Saranac Brewery: Taste of the Adirondacks

Posted: March 26, 2009 by kmahern in Uncategorized
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Saranac showing its SU pride in the brewery gift shop

Saranac showing its SU pride in the brewery gift shop

Saranac Brewery in Utica, NY, was one of the first microbreweries to open in the United States. Also known as the Matt Brewing Company after the family who founded the brewery in 1888 and still run it today, this historical gem is responsible for quite a few other firsts in the beer world as well (which your tour guide will be more than happy to point out).


Free Saranac samples at the end of the tour and free pretzels...yummmm

Free Saranac samples at the end of the tour and free pretzels...yummmm

Saranac was the first to put six different beers in the same case and sell it – in other words, they invented the variety pack, something beer companies and beer drinkers around the country have obviously taken a liking to. Saranac was also the first to come out with seasonal brews, another epiphany that has obviously caught on. Saranac brews 38 different varieties, including quite a few seasonals they bring back each year (or whenever they feel like it).


This summer they’ll add four more to the selection, our tour guide told us. Saranac kept on brewing throughout Prohibition (or “the dark period in our country’s history,” according to our tour guide). They produced non-alcoholic beers with a warning label that read something like this: “Do not add yeast and sugar and store in the cellar for 4 to 6 weeks before drinking. May lead to alcohol.” When it was finally over, Saranac was the first brewery licensed to sell real beer again.

The seven-story brick brew house also produces a line of sodas (which are “charged” with the CO2 released from the beers during fermentation), including “Ginger Beer,” which is made with Jamaican ginger root. According to our tour guide, the stuff is great for curing a hangover…or the nausea of pregnancy (but hopefully not in the same morning).

They also brew Pete’s Wicked Ale and Strawberry Blonde, Brooklyn Lager, some of Magic Hat’s famous #9, and the seasonal beers for Harpoon. Sam Adams started out at Saranac, and the two breweries still use the same type of yeast in their brews.


Barrels of barley on display during the brewery tour

Barrels of barley on display during the brewery tour

My favorite part of the tour was the fermenting tanks (although it was 40 degrees in there…brr). “You’re surrounded by millions of dollars worth of beer right now,” our guide told us as we entered. He then tried to break it down for our puny minds: “If you started drinking out of one of these tanks when you turned 21 and drank 10 beers a day every single day, it would only take you until you turned 109 to finish it.”


If you go for a tour, make sure to bring your beer knowledge. You get two free beer tokens (with your $5 tour ticket), but the guide hands out extra to people who can answer his questions (hint: the main ingredient in beer is water). The tour ends in a mini bar area with Saranac’s core beers on tap. Here’s the word on some of my favorites:

 Pomegranate Wheat:

An unfiltered, golden brew, this one has a monopoly on the fruit beer category with its unique pomegranate zing. It starts out sweet and light, then fades to that wheaty loaf-of-bread taste we all love (or at least I do).

Pale Ale:

This one is Saranac’s flagship beer. It’s a drinkable pale beer that has enough bitter to appease the hop heads, but not enough to scare away the rest of us.

Black Forest:

This one has a light mouthfeel for a dark beer (like really dark – it’s actually black). Made with chocolate malt, you’ll get a subtle coffee taste with a bitter bite on the end.


–Kaitlin Ahern

Saranac showing its SU pride in the gift shop

Saranac showing its SU pride in the gift shop




  1. […] the best part of the class is during the second half of the semester when local breweries like Saranac and Empire visit, bringing along straight-from-the-brewhouse beers. Last week, Brewery Ommegang […]

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