Review of F. X. Matt Brewery

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When traveling the New York Thruway between Albany and Buffalo, along the banks of the historic Erie Canal, give your RADAR detector a break and take the Genesee Avenue exit in Utica. Just off Varick at 811 Edward St. stands an old brick building whose red brick walls tower over the surrounding neighborhood. Still legible are the once dominant but now faded words Utica Club, known to thousands of upstate beer drinkers as simply U.C. Unfortunately for loyal fans, that brand could not survive the predatory pricing practices of the "mega" breweries that wanted to dominate the "quantity-brew" market. Fortunately for this 1888 family owned brewery the times are changing. With the third and fourth generations of his family fully committed to keeping the brewery profitable, F.X. Matt combines his knowledge of traditional German brewing techniques with market savvy to develop the Saranac product line of all malt craft-brewed beers. Distribution currently extends as far as west as Ohio but expansion is a possibility since only half of the brewery's 1 million barrel capacity is currently utilized.

A peek at the brewhouse reveals a couple of 18,000 gallon brew kettles, a cooker, ands a mash tun. A short walk away lay 1650 barrel tanks in the fermentation room. These feed the 120 aging tanks holding more than 1000 barrels each. F.X. Matt himself stays personally involved with all aspects of the brewing process and can be found inspecting various aspects of the brewing operation daily. Traditional kreausening and long lagering times are still employed. Both top and bottom fermenting yeast are used. Standing high above the bottling line visitors can see the high-speed action where up to 100,000 cases a day are filled and packaged. All bottles are recyclable and the 22 ounce size is now becoming popular. Clarity is so important that everything is double filtered and an automated clarity alarm is capable of halting the bottling line.

F.X. Matt's is investing in its marketing personnel rather than spending precious dollars on media ads. Careful attention to the drinking preferences of the regional market has resulted in triple-digit annual growth rates, numerous awards, and best sellers. Christmas sales of the Saranac Season's Best has been phenomenal and this year's advanced orders total nearly 50,000 cases. Draft accounts makeup only 20% of total sales, due mostly to the state government's continued success in lowering the criminal Blood Alcohol Content level. For those who still dare to drink outside of their homes, a pleasant place is the elegantly decorated tasting room. Like the rest of the 19th century building, this room was fully restored in the 1960's and the dark red wooden walls are now home to photos showing over a century of brewing history.

On tap was the Black and Tan, surprisingly rich and complex in its blend of stout and lager. The combination of good body and complementary flavors made this pre-blended "style" extremely popular. The Saranac Pale Ale was great fresh from the tap, the hop aroma was followed by a smooth hop flavor. With its light amber color and medium body, this might be just the beer to introduce New Yorkers to hops. The Saranac Golden Pilsner had a very light hop aroma and flavor at 3.9% alcohol by weight (abw), whereas the Adirondac Lager was evenly balanced, clean and crisp with a touch of wheat at 4.0% abw. The Freeport USA was a pale gold color, very light body and a light grainy aroma, slightly sweet and well carbonated. It is not fermented and weighs in at 0.0% abw. Under development is a root beer and stout. A recent addition was the Saranac Mountain Berry Ale with its hazy amber color and a fruity/sweet flavor. The label proclaims "Ale fermented with honey and fruit juices" under the Adirondack Summer graphic.

The contract business is booming and sales are increasing for the Dock Street, Harpoon Ale, Nantucket, and Brooklyn Lager labels. Matt's hand-on approach is producing increasing demand for their beers at a time when overall beer sales in this part of the country are declining. Quality people, attention to detail, ant the addition of some modern equipment from the defunct Miller facility in Fulton make this private brewery a serious contender in the growing craft brewing market.

F.X. Matt Brewing Company
811 Edwards St.
Utica, New York 13502

Reviewed by Tom Ciccateri - June, 1995. Updated July 1996.

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