F.X. Matt looks ahead
By Donald S. Gosselin
One may count on one hand the number of American breweries that were founded in
the nineteenth century, survived over a decade of closure during prohibition,
and still brew today. The F.X. Matt Brewery in neighboring Utica, New York is
one such brewery.
It is said that F.X. Matt, the founder of the brewery, was the first brewer in
the country to receive a brewing license -- exactly one hour after the 21st
Amendment had been signed into law. In what may be described as the fastest
fermentation in history, the Utica brewery delivered kegs of fresh lager within
a day of receiving its license, where one might imagine that it was very well
After several decades of prosperity, Matt's Brewery struggled to survive into
the 1980s. By then, nearly every American brewer produced a bland, fizzy-sweet
beer -- generically similar to that of Bud, Miller or Coors. In fact, about the
only noticeable difference between beers was the fact that Bud, Miller and Coors
were much better marketed and distributed throughout America. Falstaff, Schlitz
and Schmidt's, all much larger than the Utica, New York brewery, became
assimilated by much larger brewers. Narragansett of Cranston and Carlings of
Natick had long since closed. As F.X. Matt's prepared for its one hundredth
year of brewing, many believed that the brewery faced imminent assimilation, or
worse - closure due to its steadily eroding market share.
If not for pluck and determination, Matt's may have gone the way of the once
mighty Schaefer Brewing Co. of New York -- existing in name only. F.X. Matt II,
the son and namesake of the founder, traveled to Germany in search of
inspiration. He returned a short time later with an idea of producing an
authentic German style pilsner beer, using only traditional ingredients. Matt's
plan was to return to the style of brewing that his father had practiced many
decades ago. The beer was to be called Saranac.
I first discovered Saranac in a Corning, New York package store in 1985, very
shortly after its debut. At about twelve dollars a case, it was priced just
above Bud and just below Michelob. After trying one beer, I immediately
returned to the package store and bought the remaining four cases of the hoppy,
amber lager. When Saranac eventually made its way into New England some years
later, the price had gone up a bit. Thankfully, the quality had remained the
One could say that each of the three generations of Matts has left its mark on
our regional brewing scene. The brewery's exterior illustrates this perfectly
-- high atop the plant, "West End Brewing Company", the inaugural name for the
brewery, is spelled out in ornate stonework. Still higher, a neon "Utica Club"
sign represents the heyday of the 1950s and 1960s. Nick Matt, current president
of the brewery and grandson of the founder, asked not to be photographed in
front of the aging symbols, preferring the colorful backdrop of cases of
Saranac. Why not the perfect photo depicting three generations of Matt
enterprise?, I asked.
"Because Saranac is our future," came the plucky reply.
© 1996 Donald S. Gosselin