The Topic: Screamen Eagle/Matt’s Draft House, Inlet, NY
Written by Ken Carman
If you have come here from Adirondack Weekly, welcome! This edition of Brew Biz offers a slightly different sense of the local color, expanded classic Ken humor and a lot more Screamen.
Northeast of the biggest village in the Central Adirondacks: Old Forge, NY, there’s the tiny hamlet of Eagle Bay. On your left you’ll see a building being remodeled for the great Bay Cafe, which for now is on the other side of the road. Where Bay is about to move was where Jon, Matt, Doug and Sharon Miller had their Central Adirondack video/pizza shop the first time. Hence the “Eagle” in Screamen Eagle.
Over the hill and through the wooded hills… no, not “to grandma’s house,” although Sharon Miller is a “grandma” …to Screamen Eagle we go. Please, dear readers, stop imagining me with a picnic basket, wearing a dress, and dancing my way to grandma’s house. It’s EMBARRASSING!
Now we’re in downtown Inlet. There’s only one main intersection there: Route 28 and The South Shore Road. On the northeast corner you’ll see the oddly shaped, yet quite Adirondack-like, Screamen Eagle and Matt’s Draft House. The establishment seems a permanent part of the landscape, like it has been there forever. Indeed, the old postcard to your right has a building about where Screamen is now.
I can easily imagine my great grandfather; Andrew Carman, stopping there to do what he did so often: buy supplies for Adirondack French Louie, so Louie didn’t have to leave his trap lines. I can see, in my mind, someone knocking on a side door down near the marina and saying a pass phrase, “Prohibition gave my cat hives,” and the door opens to liquid pleasure, rot gut… or the guys, the ones with the axes, ever eager to bust open kegs.
When I was a permanent resident in the Dacks I remember it being called The Capital. I believe it was Adirondack brown, not red. Even back then it looked to me like it needed some updating, and having a lot of empty times, where it was either out of business, or business was extremely slow. If so, that certainly seems to have changed a lot since it has become Screamen Eagle.
Fellow beer judge, homebrewer and Chief Put-er-up-er with Moi’, Millie Carman, and I, have graced Screamen and Matt’s many times. OK, I admit that “graced” may have been a bit too gracious of a term on a rare occasion when it comes to her husband. Screamen is so tempting for craft beer lovers and beer judges. As Matt said, they always have 50 brews on tap, unless one kicks. But the lag is usually very, very short. Rare, if ever, would a tap go dry beyond a day. They do beer in a way that even those who go to multi-taps in big cities might really enjoy: Matt Miller managed to cast his tap seeking line out and catch the elusive Dogfish 120 for about two years. That’s quite rare, even at many multi-taps far bigger Millie and I have visited from Louisiana to Florida to Maine. I’ve been to Dogfish’s brewpub in Rehoboth Beach several times over the years. I told the server about the Dogfish 120 tap at Matt’s this summer and she said even they only have it on occasionally.
And another great thing is the servers at Matt’s Draft House know what they’re serving. Millie and I have been to more than a few where the bartenders don’t have a clue.
Matt has a very creative approach to hosting taps. Southern Tier once took over 27 of their taps and Matt challenged them to do all 50. They obliged, which breaks more than a few records for tap takeovers. The Dogfish 120 tap happened, in part, due to volume and the fact that Screamen Eagle offers distributors and breweries a chance at being ahead of the curve in a distinct niche market: the Central Adirondacks. When it comes to taps, “It’s more what people are asking for, the season and feedback from our distributors.” He also said it’s about, “Having the clientele, a matter of timing and if it’s being asked for it yet.” Well, maybe more than just “asked for” if it’s only one or two clients.
But it isn’t just all about the brews in this family oriented business. It’s about the menu too, which Jon has more of a focus on. Before the food arrives you may note the menu is bright, colorful, well laid out. The mouth waters just looking at it. It makes you want to chew on the menu itself, even though that might mimic that well known beer defect often described as “cardboard,” or “papery.”
Yum, is that Adirondack pine, or maple? Am I a… sap… for just asking that? How did all the papers I wrote for Mr. Pearse and Mr. Lindsay at local Town of Webb end up in my mouth?
On a more serious note, one thing that has been a problem in the past for Millie and I is when ordering what’s pictured, what’s described, on the menu, it arrives on tiny plate, a shallow bowl, only full and filled with a lot of disappointment. We have never, ever, had that experience at Eagle. This translates into return business. Jon told me they were in the final top 6 wing places in an upstate New York statewide wing competition.
I’ve been to Anchor in Buf where it is said wings were invented, Quaker, Steak and Lube, and I’ll vouch for these wings being at least as good, sometimes far better, and Screamen being a great place to demand chickens sacrifice their wings. Others must agree: Jon told me on a busy weekend they go through 30-40 cases which hold 30-40 dozen each.
No wonder the chickens stopped crossing the road in Inlet. Sorry, that will NOT stop Matt, Sharon and John, though chickens may think typing that a bit… fowl.
The pizza is excellent too, the selection and what can be added, the options, eclectic.
We talked about plans for the future. As far as the beer goes, Matt felt a randall might be problematic because of the high pressure he “pushes beer at.” For those not in the know, a randall is a device attached to a tap filled with hops, chocolate, whatever. You could use lilies and liver, I suppose, but I wouldn’t recommend. Besides, what do we call the beer, “Lilly Livered?” A beer engine, or “hand pulled” as some are called, might be in the future, but it’s still just a consideration. They don’t really have room for a brewery, and even having a custom crafted beer with their name on it, as Matt said, would take up one tap that might be used, instead, for a craft beer throngs are already thirsting for.
The conversation, at that point, turned to a subject that drives me crazy too. One of the problems with having your own beer; whether brew on there, or elsewhere, is naming them and designing logos. West 6th in Lexington, Kentucky, and Magic Hat, in Burlington, Vermont, had it out legally over logos that, in my opinion, were not all that similar. The brewers of Hop Notch had to change their brew’s name because someone else already had it. There have been legal cases filed on common words we all use. Sometimes it gets beyond absurd. But I understand how that shaped Matt’s take on why that’s another reason not to brew, or have a beer brewed for them: “We don’t have time to do stupid stuff like that.”
Really? If a very regional brewer has a brew called “Hop Stop,” and another more national has “Hop Slop,” don’t they have better things to do than clog our courts and possibly put the smaller brewer out of business? You know, like brew better beer, or not get gobbled up by the great purveyor of Bud blasé’, InBev?
If I were less of a civil columnist I might type “fools” next. Oh, dang, I just did.
Besides, what would Matt’s Draft House call that brew? I’m sure Saranac’s Fred Matt would have the rights to “Matts,” and for some reason I would think the possible newest acquisition of InBev/Bud might object to them calling it… “Miller.”
As far as food goes, Jon is considering items like tater tot nachos, flat bread. The object here is to keep it all fun and fresh, never to get stale. Matt and Jon said when it comes to beer, food and the very design, redesigns, of Screamen Eagle it’s all a constant evolution. That goes for any expansion, like a porch and other renovations that happen when the market demands. Yet the former VHS rental, now mostly DVD, business remains. It lends a unique look to an already unique building: exterior and interior.
Offering new tech like wifi, apps for new, younger, customers who come in with whatever the latest tech might be, is also a constant part of this evolution, as well as sponsoring community events, weddings. Beer lovers certainly enjoy the digital displays of what’s on tap, internet surfers and those having the latest personal devices can quickly find out what’s on tap now. Then was also talk of switching to Tap Hunter, rather than the current Untappd. Matt said…
“Any platform I work with will update you, so if you’re coming up this weekend you’ll always know what beer we have on. Soon as we have a new tap on you’ll get a notification.”
When I asked what the hardest part was they admitted that being a mother and her two sons team… sounds like a TV show, doesn’t it? …can be challenging. What sounds like an argument to others might just them expressing different visions. He referred to it as a version of family-short speak. Families who own restaurants are almost always “on stage,” to some extent because it’s a public affair. Such is the nature of businesses like Screamen Eagle.
Never let it be said it’s easy: cleaning the lines alone, during a deep clean, can be a day long process, and not just Barline cleaner. Matt does it himself. In a complete “purge” there’s a full system shutdown, including coolers, walkins. And he agreed with me that there are some things that can only be solved with very, very hot water.
But as the cliché’ goes, it it wasn’t hard it wouldn’t be worth doing, or making the difference that one makes serving any community. All of which defines the hard, and intense, work that went into making Screamen Eagle, Matt’s Draft House, the success it is today. Due to seasons, weather and the very nature of tourist-based communities, it can take quite a while for any business to get a firm footing due to the always roller coaster-like tourist trade. But Screamen and Matt’s have gone far beyond surviving. They thrive. And, as John and Matt said, it’s a roller coaster ride. But, hey, that can be fun too, right?
We who visit think so.
Brew Biz: Werts and All, is a column dedicated to reviewing, discussing and commenting on all things beer including, but not limited to: marketing, homebrewing and homebrew/beer related events, how society perceives all things beer. Also: reviews of beer related businesses, opinions about trends in the beer business, and all the various beer related organizations. Essentially, all things “beer.”