Utica, NY-based F.X. Matt Brewing Co., the makers of the Saranac brand, today announced they would soon be debuting a marketing campaign entitled “Pour Your Soul Into It”. This will include a TV commercial.
And why not? The reasons behind the campaign are, according to President, Fred Matt, to educate beer drinkers about the depth of the Saranac brand, and the fact it is made by a venerable 127 year old brewery, the oldest and 2nd largest American-owned brewery in New York. What’s more, it’s family owned, and falls only a little bit behind D.G. Yuengling & Son as America’s oldest family-owned brewery.
F. X. Matt has over the course of those 125+ years brewed a wide variety of beer brands, and became famous for its Utica Club brand, a “mainstream” style pilsner, in the 1950s and 1960s. (In fact, it stayed afloat during prohibition by making soft drinks under the Utica Club brand.) As is generally well-known however, over the course of its history, a significant chunk of Matt Brewing volumes have been contract brewed for other brand names. When craft “began” in the late 1980s, Matt Brewing brewed a lot of Brooklyn Brewery beers (which it still does) and Pete’s Brewing Co. beers, which enabled it to manage the decline in demand for Utica Club.
However, the Saranac brand, for which the brewery is now famous, was the passport to its current success. Based on the traditional German beer styles that the brewery’s founder, the original F. X Matt, emulated when he immigrated in 1880, Saranac beers have always been the minor league (“small beer”?!) passion play for the brewery, popular only in Upstate New York beer aficionado circles. Realizing that the craft beer phenomenon was not going to go away, the brewery has shifted over the 90s and 00s to focus on that brand and let Utica Club shrivel.
While they still produce a good amount of contract-brewed beer for others, Saranac is now a legit craft brand in its own right, and F.X. Matt is therefore something of a regional craft powerhouse. (The brewery is ranked #11 in the Brewer’s Association top 50 craft brewers by volume for 2013, though how much of that is Saranac is not published.) This marketing campaign is clearly a move to help entrench that sort of presence.
So why might the TV campaign et al not be a good idea? Well, some might argue, precisely because it goes against the entrenchment of the brewery and the brand as a craft player. You see, by and large, craft breweries don’t advertise. The only craft brewer that advertises regularly is Boston Beer, and, as has been discussed a lot lately, many no longer see them as craft at all.
F.X. Matt is not a craft brewer in the traditional sense – in that it was not founded in the garage of a couple of home brewers in the 1980s/90s. It was founded in 1880 by a first generation German immigrant brewmaster, and most of its success until recently has been on the back of an adjunct-heavy mainstream lager. In this sense it has more in common with D.C. Yuengling, Pabst, or even Anheuser Bush or Coors than it does with Brooklyn Brewery, Harpoon, Long Trail or other North East craft brewers. And, in what is heresy to some, it has made and still makes lots of beer on its premises that are sold off under somebody else’s name. In making a TV ad it is almost emphasizing that it’s more of a Yuengling or a City Brewing.
Well, as ever in these debates, I let the beer do the talking. I have long been a huge fan of Saranac beers, and as a portfolio, they are one of my favorites. Their beers tend to be mid-strength, dry, aromatic and traditional. There is no “signature” style – whether its their deliciously crisp white IPA or eminently sessionable lagers and bocks, they create unique brews with a sense of history to them. Actually, it’s worth noting that their original Adirondack Trail Mix 12 pack was the first mixed 12 pack of beers, something which we should all be thankful for. And I have no issue at all with contract brewing – arguably, without it, craft would never have been able to establish itself in the 1990s.
I wish them every success in the world.