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October 26, 2013

A tale of two breweries

The Daily Star

---- — Only a day after news came of an expansion by Brewery Ommegang’s parent company, Schoharie County closed the door on a deal that would have allowed Butternuts Beer and Ale Co. to expand into a vacant industrial site. 

It’s hyperbole to call these two events “the best of times” and “the worst of times.” But it does give one pause to reflect on the fortunes of these two local breweries. 

Ommegang’s rise in recent years has been, if not meteoric, at least stellar. The brewery opened in 1997 in a purpose-built barn on an old hop farm. By 2005, its founders sold their shares to Belgian beermakers Duvel Moortgat, who had invested in the company at its start. 

It has won numerous domestic and international awards and is sold in more than 45 states, while the brewery has established itself as a premiere destination for concerts, festivals and other events. A recent sleek re-branding (which won yet another award) and a peek at its cafe menu (duck confit crepes, $10) make it clear that Ommegang is positioned toward a well-heeled clientele. 

When Butternuts Brewery opened in 2005 — the year Ommegang was sold to Duvel — it was also in a barn, on an old dairy farm in Garrattsville. Its credo of “No pretense. No snotty attitudes or haughty prices” almost reads as a thumb to the nose aimed at its Cooperstown neighbors. While much has been made of Ommegang’s Belgian bottle-brewing method, Butternuts beers are brewed exclusively in aluminum cans, with colorful, cartoonish logos that contrast with Ommegang’s sleek silhouettes. 

It’s not as if Butternuts has been sitting around doing nothing while Ommegang has become part of the eighth-largest independent craft brewery in the United States — which is exactly what Duvel’s recent acquisition of a midwest brewery accomplished. 

While Ommegang has its upscale Belgian-themed cafe, Butternuts has a brew pub at a nearby golf course, which it purchased and operates. The brewery also took over operations at the Cooperstown Brewing Co., based in Milford, and has risen to be ranked as the 50th largest microbrewery in the nation. 

It’s unfortunate that, after months of negotiations, that Butternuts was still not ready to close on a deal that would have given the brewery the former Guilford Mills facility at just more than half its appraised value. The property now goes back onto the market, where it has languished for more than a decade. 

But this news is probably worse for Schoharie County than it is for Butternuts, and there’s no reason to count this not-so-little brewery out. This is a setback. But it’s hardly “the worst of times,” either.