“Giddap there Sal we’ve work to do … fifteen beers on the Erie Canalway” or something like that is how the old song I learned in grade school social studies class goes. They never taught us about all of the barley, hops, and barrels of beer that must have been part of the cargo on those barges the mules towed on the water path between Albany and Buffalo back in the day. The Erie Canalway Trail roughly follows the old canal route across New York State on multi-use pathway that is sometimes paved and other times is gravel or dirt. The current length of the route is about 300 miles (480 km) although that is growing as some gaps are being filled in over time.
The Erie Canalway Trail uses towpaths of both active and historic sections of canals as well as abandoned rail corridors in some stretches. Most of the route is off-road although on-street linkages are used in various places. On active canal sections, there are fun-to-watch, operating locks that lift boats up and down – the elevation increases by more than 500 feet from the east to the west. For beer hikers (and bikers), there are multiple stretches where breweries are clustered along the route.
Sampling the Erie Canalway Trail
On this trip, I only spent time on the segment of the trail between Utica and Rome. I could foresee this being a cool road trip across upstate New York and stopping at several locales to base beer hikes out of. One could easily imagine five to ten stops and days of hikes and brewery visits. I chose the Utica-Rome segment because I was intrigued by the FX Matt Brewing Company in Utica. More about FX Matt in a minute.
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Beers Along the Way
FX Matt Brewing Company in Utica is a four-generation family-owned brewery that has operated continuously since before Prohibition. It is one of a select few American breweries that can boast this kind of history – that would be an interesting list to see. FX Matt is often identified by their brand, Saranac. They seem to use a number of brands, but Saranac is their “craft” brand. They indicate that they also are a contract brewer for other craft brands – I noticed Brooklyn Brewery labeled beers when touring the brewery. I happened to be there on a pre-COVID Thursday for one of their Saranac Thursday events. Saranac Thursday is a long-running summer concert series held outdoors on the brewery grounds that benefits local charities.
A Short Detour From the Erie Canalway
Niagra in Canada is a short detour from the western end of the Erie Canalway and it happened to be convenient to my roadtrip to spend a night there, see the falls, and find a few fine local beers.
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