Home Beer Spotlight: Matt Brewing Co.

Spotlight: Matt Brewing Co.

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In 1888, German-born immigrant F.X. Matt I took over the failing Bierbaur Brewery in Utica, New York, and created The West End Brewing Co., serving as both its star salesman and brewmaster. The Upstate New York brewery survived Prohibition and the Depression, reintroducing its brews under the Utica Club banner and becoming one of the country’s most successful regional breweries. “Clearly my grandfather’s intention was to be in the brewing business, which was consistent with his German heritage…plus it was his dream. He developed his skill at the Duke of Baden Brewery in the Black Forest Region of Germany,” explains Nicolas O. Matt, President of the F.X. Matt Brewing Co., named in honor of its founder. Yet, part of what has made Matt Brewing attractive today is its Saranac line of beers. Saranac Adirondack Lager was selected as the Best American Premium Beer at the Great American Beer Festival in 1991. It was at that time that Nick Matt made a big brew ha-ha by focusing production on the small Saranac brand. “But you know what we’re famous for: The fact that we’re what’s called an old-line regional brewery that converted itself into a specialty brewer,” explains Matt. “If there is something unique about us, it really is that there are very few traditional regional breweries around anymore. Frankly, our focus isn’t on medals, though we’ve won quite a few over the years [most recently Australian Beer Tasting’s gold medal for Saranac Pale Imperial IPA]. As a philosophy, we try to make beers that are both distinctive and drinkable. In a lot of contests, what really wins is the furthest-out demonstration in style, and that doesn’t really fit into distinctive and drinkable.”

Matt loves the challenge of growing the specialty beers while maintaining tradition with the Utica Club ales. “I like to drink beer, and if I go out for an evening, I personally prefer Saranac,” admits Nick, who tends to enjoy a more full-flavored beer. In 2003, Matt Brewing began noticing a rebound in its U.C. products after a packaging campaign that revived its 1950s and ’60s label and reintroduced the congenial talking beer steins Schultz and Dooley. “It’s what the brand looked like in its heyday, so I call it a retro-comeback. People tend not to drink their father’s beer but they might drink their grandfather’s—Utica Club is their grandfather’s brew.” –Bonnie Siegler


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