From the Bottle Collection: Saranac

Saranac/Matt Brewing. Picture courtesy Wikipedia.

 Without intent, I have collected well over 1,000 beer bottles since the early 70s. When something finally had to be done about the cheap paneling in this old modular, I had a choice: tear down the walls while, oh, so carefully, replacing the often rotted 1X3s; OR, cover them with… The Bottle Collection

 The reason I am writing this is the plan this year, or at least by next, is for both of us to retire and move back to the Adirondacks where I am from, and closer to Millie’s sister. We have two places waiting for us. I am NOT moving the bottle collection, so if you know anyone who wants a vast beer bottle collection going back to the 60’s you could contact me via Facebook. I am in the process of dumping bottles, so sooner is better.
 I thought it a great idea to place what Saranac bottles I have; not even close to all the styles they have done, on a classic vehicle. The truck is this story is our 63 Studebaker Champ named Harvey Robin Churchill. Harvey was my first car: a 61 Lark I bought for $25 and went well over 300,000 miles. Robin: color of a Robin’s egg, according to Millie, my wife, and we both loved Robin Williams. Harold Churchill: without Harold there would have been no Lark.
 Another reason I am doing this is to celebrate one simple fact: Saranac, also known in Matt Brewing and F.X Matt Brewing, has done something incredible. Among the smaller major brewers in this country they have brewed more different styles than pretty much anyone. I am referring to old school brewers that go back to the 1800’s. In fact Matt Brewing would be the OLDEST surviving brewery in the country, instead of the second, if they hadn’t changed names and owners in the 1800’s. The original owners didn’t own it for long. This is kind of a technicality, IMO.
 Most of the surviving small traditional breweries have done a craft-like style here, style there. The gigantic breweries simply bought out craft brewers. Their independence safe… for NOW

 It was a cloudy day once I finally started this project. I parked Harvey Robin part way down our driveway in our little valley. All I had was a cheap flip phone and clouds overhead. I could have tried again on a sunny day but it was precarious: I broke one after I snapped the pictures. So the pictures are what they are.
Saranac has been pumping out different styles like crazy for many, many years. What you see on the truck probably isn’t even close to 1/10th of all they’ve done. I stopped collecting a while ago, knowing we were moving.
 As a Certified beer judge, I will tell you almost of these were spot on style-wise, balance has been perfect or close to perfect. There are an infinitesimally small number that have been off in any sense, and only one I had a problem with. It was personal and no reflection on the brewers. I simply don’t care for that much caramel sense in my Caramel Porter. It’s a VERY popular beer. In the end, with a business, isn’t that what it’s about… happy customers?

 In interest of full disclosure Fred Matt has been offering schwag for my competitions I’ve been running in the Old Forge, NY, area. Fred has been very supportive. Saranac/Matt Brewing has been part of the Utica area community for closing in on 200 years. I found the use of a Studebaker apt since Studebaker was also also an independent in their field dedicated to excellence, also part of the bedrock of a community: South Bend, Indiana.
 I think of the empty, haunted, buildings that still stand in South bend and I would never want that for Utica, for Saranac. Praise FX. the Matt family and Saranac for saving Matt Berwing.
 Having been in business myself I know this is the kind of businesses I like, I prefer: the kind that make me feel good about our communities.

 The Saranac line came into being because FX Matt Brewing was ahead of the craft wave, taking on the challenge of a German brewer to brew beers as good as the Germans did: a friend of FX Matt. When they were testing the new line I actually was taking a tour through the brewery with family and friends and got to taste the first offerings. I told them their eariiest offerings were to style though not my preference.
 It was a very interesting day.
 I am so happy this elderly small brewery among elderly giants managed to survive Prohibition where they served the fist beer in the country: they just happened to have someone on the inside who told FX Matt Prohibition had been canceled. Of course in just a few minutes they brewed up a batch and had it served at a local tavern.
 That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
 Saranac, Matt Brewing, has a long local history. They support many events for the Utica area like runs, even a small competition in the Old Forge area. Their kids go to the schools, including my in-laws. My father-in-law: Oscar Jenny, helped with some of the plumbing. The Matt family went to the same Catholic church on Oxford Road my wife went to, her brothers, sisters, father and mother.

 I contacted Fred Matt about for some interesting stories, like how their team has come together during local emergencies, COVID, or… fire. 13 years ago the brewery caught fire on the season opener of Saranac Thursdays, very popular event for Utica. Smoke poured out as patrons listened to music and enjoyed their favorite Saranac beverage. The roof eventually collapsed down through the third floor.
 Or a flood… during the flood Fred’s Dad paddled around the brewery in a double keg tub.
 Singing, “Sailing, sailing over the bottling line…?” Nah, I just made that last part about the bottling line up, but it would have been a fun song to add, wouldn’t it have been?
 Clever, ain’t I?
 Something is missing in America. Remember me mentioning Studebaker, the truck you see below? So many stories of Studebaker and the community. One of the Studebaker brothers made a bet with local firefighters that their hoses couldn’t reach to one of the buildings if they ever had a fire. Years later they DID had a fire and the hoses reached, Mr. Studebaker paid up. They won a cow. That was the bet.
 I’m sure Fred Matt has many more stories too. But I doubt he ever had to give away a cow. Maybe some 4 packs of an Imperial Milk Stout to some small competition? In Old Forge?
 I love how the brew progeny of America’s original small breweries, like Saranac/Matt Brewing, have exploded all across in the rural and small towns of our country. Returning America’s palates towards more more complex, more local, beer. I wish we had more Studebakers, American Motors; companies like Willoughby, built the Buckmobile, in Utica. What is now Saranac is a grand and glorious survivor though these and through Eagle Brewing, Edward Bright, Seneca, Columbia: only 4 of many past tense breweries that have come and gone in Utica.  Bless the Matt family and Saranac for still being with us. For all they have done for the community. And for almost a century and a half of great beer.

 From the Bottle Collection is a column by Ken Carman: homebrewer since 1979, columnist, collector of bottles and such, Certified beer judge with a mead endorsement. Ken Lives in Nashville, Tennessee, Eagle Bay and Beaver River, NY.
©Copyright 2021
Ken Carman and Cartentual Productions
all rights reserved

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