12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS #5: Saranac Rudy’s Spiced Christmas Ale; F.X. Matt, Utica, New York
Date: December 29, 2018
The Story— We attended college in nearby Clinton, New York, and that’s where we learned to both appreciate beer and to savor the differences between different brands and styles. Other than the occasional renegade fling like Matt’s Maximus Super (called by nearly everyone who experienced it “Maximus Stupor”) beers were pretty much beer, differentiated for most drinkers by brand loyalty and price. By the end of freshman year, though, I could tell the difference between Utica Club’s Cream Ale and Genesee’s. for the record, Utica Club’s version had a bit more taste, was cleaner, and left you much happier the next morning.
FX Matt was a large regional brewery at the time, at one point running breweries in Florida and the West as well as its four million barrel plant in Utica. But its flagship Utica Club lager suffered from the same tilted playing field that doomed so many other regional stalwarts. Anheuser Busch waged war against Miller and Schlitz and the victims were the small guys who couldn’t match the cut rate prices.
Somehow FX Matt hung on. Matts, a premium lager, was a cut above the big boys’s yellow suds and Utica Club had enough local loyalty to keep the brewery from going under. It’s salvation came after a series of major contract players such as Sam Adams and Brooklyn brewery used the enormous excess capacity to brew beers for the emerging craft market. Eventually the Matt family got smart and re-branded themselves as Saranac, brewing beers of their own similar to those that they had been brewing for others. The timing was perfect and now Matt/Saranac had the advantage of economies of scale as their enormous 500 barrel brew kettles could churn out all the respectable craftish beers they could sell.
Saranac continues to produce beers that challenge the notion that breweries have to have small kettles to make good beer. They won’t produce a Goose Island Bourbon Country, but their big strong dark ales give it a run for the money– and some of the seasonal beers are genuine bargains. One of the best is a fresh hop beer featuring local hops picked by volunteers. Rudy’s Spiced Christmas Ale is another beer that could masquerade as a product of a much smaller brewery.
The Beer— There’s metal to the malt and some floral notes suggest honey. Spices are very mild. Not earthshaking, and won’t challenge Anchor or a bevy of other craft brewers, but for a couple of bucks you can celebrate well at a fraction of the cost of some of the others
Value — Very good. A great beer to take to a party with people who are going to talk more and think less about what they’re drinking. It will neither embarrass you nor break your bank account.
Values: “fair” is a good beer at an above market price, “good” is worth the money, “very good” is a bargain, and “excellent” is a steal.