Beercraft newspaper column #14: Saranac Beer

A brewery’s resurgence: Saranac beer

By Mark Tichenor and Bruce Lish

From the end of prohibition until the ‘90s, the primary beer produced by the Matt Brewery was Utica Club, a fizzy, limp lager common in the blue collar taverns of Upstate New York. Like many regional staple brands, Utica Club lost market share to brewing juggernauts like Anheuser-Bush and Miller, winding up in the same financially perilous situation faced by many regional beer companies no longer in existence.

Rather than succumb, tavern by corner tavern, to the inevitable decline of their flagship brand, the Matts put Utica Club on the back burner, launching a new line of superpremium beers that totally leapfrogged the bland, watery offerings of the national brewing conglomerates. Their timing was excellent. The craft beer movement was just taking off, and drinkers across the northeast were eager for the new flavor combinations and styles that microbreweries brought to the table.

The Saranac line was a success, and the Matt Brewery stayed viable. Over time, the product range expanded. In total, there have been 16 distinctive Saranac beers, some of which have been retired, exploring styles from hefeweizen to oatmeal stout. Here our some of our favorites from the current Saranac beer range.

Every New York craft brewery needs good pale ale, and Saranac Pale Ale brings the Matt Brewery a generous portion of street cred. It’s simple and basic in both name and presentation, with a pleasant hearty malt character and dry hop finish; a perfect choice for a cool summer evening.

For those who like their beer dark and robust, Saranac Black Forest Porter is a pretty good choice. Appropriately for the porter style, Black Forest is relatively sweet and substantial in body, with a more subtle hop character that provides an agreeably dry finish.

Saranac Belgian White is excellent outdoors on a hot summer day. It does a pretty good job of reproducing the Belgian wit beer style: pale whitish amber with heavy orange and coriander flavors and the quenching bite characteristic of wheat beers. American breweries have not had the best track record in replicating Belgian niche beers, but Saranac’s example comes pretty close.

One of the best things about Saranac is its availability. You can get it in all area supermarkets as well as the beer boutiques, usually at a lower cost than many of the imports surrounding it in the display cooler. So you can entertain at a reasonable cost without looking like a complete el cheapo. Of special note are the sampler 12-packs: Winter Sampler, 12 Beers of Summer, and Adirondack Trail Mix. Many of the more ambitious beers can only be purchased in these samplers.

Utica Club still soldiers on, mostly in Utica, but the Saranac range of beers has come to epitomize the model for regional brewery success. Across the country, these former lager mills are repositioning themselves as purveyors of quality and beer craftsmanship.

As beer lovers, we have the Matt family to thank.

In other beers:
Dale’s Pale Ale, from the Oskar Blues Restaurant & Brewery in Lyons, Colorado, is now available at The Old Toad. It’s one of the few microbrews to be sold in cans, but the quality of the beer obviates the stigma of the packaging material. It’s hearty, full-boded ale with citrus aromas and a pleasant hop finish. Overall it’s a very well-balanced brew.

Now that it’s springtime, Spaten Bock is taking over the more discerning taps in town. It’s pretty much the best Bock available, and there’s no better place to enjoy one than over a German Lunch at Swan Market on Parsells Ave. Careful, Spaten Bock kills us again and again.

Bruce is a certified beer judge and former commercial brewer. Mark owns a laptop and likes beer. For more on beer, check out the beercraft blog, updated regularly, at http://beercraft.blogspot.com. Send your questions, suggestions, or comments to beercraft@rochester.rr.com

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