Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Brews Brothers: Matt’s mission: Distinctive but drinkable beers

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At age 119, Matt Brewing is the second oldest family-owned brewery in the U.S. The Utica, N.Y., brewery is mostly known for its Saranac brand, which includes 24 styles brewed each year; some are available only in seasonal mixed packs that change annually.

The 2008 ‘‘Beers of Spring” package features two bottles each of Pomegranate Wheat, Summer Ale, Golden Pilsener, Kölch, Hefeweizen and Belgian White.

At the end of 2006, Matt introduced the robust High Peaks series, beginning with the well-received Imperial IPA (8.5 percent ABV, alcohol by volume). The roasty, coffee-like Imperial Stout (9 percent), released in late 2007, is further proof that Matt can brew extreme beers. Still, the goal is making ‘‘distinctive but drinkable” beers.

The brewery itself has huge, glistening 500-barrel copper brewkettles that were installed in the early 1950s, and a century of ancient company bottles, cans and memorabilia on display. With such large brewing vessels, Matt uses 25,000 pounds of grain per batch, with up to four brewings a day, three to four days a week. Both ales and lagers are aged about four weeks.

The light-bodied Pomegranate Wheat (4.7 percent ABV) is a muted amber brew with a slight berry nose. Its subtle sweet front moves into a moderate sweet malt middle. A mild pomegranate tartness is added in the finish and comes to the front in the aftertaste as the sweetness fades. The sweet and sour flavors add a pleasant complexity. Ratings: 7.5⁄8 on a scale of 1 to 10

The almost medium-bodied Kölsch (5 percent ABV) has a bright, spring-like floral and sweet malt nose. Very pleasant, amber beer begins with a moderate sweet malt; a splash of mixed spiciness joins it in the middle. The spiciness increases in the finish as a touch of bitter hops is added, with the hops growing in the dry aftertaste and lingering. Ratings: 8⁄8

The modest-bodied Belgian Ale (5.9 percent ABV) is copper-colored with an aroma of Belgian yeast and fruit compote including orange peel. Its medium sweet front continues in the middle where it merges with a fruit mixture including orange, apricot and a hint of yeast. The yeast flavor grows slightly in the finish and remains in the somewhat dry aftertaste as the other flavors attenuate. Ratings: 7.5⁄7.5

The medium-bodied, very smooth High Peaks Imperial Stout (9 percent ABV) is darkest brown and opaque with a luscious nose integrating coffee, cocoa, alcohol and a touch of port wine. The tangible roast front combines with a touch of coffee and port wine in the middle, all continuing into the finish where they meld with a restrained alcoholic warmth. The alcoholic warmth grows in the aftertaste, blending with the roast and a tempered dryness. Ratings: 8.5⁄9.