An exciting day dawns. First with more bacon and not fewer eggs. Before the real fun begins. We’re off to F.X. Matt.
Craig picks me up and I sit in the back. It’s a while before I realise that it isn’t Alan in front of me but Reed.
“Where’s Alan?” I ask.
“He’s gone back to Canada. He was worried by his credit card not working.” Craig replies.
“And miss out on Matt?”
“Yes, I know. He’ll regret it. Especially when I tell him how wonderful it was.”
As will I. No doubt that it will be wonderful. In exactly which way, I'm not sure. But I'm, convinced it will be.
The drive is longer today, leaving Craig more opportunities to fill me in on the history of New York. No complaints from me. History is sort of my thing.
In Utica, there's a little wandering around in circles. They are ever decreasing, which gives me hope. We spot the big Utica Club sign sitting on top of the brewery and, ignoring the insistent satnav, head that way.
We enter through the shop and are soon in the grand entrance hall. Three people are there to meet us: Damon, the regional sales manager, Steve, the pilot brewer, and Rich, a Quality and Innovation guy.
Soon Ben Keene, editor of BeerAdvocate Magazine arrives. I asked if he wanted to tag along, as he lives not far away. And, if I’m honest, because I wanted to meet him. We’ve worked together a while, but never met. No amount of digital contact matches a few hours in the same room.
A glass-faced cabinet full of old Matt bottles clings to one wall. It soon gets closer attention. There are pre-, post- and Prohibition examples.
Then it’s off down a corridor and up in a lift to the brew house. And a very noble one it is, too. With gleaming copper kettles. But also something not quite so stylish.
“Is that a mash filter?” I ask.
It’s rather an old one, too. I’ve never seen one of those in use before. They were briefly popular many decades ago. Though not so much in the UK, where most of the older breweries I’ve been around are.
There’s no brewing happening today, as they’re performing maintenance on the brew house. Workmen rather than brewers are clambering around the equipment.
They’ve also a designated cereal cooker for the pre-mash of grits. Not seen one of those before, either. Looks like this is going to be a day of firsts.
After a bit of clambering around, we take a look at the huge malt silos. Outside we can see a railway car that’s delivering malt. Craig photographs it.
“It’s from Canada malt. I’ll send the picture to Alan to annoy him.”
And there’s another first. Never been to a brewery that still had an active railway siding.
This place is a maze. We continue to clamber up and down staircases and wander corridors. Next stop is the pilot brewery. It looks very similar in size and form to the kit at the real McCoy I saw yesterday. Sadly, there’s no beer ready to drink.
“That’s why everyone likes stopping by here,” one of our guides says, “the chance to drink beer. Interesting beer, usually.”
More scrambling around later, we’re in the hop store. I’m heartened to see large quantities of English hops, from Charles Faram.
Next is one of the highlights of the day. We’re taken into the room filled with what they call “Lincoln” tanks. So called because they were installed when Lincoln was president. What? They’ve sat here more than 150 years and are still in use? I’m gobsmacked. I’m pretty sure that’s the oldest equipment I’ve ever seen in use at a brewery. Though they aren’t currently used for beer, but for soft drinks.
There’s room after room of storage tanks. All pretty big horizontal affairs. None of them look very new. In fact everywhere I look there’s weird old bits of machinery, occasionally jarringly punctuated by something shinily new.
There are also closed, derelict rooms, filled with ancient, rusting tanks, the floors deep in mud and other gunk.
Just when I think this is a brewery like no other, I spot what’s become a feature of everywhere I visit: oak barrels. Filled with oak-ageing beer. Oddly, it seems atypically modern.
We visit the sample room, where bottles of every batch are kept for a year or so, in case there are complaints from the trade. It’s easy enough to check if there really were problems with a brew or not.
And with that, it’s time for lunch. With none other than Fred Matt himself. But that’s for next time.
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