styles of beer and I wounldnt shy away from a certain category. I think there is something to learn and experience from each style. Its just whatever mood I’m in that day.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: But at Ommegang we only make Belgians.
Chris: So I have to ask it..What are your favorite and least favorite commercial beers. It can be one or 100 of them but people love that question
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I really enjoy what Ithaca does, their regular line up and Excelsior series are great.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I almost always have either Flower Power or Cascazilla around.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I started growing nugget hops in my yard because i liked Troegs Nugget Nectar so much.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I recently had Anderson Valley Summer Solstice and really enjoyed that.
Chris: Actualy Troegs is releaseing a batch of Nugget Nectar fermented with their Belgian yeast as an anniversary ale
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I had not heard that, but its funny because i once tried to do a clone of that with Ommegang house yeast, so I am going to have to try that one.
Chris: Yeah it is going to be Scratch #32 should be out in a few weeks, ill have to mail you a few bottles, its a brewery only release
Chris: Now what would you say is your least favorite beer?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Well i dont really like being negative about beer but there was time when i lived in Holland and there was a generic beer from the grocery store that was just awful. It was just called Bier.
Chris: HAHA nice
Chris: Well ive got one final question for you..If you could have a beer with one person living or dead who would it be and why?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: My father does not drink so I would have to say him. I would be really interested to see what happens.
Chris: very cool
Chris: actually I have one more question for you if you dont mind
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I guess thats not really interesting to anyone but me.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: shoot
Chris: How do you as a both a brewer and a beer enthusist view the online craft beer movement as far as Beer Advocate, Ratebeer and the youtube reviewers? Good thing or bad thing my brewing?
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I tend to follow it alot, but take the criticism with a grain of salt. There will always be people who don’t like what you do or want you to change something, But I think mostly that its great, it gets more people educated about the craft beer movement and is an outlet for people who are enthusiastic about beer. I personally dont review beers, but I like going to those websites and answering questions that people have.
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: I dont think anyone benefits when someone posts something really negative, but thats the internet and you just have to deal with it.
Chris: I think that tends to be the consensus among brewers, I think if you took everything to heart the beer would start to suffer because it would just make you crazy that no beer will ever be good enough for the BA’ers
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: You run the risk of changing what it was meant to be.
Chris: exactly
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: and the vision that you had.
Chris: Well Brian, thats so much for taking the time
BRIAN-OMMEGANG: Thanks Chris, its been a pleasure.
Chris: If people want to tour Ommegang, its it open year round?

BRIAN-OMMEGANG: It is, we do tours and tasting everyday of the week from noon to 6 and its free.

Chris: OK very cool man, thanks again.

About Chris Steltz

Clinical lab scientist by day, beer geek by night.

2 comments

  1. That is such a great interview, Chris. That was one of the more interesting beer interviews I’ve read. I learned many things about the Belgian style too.

    One of the last things Brian said about having brewery tours every day is something that stood out to me in particular. How they are willing to sacrifice their time to show, educate and give to people says a lot about them as people. I’ve been to breweries where it was done half-assed, and it is really disappointing. Good job, Chris.

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