The FX Matt Brewery has a long history of making quality craft beer, known today for its Saranac brand. The brewery is the second oldest still operating in New York, right after Genesee in Rochester. The FX Matt Brewery was making beer before prohibition, including its West End IPA. In fact, Saranac’s Legacy IPA uses the original 1914 West End recipe. The company’s Utica Club beer brand was notably popular for the WWII era, having made a large variety of styles and some great marketing spots using mascots Schultz and Dooley (anthropomorphic beer mugs voiced by Jonathan Winters). Here they are on a moon made of cheese!
In the 1980s, the FX Matt Brewery launched its Saranac brand, which has become a craft staple in New York and beyond. Of course, it’s not just beer. The FX Matt Brewery also produces Saranac soda and hard seltzer, McKenzie’s Hard Ciders and Jed’s RTD craft cocktails. In addition to Saranac beers, the FX Matt Brewing Co. also continues to make its Utica Club beer brand and produces beer for other companies, including Brooklyn Brewery, which owns a 20 percent stake in the company. FX Matt Brewing has also brewed many of Maryland’s Flying Dog Brewery beers over the last 10 years due to limitations at the company’s Frederick brewery.
So, the dots began to connect this week as FX Matt Brewing announced it would be acquiring the Flying Dog brand, and that Flying Dog would be shifting all of its production to FX Matt over the course of the summer, probably ceasing operations in Frederick sometime in August.
From the press release:
“We are forever grateful for the loyalty that Maryland craft beer drinkers have shown to Flying Dog and we look forward to continuing to be a part of the Maryland community moving forward,” stated Flying Dog CMO Ben Savage, who will become President of the Flying Dog division of FX Matt Brewing. “This acquisition gives our brand immediate capabilities and ﬂexibility to adapt to the changing consumer preferences. There will always be a market for great beer, but the lines between beer, cocktails, spirits, and wine continue to blur. FX Matt Brewing Company gives Flying Dog signiﬁcant resources to not only optimize our current product portfolio, but also quickly develop products in new, emerging categories.”
That same press release noted FX Matt Brewing is also in the process of looking for a location for a Flying Dog taproom, to include an innovation brewery, in Frederick. Hopefully, some of these jobs will transfer locally.
“It is important to me that FX Matt Brewing is oﬀering employment opportunities to as many employees as possible and we will provide job placement assistance to team members”, says Flying Dog CEO Jim Caruso. “Frederick is a great place to live and do business, unfortunately even though we have invested millions of dollars in the brewery, it has too many limitations and puts Flying Dog at too great a competitive disadvantage.
It’s also of note that Flying Dog Founder George Stranahan died in 2021, which also put the company on our radar for a reshuffling. Stranahan was the wealthy heir to the Champion Spark Plugs fortune, and he was a man that dabbled in a variety of businesses, academics and adventures. He had a PhD in physics, founded the Aspen Center for Physics and had expertise in everything from photography and writing to owning restaurants and running breweries. He even led an expedition to the summit of K2 in 1983 at the age of 52.
In 1980, Stranahan opened a brewpub in Woody Creek, Colo., and the Woody Creek Tavern was a regular hangout for gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who lived nearby and “frequented the establishment on a near-nightly basis for late lunches when in town,” according to Wikipedia. Thompson lived only a few blocks from Stranahan’s Flying Dog Ranch in Colorado, and the two became friends. That’s how Thompson collaborator and artist Ralph Steadman got commissioned to do beer labels for Flying Dog, starting in 1995. Of late, Flying Dog has been celebrating Steadman and its beer labels with a cool video series called Behind the Label.
Steadman’s labels gave the brand national attention — sometimes in unique ways. At one point, the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Commission did not want to approve the label of Flying Dog’s Freezin’ Season winter ale specifically because of Steadman’s drawing of a naked man standing by a fire (pictured above). Last year, after a lawsuit, a North Carolina court ruled in favor of the Maryland-based brewery, allowing use of that image.
The Flying Dog brewpub was established in Aspen, Colorado, in 1990. Flying Dog would eventually acquire Maryland-based Frederick Brewing Co. in 2006, closing its Colorado brewery the next year. Over the last four decades, Flying Dog has produced a lot of great craft beverages from its famous beer titles like Raging Bitch IPA or the new Old Bay Summer Ale to its up-and-coming beyond beer products like Killer Hard Tea. The brand’s distribution network is also attractive, selling into 23 states and Washington, D.C.
“Flying Dog has created an amazing brand, award-winning beers, and oﬀers us a great opportunity to grow in the Mid-Atlantic Region. When you think of craft beer in Maryland and the mid-Atlantic, Flying Dog is the ﬁrst brand that pops into your head. We are excited to join forces with such a great brand and look forward to helping Flying Dog reach new heights,” comments Fred Matt CEO of FX Matt Brewing Company.
This isn’t the first big money move from FX Matt Brewery. The company has been making some sizable investments over the last five years, announcing the completion of a $34.7 million brewhouse and tank farm expansion in 2021, a process that took three years. In this video, the company also teased another $11 million in brewery investments with a focus on packaging to coincide with some big growth expectations (perhaps this purchase!).
We’ll keep you updated on how all this comes together, as consolidation continues for legacy craft breweries. Terms, conditions and price of the sale were not shared with the press.
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