Cheers to Saranac on crafting perfection
As you all probably know, I am a lover of craft beer, so when I got the opportunity to tour the FX Matt Brewing Company, producer of countless varieties of Saranac craft brews, I jumped at the chance! From the time the Utica Club sign (which can be seen from miles away) first appeared above the horizon to the moment I walked through the doors of the towering brick facade that is the entrance of FX Matt Brewing and right through to the end of my tour, I was impressed by the history and quality of this fine local business. This brewery has been a staple of the Utica and Central New York area for well over a hundred years and once you take the tour, meet the people and taste the beer, you’ll understand why.
There is so much to talk about when it comes to this brewery, which F. X. Matt began as a small, twelve employee operation in 1888, but through ingenuity, adaptation, innovation and perseverance, it has survived to become one of the top craft breweries in the United States, with their unique and delicious line of Saranac beers and to this day, Matt Brewing is still producing the city of Utica’s main brew and local favorite, Utica Club. They are also 50/50 partners with Lake Placid Brewing and produce the majority of their beers as well as doing contract brewing for other breweries, including the Brooklyn Brewery and Flying Dog, just to name a few. During the tour (which will cost you just $5 and includes two free drinks after the tour at the tavern, located above the gift shop), you will get a large sample of the history behind the Matt Brewery as well as the operation and production of the beer that has kept them in business since the late 19th century. The tour begins in the gift shop. You will be able to peruse the many fine beers, sodas, glasses and clothing items, among other things emblazoned with the Saranac and Utica Club logos, while you wait to be called for your tour. If you’re not in the mood to make a purchase before the tour, once you’ve finished out your hour long experience, you’ll be itching to fill the back of your car with items from the gift shop.
Our guide, Al, met us in a room decorated with antique furniture and the type of woodwork that you would expect to see in a Victorian style mansion. This is appropriate, because Matt Brewing is not only a brewery, but in a sense, it is a museum dedicated to the storied history of this family owned and managed facility. Next up, you will enter a small room with photographs and portraits of F. X. Matt and the rest of the Matt family. Here, you will learn a little history about the man who started it all and the family who continues to fulfill his dream over a hundred and twenty five years later. Then, it’s off to the grain room, where you can see and touch some of the different malts and hops used in their brewing process and discuss their role in the brewing process. Next you are off to the Prohibition room, which is modeled after a 1920’s style Speakeasy, where you’ll learn about all of the nonalcoholic beverages produced here during this period and some of these are still in production, today. They include Saranac Root Beer, which in my opinion, is the best root beer around. Matt Brewing was the first brewery in the country to legally produce and sell beer after the repeal of prohibition. Can you say, “History in a glass”?
After you explore the elaborate history of Matt Brewing, you move on to the factory and this is where it gets even more interesting. This is not a tour where you are in a room, peering out a large glass window at small sections of a factory. You will be walking directly through the production area. At times, you will be walking catwalks above the production floor and down an aisle bordered on both sides by huge tanks. All the while you will be learning a little about every step in the process of brewing your favorite beer. The factual information was delivered with intelligence and a touch of humor, much like the rest of the tour. You’ll see the equipment used in mashing, boiling, fermentation, conditioning, filtering and right through to bottling and packaging, learning enough about each process to understand what goes into brewing beer, but not so much that you become bored with facts and figures. At one point you will see a group of seventy year old scotch barrels, shipped from the Tomintoul Distillery in Scotland and used in the aging of some of their premier higher ABV beers, including Imperial Barrel Aged Rye Porter. Once you’re done touring the factory, it’s time to make your way back and enjoy the fruits of Matt Brewing’s labor, at the tavern.
The tavern, much like the rest of the building has a turn of the century architectural style and is a piece of living history. There are several beers on tap and you can redeem each of the two tickets, given to you at the start of the tour, for a couple drinks of your choice. Of course, if you decide, you’d like to have more than two, you can pull out your wallet and keep going (that’s what I did). Our guide, Al, was behind the bar along with another Tapster, ready to provide us with answers to any questions about the brews we might have and then pour us a few pints of fantastic beer! First I had the Imperial Barrel Aged Rye Porter, a complex, high ABV beer full of flavor. This is undoubtedly, the best Rye Ale I have ever consumed. Next was a Saranac Cold Brewed Coffee Lager, a simply fantastic coffee beer and much lighter in body than a stout or porter, so you can have several without feeling too full. Stand at the bar or sit at a table and enjoy the classic Schultz and Dooley commercials running broadcasting on the television. Also, growlers are available for purchase, so you can take your favorite beer home and enjoy it at your leisure. Everything is very reasonably priced and you get a lot of bang for your buck!
If you have the time, I definitely suggest going on this tour. It is the best brewery tour I’ve been on by far, and I’ve done plenty of research in that regard. Where else can you get a local history lesson, an hour long tour of a prominent and historically important brewery, a couple beers and a great time, all for five bucks?! Matt Brewing hasn’t stood the test of time, being successful for over 125 years by accident. This is a family owned and managed brewery, whose philosophy of quality over quantity has been passed down from generation to generation. Those values have been instilled in each and every one who works at Matt Brewing and you can taste that dedication in every glass.
[symple_box color=”blue” text_align=”center” width=”” float=”none”]If You Go
What: FX Matt Brewing Company
Where: 830 Varick St., Utica, NY
When: Gift shop: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday; Tours: June-Aug. 1 and 3 p.m., Monday through Saturday; Sept-May 1 and 3 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays
Why: … because great people, great history in a great community make great beer just so you can have a great time. [/symple_box]
Ted Snyder / The Fuze Magazine
Photo / Tim Snyder and Tammy Furlong
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