Our trip down beer memory lane left off in the wild surrounds of Hamilton College and my discovery of Matt’s Premium Lager. Back then (1988) craft beer was just emerging. And normally such a trend would have been especially slow to reach an upstate backwater like Utica.
Anyway, at the time most of us believed that for a beer to be any good it had to be imported. For a few years I firmly believed that Bass Ale had to be the best beer in the world. Our quest for better beer also sometimes took us north of the border for Molson Canadian and Export Ales.
Fortunately the FX Matt Brewery again showed us that we could indeed hope for better, this time with their Saranac line of beers. This bold move- for an industrial brewery to get out in front of the trend- proved not only to be the liquid salvation for me and many others at Hamilton, in the long run it also saved the brewery. As tribute to this success they changed the commercial name of the brewery from FX Matt’s to Saranac.
When Saranac was first introduced in 1985, it did not come in the dizzying range of dozens of varieties that it comes in today. In those early days you could only get Adirondack Amber, Black and Tan and Pale Ale on a regular basis. While they came separately, we most often bought the Adirondack Trail Mix mixed case of all three and each proved to be an education in its own right.
The Black and Tan was one of the very first dark beers I ever tried and the Pale Ale was the first beer I had that could be considered remotely hoppy. I did not know it at the time but it is also worth noting that the Amber won the “Best Premium Lager” category at the GABF in 1991. Of course the way that same beer scores now on Rate Beer shows just how far our collective palates have progressed.
But for me the real gem was their holiday beer. Called simply Season’s Best, it was a nut brown lager. Come December we bought as much as our student wallets would allow and when we returned to campus in late January, we scoured the distributors for any leftovers.
But perhaps the best thing about living so close to Matt’s Brewery was the tours, which I shall leave to next week’s final chapter.