Location Utica, NY
Size 350,000 ft² (total brewery)
Completed 2008

On May 29, 2008, a devastating fire spread from the second floor warehouse of Matt Brewing Company in Utica, New York, wreaking $10 million of damage and halting production of the popular Saranac Beers brand for a month while the 120-year-old brewery tried its best to recover. “In the end,” brewery president Nick Matt recalls saying stoically, “There will be some real benefits to this.” He was right.

Nick faced similar challenges when he left his highly successful career as general manager and president at Procter & Gamble’s Vicks Health Care division to come back to a struggling family business in 1989. “I did not start my career here,” Nick says. “I came back because it looked like this brewery was not going to survive. I decided the business that my grandfather started and that my family built over the past hundred years was too important to let go. So, I came back with the hopes of saving that. It means a great deal to me.”

With the help of his nephew Fred Matt and a team of dedicated employees, Nick rebuilt the business. Twice.


Client Matt Brewing Company
Architect March Associates
Engineer Paul Sack

After the fire, he and Fred had a vision. They didn’t want only to make a quality beer steeped in more than a century of family tradition; they wanted to brew a beer that made a statement about how it was brewed. It would recall an innovation Nick’s grandfather, F.X. Matt, unveiled after Prohibition, when he began brewing legendary India pale ales. He was one of the first brewers anywhere to siphon off carbon dioxide and recycle it. “Our roots of sustainable brewing all go back to him,” Nick says.

At the forefront of rebuilding the brewing company’s vision is director of brewing operations Jim Kuhr. With a team of consultants lead by Utica architect Chris Crolius of March Associates and engineer Paul Sack, the team weighed the financial considerations alongside that vision. Nick says tough choices had to be made, such as reusing older equipment in the fire-ravaged production area so that the new warehouse could have state-of-the-art green features.


Certification Not applicable
Recycling Spent grain donated to local farmers, glass crushed on-site
Waste CO₂ reused to carbonate sodas and pressurize beer tanks, anaerobic digester used to produce methane and electricity
Geothermal Closed-loop system cools the kegs efficiently throughout seasonal changes
Lighting T-5 and T-8 fluorescents, motion and daylight sensors

Kuhr say two of those green features have stood out since the reconstruction. “The geothermal system works phenomenally well,” he says, “and as simple as it sounds, the motion sensors on the lights are a constant visual cue that we are saving energy.” The geothermal system, Sacks explains, is a hybrid of conventional refrigerant, fresh-air economizers, and closed-loop ground-water storage designed to keep the keg cooler operations running efficiently throughout harsh seasonal changes.

Lighting controls weren’t the only a part of the lighting overhaul done throughout the 350,000-square-foot brewery. “Matt Brewing retrofitted almost all of the lighting throughout the plant to T-5 or T-8 lamps with motion- and daylight-sensor controls,” Crolius says. “Reduction of energy costs was on the forefront of the brewery’s thoughts.”

Numerous other cost-saving and sustainable features were included in the facility’s new design and in the brewery’s operational protocol. With respect for Nick’s grandfather’s carbon-dioxide innovation, the team made a great effort to improve brewing efficiency. “We just completed an upgrade,” Kuhr says, “allowing us to pull the lower-pressure CO2 gas off the fermenters in a larger volume to better meet the capacity of our compressors.” Other improvements were made to the assembly line, replacing old motors and pumps with new high-efficiency models on variable frequency drives. And spent grains, production glass, and aluminum all are recycled.

The net result, Nick says, has been surprising. “We have made a lot of progress in the last three or four years,” he says. “We have improved energy efficiency by 30 percent per barrel of beer produced. It really reflects what we are doing.”

Matt Brewing Company recovers CO₂ created during production, just as the original brewer, F.X. Matt did when he started the company. Photos: Nancy L. Ford

Matt Brewing’s Jim Kuhr On Making a Sustainable Brew

Recycling spent grain. Every brew requires a lot of grains, mostly malted barley. [Ours is] recycled back to our spent grain tank, where local farmers come and pick it up to be used as dairy cattle feed. In total last year, we recycled 99% of our solid waste stream.

Choosing containers & packaging. All of our waste glass is crushed on-site. We also use aluminum cans, which, like glass, are 100% recyclable. Nothing leaves here without a recyclable container.

Upgrading equipment. Line changes had to happen after the fire. Almost all of the canning and bottling lines had to be redone. Motors have been switched over to high-efficiency [systems], and almost every motor is driven by a variable frequency drive.

Recovering CO2. We have invested a lot of money in the last five years into the efficiency of recovering CO2 and reusing it by [installing] better monitoring equipment. The CO2 has to be pure, so we have to vent for a while until all the oxygen has been removed from the fermenter. As soon as we get to that point, we begin collection and purification. We then reuse it to make soft drinks and pressurize beer tanks.

Managing water & waste. Our anaerobic digester system is a new digestion project designed for wastewater treatment. We are removing about 85% of the load and producing methane, which will be converted on-site through generators to electricity, providing about a third of our electric load.

Evolving filtration. Traditionally we have used a two-step diatomaceous earth (DE) process for filtering. Three years ago we took one of those steps out and replaced it with a centrifuge, which spins the larger particles, like yeast and hops, out of the beer. We then go through the final polish clarification through the DE system. The next technology we will adopt in filtration is [the use of] cellulose pads. They have developed technology to make cellulose pads compostable, which is what really sold us on the product. By next year, we will be DE-free.