Beer has been delighting drinkers since before the dawn of recorded history and to such flavorful fascination that over the last 5,000 years many cultures have associated its origins with the awesome power of gods. Slavic legends suggest beer was invented by Radegast, the God of Fertility who, most likely, helped foster the malady mortals now recognize as “beer-eyes.” Ancient Sumerians so loved beer as to adulate Ninkasi who was known as the Goddess of Brewing. In Norse mythology, the Sea God Aegir is credited for creating beer in a special kettle acquired from none-other than Thor (who loved to get hammered). Beer has long been the stuff of legends and that continues today in Utica, New York, where beer also represents a significant legacy of a family who may not necessarily be worshiped like the gods of old, but are certainly revered as one of America’s most historic and most masterful among brewers of the craft beers consumers crave.
This year marks the 125th Anniversary of Matt Brewing Company, one of America’s oldest family-owned breweries, which is based in the Mohawk Valley community of Utica in New York. For beer lovers, whether casual consumers or discriminating connoisseurs fully capable in the discernment of quality, the anniversary prompts unprecedented opportunities to participate in the celebration. In addition to company plans to launch a tour of special festivities in cities throughout America, consumers will benefit from a Brewer’s Dozen of distinction as certain 12-pack packages of company offerings will be complemented with a free can of Legacy IPA, a newly released beer derived from the tweaking of a 100 year-old recipe developed by the company’s founder F.X. Matt. The complimentary cans, as well as the celebration tour that will prompt even more in the free flowing of beer, are expressions of a company that is flowing with gratitude. As President Fred Matt explains, “Few companies in our industry, or any industry, survive long enough to celebrate a 125th Anniversary and we want to say ‘Thank You’ to the consumers who helped make that possible.”
In fact, this is already a thankful time for many in the industry because beer shipments have bounced back brilliantly following several years of decline exacerbated by the recession. Last year, in what was the reversing of a three year trend, national beer shipments totaled more than 13 million barrels, almost two million barrels more than that shipped in 2011. That increase in demand, as well as so much of the buzz brewed in the beer industry right now, isn’t attributed to the galloping of any Clydesdales, or silver bullet express, or commercial exploits concerning he deemed as the world’s most interesting man – no – industry analysts and trade organizations like the Brewers Association uniformly agree that it is the artisanal expertise of craft beer producers which has not only elevated beer sales, but has excited and enticed an entirely new market of potential through the proffering of new flavors and it in this capacity that Matt Brewing Company outperforms its competition. One testament to that capability recently occurred when Matt Brewing Co. entered the 2013 United States Open Beer Championship. Judges from England, Canada and the United States evaluated more than 2,500 beers from breweries around the world, but the Saranac Pale Ale and Adirondack Lager produced by Matt Brewing Co. each respectively secured Gold Medals. Those honors follow several years of past awards which include recognition as the top premium lager at the Great American Beer Festival, capturing international acclaim during the Australian International Beer Awards ceremony, and double distinction again when the Pale Ale and Imperial Stout were among the top honored during the World Beer Cup. Those who know good beer know Matt Brewing Company, but to be sure, this is a small enterprise competing against rivals who may not have better products, but better operating and advertising budgets. In an industry that has seen many players fall from the field and team consolidation, Matt Brewing has survived by the sheer force of its talent, tenacity and uncompromising commitment to customers longing to connect with classic flavoring as well as the most innovative in new concoctions. As Fred Matt explains, “You’re not going to last very long if you can’t make products consumers choose to drink. Our goal has been to exceed in giving customers what they want, and that’s what has kept us here. When you think of family business, less than three percent make it to the fourth generation of family ownership, but our family has bonded together to build a business and that has helped keep us in business for 125 years.”
Matt Brewing Company actually began life through the transitioning of what once existed as the Charles Bierbauer Brewery. It was here that Francis Xavier Matt I, a German immigrant, emerged as a lead salesman and brew-master, but in the years previous, F.X. had worked at the Duke of Baden Brewery in the Black Forest area of Germany. Matt’s acumen was so esteemed that he eventually assumed leadership of Bierbauer, reorganizing it into the West End Brewing Company in 1888. With a composite of 12 employees, West End Brewing initially produced some 4,000 barrels of beer in its first year. The company continued to grow along with popularity of its brand, and went on to employ as many as 400 people before Prohibition put a kink in the works. The company kept alive by producing a new line of soft drink which bore the label of Utica Club. With the repeal of Prohibition, the Utica Club label was transferred to what became the company’s flagship beer. The company still produces a popular line of sodas which include root beer, ginger beer and orange cream, but these products account for only a small fraction of Matt Brewing Co’s annual revenues. The beer continues to represent the company’s greatest claim to fame and the foundation for the company’s continued success.
F.X. Matt was 99 years-old when he passed away in1958, but by this time, his son Walter Matt was already serving as President of West End Brewery and was largely responsible for modernizing operations. In the years that followed, the company would secure commercial notoriety from advertising campaigns that depicted two talking beer steins voiced by comedic legend Jonathon Winters. Then in the 70s, with media coverage concerning President Carter’s brother, Billy, particularly his penchant for beer, the brewery was one of several responsible for the production of Billy Beer. In 1980, direction of the company then turned to F.X. Matt II who, in want to pay homage to his grandfather, renamed the brewery to F.X. Matt Brewing Company.
The 80’s would see increased competition from larger corporations and pricing wars, but it was in this era that Matt II oversaw production of a new line of beers known today as Saranac. The beer was developed with help from a distinguished brew-master known as Joseph Owades who is credited for pioneering the formula for “Light Beer.” Upon resolving to expand that line of beer and increase the company’s market penetration, F.X. teamed with his Brother Nick who serves today as the company’s CEO and Chairman of the Board, aided by his nephew, Fred Matt, who serves as President. And though it is a family business, Nick Matt says it is a business, first and foremost, and therefore, its operational success takes precedence over any personal agendas. He also says the success of that business is vital to a number of other families employed by the brewery, with some working side by side with third or fourth generation members of their own family.
Matt Brewing Co. has also been a vital partner to a network of distributors, retailers and suppliers who it also considers as part of its family, and important to its success. Those partnerships have included of retail chains such as Costco stores along the East Coast where Matt Brewing Co. produces beers labeled under the Kirkland brand. Matt Brewing Co has also relied on services from a range of national suppliers which include companies like Accurate Box, a 70-year family enterprise based in New Jersey which specializes in the manufacturing of printed corrugated boxes and other innovative packaging solutions.
For that matter, in a city that has endured through economic decline, Matt Brewing Company’s success is significant to a greater community of families as it remains an essential driver of economic activity. The brewery has even helped spur new life within its district of operations through launching a weekly event known as Saranac Thursdays. Each week, Utica residents gather in the brewery’s courtyard to enjoy a cold beer and concert by some of the hottest musical acts in the area. The venue has proven so popular as to promote the growth of restaurants, bars and other small businesses in the western corridor of Utica. Nick Matt says the company takes great pride in being part of the community and is compelled by a philosophy that his mother helped instill within his awareness. “You have to give back. You have to do what you can to make the community a better place,” he says.
Flavor & Finesse
In terms of efforts to create a better place, Matt Brewery Co. has also implemented practices that promote benefits to the environment. Among these is the company’s recent acquisition of an anaerobic digester. In addition to filtering and treating the company’s discharge of wastewater, the mechanism also helps capture methane gas which can be used to generate electricity. Geothermal systems further help the brewery cut down on energy consumption. Fred Matt explains that the company also recycles 99 percent of everything it produces, and it also invests in equipment that allows it to capture carbon emissions which, in turn, reduces impacts to air quality. Fred says these practices are expression of the company’s intent to be good corporate citizens and sensible in the way of environmental stewardship. At the same time, he says these practices will help the company reduce operational costs in the long term, enabling it to further advance on creating new products that prompt new appeal with consumers.
Matt Brewing has been particularly successful in capitalizing on flavors that consumers savor, as evidenced by its hugely successful and award-winning line of Saranac products. This brand helped transition the company from declining sales in the 80s to a doubling of sales in the early 90s, and the momentum hasn’t stopped. The Saranac family includes: Pale Ale, distinctive of English Pale Ale but enhanced through hop-injection technology that brings out the flavor and aroma of Bramling Cross hops (the sharpest English hop available); Black Forest, a German-style Schwarzbier with a sweet malty taste, and distinctively dark, yet light on the roasted flavor; Adirondack Lager, a brew relying on noble hops whose bitterness is balanced by a caramel malt sweetness; and White IPA, an unfiltered wheat beer enhanced by orange peel, coriander and Citra hops which have generated buzz in the industry for their crisp, citrusy nuance.
Of course, Matt Brewery has developed numerous other micro-brews which have resonated with consumers, but further speaks to the company’s ingenuity in introducing new products which have helped spur increase in sales and added to the excitement for the industry’s potential for further growth. Those innovations have included incorporating pomegranate, or blueberries, or adding the juice of grapes into beer – flavor infusions which Fred Matt says “capture consumer’s imagination” and that translates to more sales.
“The response we’re seeing in craft beer is amazing,” says Fred Matt. “We’re doing things people never thought of doing years ago … the very idea of putting fruit in beer was once something unheard of… but it is now putting life back into the brewing industry… and it makes what we do not only really special, but really fun.”
As for other fun, Nick Matt says the company is especially to kick off a national tour of celebrations in conjunction with observation of Matt Brewing Co’s 125th Anniversary. Events have currently been planned for communities throughout New York, but also include cities in New England, North Carolina, Virginia and more. Tour125 schedule and dates can be found on the company’s website at www.saranac.com. The 125th celebration will also lead to consumers finding a free extra pint of the company’s new Legacy IPA in select packages, including Pale Ale, White IPA, and Trail Mix 12 packs.
Otherwise, Nick Matt says the company is continuing to grow, and he anticipates as the brewery grows out of capacity, the next few years will like lead to facility expansions which will bring other jobs to Utica. But for now, his primary focus is all about bringing beer to thirsty celebrants in communities who will want to join in recognition of the company’s milestone anniversary. “There will be good music, good fun and plenty of great beer… and that’s a great way to say ‘Thank You’ to everyone who has supported us.”
For more information, please visit their website: Matt Brewery Company
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