Prohibition-era beer in Utica, New York

On a trip out to western New York last summer, we were staying near then small city of Utica, New York. I’d never been to Utica before, but I knew its Saranac beer (and soft drinks).

We saw there was a tour of the Matt Beer Brewery Company and decided to join in on the tour.

Like many American brewing companies, Matt Beer was begun by German immigrants, who founded the original company. It did quite brisk business until the period of Prohibition (1922-1930), when the production, transport and sale of all alcoholic beverages were outlawed.

Interestingly enough, while most breweries went out of business during those years, Utica’s brewery managed just fine.

It probably helped that they sold root beers and other non-alcoholic beers with big labels warning “Danger! Do not add yeast, as this could start a fermentation process that could result in the production of an illegal, alcoholic substance.”

Wink, wink.

On the tour, we were also told that then brewery had well-placed contacts in Washington, so no sooner was the 18th Amendment repealed on December 5, 1933, that the Matt brewery was churning out its first bottles of beer for overjoyed customers.

The tour is interesting and ends with a tasting in its saloon.  Non-beer drinkers – like my kids – can enjoy a wide range of soft drinks, including Saranac’s famous root beer and ginger beer.

So if you are passing by Utica, New York, enjoy a visit to then Matt Beer Brewery Company, and offer a toast for its clever business strategy for surviving the Prohibition years…

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