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The FX Matt Brewing Company, Utica, NY

Mr. Mecomber and I had a little time together, so we took a short drive to check out the FX Matt Brewing Company of Utica to take the tour. I am always interested in how things work and in local history, so this was a fun trip!

First, a little history. Utica is a very proud city, and they are very, very proud of the Matt Brewing Company. This company started up in 1888 by German immigrants. It is the second-longest running brewery in the nation, and it’s undying devotion to the city has saved the city through quite a few financial plights. The brewery even continued it’s operations during the Prohibition (secretly, of course). The password for getting into the brewery’s “speakeasy” was the inauspicious phrase “Joe sent me.” LOL, no one would notice that in Utica, New York!

The brewery sponsors the Utica Boilermaker every year. The Boilermaker is THE event in Utica. It attracts people from all over the world.

Utica Boilermaker Finish Line
The Boilermaker had the unique distinction of being the largest 15K road race in the country. This from the Boilermaker website:

The Boilermaker 15K Road Race was established in 1978 by Earle C. Reed. Reed was looking for a way to give back to the community that had supported his family’s business, Utica Companies (ECR International). The race began with just over 800 runners and a budget of $750. Now, the Boilermaker is the largest 15K in the nation with more than 10,000 runners.

The name is credited to the late Frank S. Owens, Jr., former Vice President of Advertising at the F. X. Matt Brewery. It was he who suggested the name, combining the nature of Reed’s company, Utica Boilers, with an old-time drink that was made by dropping a shot of whiskey into a mug of beer.

The Analytic Distance Runner shows the men’s Boilermaker field as the most competitive in the world for 1993, 1995-2005, and the women’s field as most competitive for 1996-2003 and 2006.

At the end of the Boilermaker race, everyone gathers to the brewery for free Saranac beer.

Brewery Entrance

The National Distance Running Hall of Fame is located nearby, too. In the first week of July (Boilermaker week), the city of Utica is packed solid with runners from all over the world. It’s quite a festive time!
Tour Entrance
When we arrived at the brewery, the tour had already started, so we hurried through the entrance lobby, to join the group in the next room. I had never been in the building and I admit, I was totally awestruck by the luxury and ostentation of the beautiful architecture and fixtures of the sitting room.
Brewery Lobby
Fireplace in Sitting Rm
Grandpa Clock in Sitting Rm
The rooms are very dark, so I am hoping you can see the photos well enough. Look at the photo below– I think that ceiling is all carved wood! The wallpaper was heavily textured. The moulding and other woodwork was maple or oak (a little hard to tell, I’m no wood expert), and the old floors gave out a groan now and then, letting us know that it has supported thousands of feet for over a century. Very impressive.
Sitting Rm
I probably looked silly, snapping photos of the ceilings and walls, and fawning over the gorgeous woodwork while I virtually ignored our talkative tour guide (Mr. T). I was so awed by the opulence of the room.
Moulding
Flocked Wallp
I did eventually stop my salivating over the decor and turned my attention to our young and talkative tour guide, Mr. T. He quickly ran over the historical highlights of the brewery, emphasizing its importance to the Utica area’s economic health.The brewery has an innumerable number of beer varieties. Their flagship beer, Saranac, comes in many different tastes (including but not limited to pomegranate, india pale ale, black and tan, chocolate amber, and pumpkin). We have tried several varieties of Saranac, and they all do have a very distinctive taste. If I was blindfolded, I could probably determine if someone was giving me Saranac– it is that memorable.
99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall
After our excursion through the gilded rooms, Mr. T took us through the area where all the action happens. Matt Brewing Company is very picky about their beer-making process. They still do some things by hand (for example, spreading hops or shredded pomegranates over a vat of fermenting beer for flavor), and these little nuances have made them famous.The tanks are enormous. The amount of beer they produce is incredible. Actually, Matt Brewing Company makes so much beer that they contract their beer out to other companies.
Grain Boiling Tanks
tn_IMG_0298
Mr. T explained that the Matt Brewing Company purchases their hops from other states. Madison County in New York State used to be called the hops capital of the state, but the blue mold, competition from the west, and the ubiquitous bad policy coming from Albany killed the industry.
Upper Level Boiling Rm
We walked through a fermenting area. It was a bit smelly here, like refrigerant. While we walked between the tanks, it reminded me of a dairy farm, when you walk between “the ladies” with their big rearends facing you down a row.
Walking Between the Bovines
Gauges
After this, we toured through the packaging area. Mr. T kept our steps lively with his narrative. Once in a while he threw in a joke to make sure we were still listening. By the way– if you ever go on this tour and he asks what does “Saranac” mean, say “cluster of stars” and you’ll win a free beer.
Factory 1
Factory 2
This was the end of our lively tour. Mr. T escorted us into the saloon for a complimentary taste of the brewery’s product. It was my first time trying the Utica Club, and it was very tasty!The saloon is quite grand, so once again I was swooning over it’s architectural elegance. This chandelier reminded me of a Viking hat.
Viking hat Lamp
What is this in the photo below? A polyphon, of course! Uhhhh…..
Polyphon

The thing looks like a music box, and lo and behold, it is! Kind of… It’s from Germany, judging by the engraving on the metal disk. I think it was considered to have been the German jukebox of the 1800s. I couldn’t tell what song was engraved on the large metal disk, but I strongly suspect it was a rousing rendition of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

Ladies Saloon
Schultz & Dooley Display
The mantelpiece had a collection of collectible Schultz and Dooley steins. What a flood of memories! I remembered those old television commercials with the two talking, animated mugs, Schultz and Dooley. We kids loved the commercial so much that we would come running into the living room at the sound of Jonathan Winters’ voice.The mantelpiece woodwork is truly exquisite.
Fireplace Mantel Display
Fireplace Woodwork
We relaxed and got to chat with Mr. T a little more about the history of the brewery and of the many types of beers it produces. I also promised to blog a post about interesting things to do in Dallas, for Mr. T! I’ll be getting to that right away, T!I was pleasantly surprised at all there was to see at the brewery. I had been unaware of the local importance over the decades. Utica has seen some very difficult times; a friend in need is a friend indeed.

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (19)

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  1. Tony Leone says:

    Beautiful photos and Utica’s best side! Although I don’t
    live in Utica today ( South Glens Falls,NY ), I miss all
    the things that the brewery portrayed of a city forever
    an immigrant haven. Good work and I congratulate you on
    a truly professional presentation! I am a writer and survivor of D-Day 1944. Ref: D-Day sites on the Internet.

    Tony Leone, csc

  2. dick laurey says:

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
    For many years my dad operated “Doc’s Barber Shop”, which was 2 doors east of the brewery gift shop, on Varick St.
    A great many of his customers worked at the brewery.
    Varick St. has changed a great deal over the years- sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Lots of history on that street.
    Excellent article with quality pictures. Makes me homesick for the old town.

  3. Mrs.W says:

    I haven’t been to the brewery for years. We took a tour when I was a little girl–and that was before they made Saranac brand beer. Back then, it was just “Matts.”

    Looks like I’ll have to make a return visit!

  4. windyridge says:

    I’ll say, those tanks are HUGE. Great photos, really awesome. Utica isn’t too far away from me. We’ve been to the Omegang Brewery in Cooperstown but I don’t think it was big as this one.

  5. Apple says:

    I haven’t been to the brewery since sometime before ’94. The kids loved the tour and the rootbeer at the end. I’ve been drinking UC since I was legal but I’ve never tried the Saranac. Moonman and a couple of others are missing from John’s stein collection but he has most of them.

  6. I’ve been on three “brewery” tours… and although I’m MOSTLY a teetotaller and not a heavy beer drinker at all, I enjoy the occasional brew… but the tours have been mostly “out of interest”. I can honestly say that Matt Brewing Company looks like it would be FAR more interesting than the one’s I’ve been on… and I did make a mental note about “Cluster of Stars”… I gotta like the name too! :)

  7. Thanks for all the comments, folks!

    Tony, the link you provided doesn’t work, and I can’t seem to decipher it. Maybe you can try again; I’d like to see your site.

    Dick, you sound like you have a bookful of stories you could tell! Ever think about starting a blog?

    Mrs. W– we enjoyed our trip! My, you went as a little girl? I didn’t see any kids in this tour, and didn’t think any could come, not under 21, anyway.

    Windyridge, we were awed by the tanks. The salmon color was a nice touch.. it made them seem less intimidating. LOL.

    Apple, it seems you have been everywhere! I don’t care for the Saranac; it’s just too bitter. I love Utica Club.

    Matthew, welcome! I’m no drinker, either. I like beer on hot days and we do have red wine with dinner (it’s good for my heart, and for my stomach, according to St. Paul). But yes, we went to the brewery because 1) it gives tours and tour inexpensively 2) it is close by 3) it’s historical element to the community. Plus, it’s made a pretty good blog post for a few hours outside the house!

    Hope to see you all here again. :)

  8. threecollie says:

    Wow, what an incredible place. The woodwork alone is spectacular. I added a link to this blog today…didn’t realize that they were different. lol

  9. Howdy, threecollie!

    Yes, I have two travel blogs- the older Blogger one that is more about the family’s antics, and this newer one on my own domain for more “serious” NY travel stuff.

    Thanks for the link!

  10. Nikki says:

    Im pretty sure all ages can go on the tour. In fact, this summer was my first year going and being over 21. Id gone once while I was much much younger, and several times the past few years during utica monday nights (Its free and I know for certain kids can come during utica monday nights! So put it on the summer to do list! lol)

    Your pictures all look absolutely magnificent!

  11. Thanks for visiting, Nikki, and I’m glad you like the photos. I’m not much of a photographer, but I am getting better…. at PaintShopPro, lol.

    I’ll keep your info in mind. I’ve never been to a Utica Monday Night, but maybe someday I’ll check it out.

  12. Tark says:

    Every time I go back to Utica to visit family I make time and attend a brewery tour there. No Saranc here in Arizona, so I need my fix when I go back.

    The ceiling you referred to as wood, believe it or not it is actually compressed cardboard. Remember that and you will receive an extra drink ticket as well.

  13. Why, THANK YOU, Tark, for letting me know about the ceiling. I’ll remember that! ;)

    It must be awful in those hot Arizona deserts to be devoid of Saranac. I think our tour guide Mr. T said that Saranac was only sold in 10 or 11 states right now.

    Thanks for visiting!

  14. […] We visited the brewery a few months ago. It is an historic place and very much a part of the city of Utica. The brewery has kept the city going through some very difficult times, by hiring people for work. It has been a stabilizing influence in the city since 1888. […]

  15. Susan Matt says:

    I have been spending a lot of time on the internet since the fire. I had not seen your site before. I enjoyed your comments and want you to know that it has been very heartwarming to read such postitve material in the aftermath of a devastating fire. My husband Nick and I appreciate it.

  16. Quite an interesting blend of the old (the room interiors) and the new (the equipment in the factory).

  17. SANDY says:

    OH MY AM I TO LATE. DID IT REALLY HAVE A FIRE. HAS THE BUILDING BEEN REBUILDED. I NOW LIVE IN ALBANY AREA. I HAVE BEEN ON INTERNET FOR HOURS TRYING TO LINK UP WITH THE UTICA BREWING COMPANY IN UTICA. I AM A COLLECTOR OF THE THE UTICA MUGS MADE IN GERMANY FOR THE RX MATT BREWERY CO. I NOW LIVE IN SCHENECTADY. AND NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO TOUR THE BREWERY. BUT HOW ARE U CONNECTED WITH THE BREWERY MUGS. I ALWAYS GOT BY MAIL OR AT ANTIQUTE SHOWS. HAS THE BREWING
    REBUILT. I JUST FOUND ON INTERNET. ARE THE PICTURES ON SITE THE WAY IT WAS BEFORE THE FIRE. WERE U ABLE TO REBUILD.. SO BEAUTIFUL. BUT IF U STILL HAVE THE TOURS I WILL VISIT. I DON’T DRINK BEER THOUGH. THE WOOD PANELING ETC SO BEAUTIFUL. CAN U RESPOND TO THIS E-MAIL. SANDY

    • Hi Sandy! These photos were taken before the fire. The brewery has been rebuilt. They do still have tours, and as far as I know, it was only the bottling center that suffered fire damage. Hope that helps answer your questions.

  18. SANDY says:

    OK DIDN’T MY COMMENT COME THROUGH. WANT TO KNOW IF TOURS ARE AVAILABLE. THANK U