On occasion I am asked how I first got into craft beer. In truth, I didn’t like beer at all until the end of freshman year of college. This may have had something to do with the fact that my father drank Esslinger or, if he wanted to splurge, Piels and so when I tried beer at home, it made a distinctly unfavorable impression.
Of course once I went to college I found that beer was the life’s blood of the social scene. Indeed, one could only ask for a wine cooler (remember those?) so many times before you would be asked to hand in your man card.
Once I decided to pledge at Delta Phi fraternity, what I found was that drinking beer was not so much of an option as it was a requirement. And so I held my nose and over time, so long as it was cold, I found that drinking beer got easier. By the end of our initiation I could pound the Old Milwaukee with the best of them.
Of course Old Swill hardy qualifies as craft so you may be wondering how frat life led me to having anything more than a funnel-deep relationship with beer. Fortunately for me Hamilton College (shown right) is only about 20 minutes outside of Utica, New York. Like most post-industrial cities in the northeast, Utica is a rusting hulk of closed factories that is but a pale echo of its former glory.
However one industry survived, namely the F.X. Matt Brewery. Originally known as the West End Brewery, it gained some measure of national prominence as being the first beer to be served at the end of Prohibition and for its famous Schultz and Dooley commercials. These talking beer steins became so popular that they graduated out of commercials and actually got their own tv show (you can watch a sample here).
Of course all that was in the past and when I arrived at Hamilton in 1987 I had never heard of Matt’s or their beer. Indeed, their line beer, Utica Club, was nothing special though certainly better than Old Milwaukee. Fortunately for me they offered better options. The next step up was called Matt’s Premium Lager. I cannot really judge it with my more educated palate today as it is no longer made, but if my frat wanted to splurge for some special occasion we would step up to a keg of this.
However, how my brothers and I really liked our Matt’s was as splits. These 7 oz ponies were miniature versions of clear long neck bottles and in that format they sure went down quickly.
As fond as those memories are, I have no doubt that nostalgia has heavily colored my memories. Even so, having such easy access to Matt’s beer, and as I will recount in a later post, Matts brewery, helped to set my feet firmly on the path to loving beer, not just as a party accessory, but as something to be enjoyed and loved in its own right. So here’s those places that helped me learn to love craft beer. Here’s to Hamilton College, to Delta Phi and most of all, here’s to FX Matt!