I got a text message from Iron Hill brewer Larry Horwitz while I was in Montreal for the Mondial de la Bière last week (might have something on that for you, might just let Jack tell it and then correct what he gets wrong): "Just talked to keith @ fx matt. Bottle shop burning but everyone is ok." I had my phone turned off, and didn't actually get the message for a while, and what with one thing and another, didn't get the whole story till I got home on Saturday.
I won't re-tell it here, but a fire started in the bottling building. The canning line is destroyed (most of what they do there is Utica Club, but I think they do some contracts, too), the bottling line is down for at least a few weeks...maybe more. The building is old -- though not as old as the main brewery building -- and there was apparently not a sprinkler system. The age of the building kept that from being a problem, but re-construction will have to bring it up to code; much safer, but very expensive, as will be new canning equipment. The company's insurance position was unclear; there has been speculation that the lack of sprinklers probably meant that they were self-insured, but I don't know about that. Lotsa money.
Overall, this sucks. There is, however, some good news. First, the brewery, cellar, and kegging line were not affected, so draft Saranac continues to flow unchecked (get your butts out there and drink it). Second, there has been an outpouring of offers of help from New York's breweries, and it appears that a deal to tanker beer to a relatively nearby canning and bottling facility will be worked out quickly.
This brewery means a lot to me. Saranac 1888 was one of the first 'craft' beers I drank regularly, and I've been a fan ever since. F.X. Matt gave me one of my first significant interviews as a writer, and was always available for an interview, as are Nick and Fred Matt. The folks at Matt have been more than fair to me at all times. I've toured the brewery on many occasions, enjoyed the beer with friends all over the east coast...it's had almost as big a part in my beer-drinking evolution and memory as Yuengling; bigger in some ways. The thought that they might go down was tough to take.
But I should have known they'd survive. I asked F.X. once why he fought to keep the brewery open when the family trust that owned it wanted to sell out in 1989. "I have a stock answer when I’m asked why I fought for the brewery," he told me. "Family pride, stubbornness, and stupidity!" I'm proud to see that the Matt family is still proud, stubborn, and stupid. I would not have it any other way. Cheers, Nick and Fred, best of luck, and we'll keep drinking it as long as you make it.
1888, eh? Both FX Matt, and Lew Bryson: way older than expected.
The Utica newspaper's website was reporting that, almost as soon as the fire began, there was a MASSIVE run on all products Saranac at every retail outlet in town, and then throughout the whole region. Of course, the first few hours were people thinking they'd never see the beer again; later (like the next morning) the purchases were, according to the reporters and customers, almost all in solidarity with the brewery, hoping to give them a much-needed show of support and funding.
I believe any local brewery would be blessed to enjoy a similar show of loyalty in time of crisis.
My first tour of Matt's was when it was still the West End Brewing Company, acknowledging a geographical difference from the breweries on the EAST end of town. They were only brewing Utica Club and Fort Schuyler then, but Saranac 1888 soon followed, and I was swept up just like Lew and his gang were. Having just returned from Straub's Eternal Tap earlier today, I wish the folks at F.X. Matt all the best in their efforts to reclaim their bottling house!
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