First post-Prohibition brewery looks back, celebrates end of ban
For 13 years, alcohol was illegal under the 18th amendment. In 1920 drinkers went underground to speakeasies, and the bootlegging industry flourished. But on April 7, 1933, beer became legal again. Our Andrew Sorensen takes us back to that night, to the brewery that was first back in the beer business.
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UTICA, N.Y. -- F.X. Matt had achieved the American dream, but Prohibition nearly stopped him in his tracks.
"He had a lot of stress from 1920 to 33 because he kept everybody working during that period, and also gave them raises," F.X. Matt Brewing President Fred Matt said.
F.X. Matt kept his start-up brewery running by selling soda and near-beer, a concoction to which adding yeast produces alcohol.
But fortunes changed thanks to some insider information leading up to April 7, 1933.
"We find it a special day because we were the first brewery in the country to ship beer," Fred Matt says. "We have the number one license in the country."
The night prohibition ended, thousands of people crowded the outside gates of the brewery as the people inside prepared to make the very first legal delivery of beer.
"We had 50 trucks full of beer leave the brewery that night to go to various distributors for distribution the next day. In fact, one truck was hijacked, and they found it up on Route 12, empty," Matt recounted.
Full-strength beer wouldn't be available for another 8 months, but people gladly took the 3.2 percent alcohol.
"People walked from the brewery down to the hotel Utica, and then there was a big party at the Hotel Utica, where beer was served for the first time in 13 years," Matt said.
That liquor license and that party are part of the reason why, for many of the people around here, Utica Club is still king.
The brewery will be celebrating the 79th anniversary of Prohibition's repeal with a charity event for Saint Elizabeth's Hospital on April 27, 2012.