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Jim Kuhr, Saranac Brewmaster

WB: What is your brewing background (training, distinctions/honors)? How and why did you get into brewing?

JK: I began in the brewing industry while in college in 1984. I started as a quality assurance technician with G. Heileman Brewing Co. in Frankenmuth, MI. After learning the QA functions throughout the brewery, I moved into brewing supervision. The brewery closed in 1990. I began work here at the Matt Brewing Co. in 1991 as Associate Brewmaster and now manage the Brewing Department as well as handle product development. I didn't choose brewing as a career so much as it choose me, so to speak. After the closing of the brewery in Frankenmuth, I was set to go back to college. When the opportunity came to come to the Matt Brewery, I realized how much I missed the industry and now feel very fortunate to work where I have so much influence in the day to day and long term direction of the company.

WB: What might distinguish Saranac's brewing style/philosophy from other brewers?

JK: We take a very practical view of the industry and design our products to not only fit within a beer style's guidelines, but more importantly, to be a well balanced drinkable product that consumers will want to come back to. We have brewed over 18 different Saranac products in the last 6 years and have learned many lessons regarding consumer's tastes. Don't forget we have a brewing tradition which dates back to 1888 and have brewed over 80 recipes in the last 10 years for ourselves or our contract brewers which have ranged from the lightest light beers to some of the strongest stouts and barley wines produced on our scale. We have a terrific workforce here who pride themselves in the quality of our products and the flexibility we've designed into our equipment to give us the ability to produce this range of products.

WB: What do you think the most significant trend will be in the coming years in microbrewing, particularly in light of the fact that there are now roughly 1,200 micros in the US (vs. less than 30 in the late 80s)?

JK: The dramatic growth in the number of micros from the late 80's through the 90's shows that a there is a small, but significant percentage American beer consumers who are not satisfied drinking what are known as American Lagers. As with any growth industry, there was a steep increase in the number of brewers who wanted to supply this segment of the market. People had hopes that this growth would continue much longer than it did. Now, with a much flatter growth curve, and much more discriminating consumers, some of those breweries who did not put together the whole package of quality, product selection, distribution and good business practices are feeling the pinch and many have closed. Here at the Matt Brewing Co., we've been dealing with the ups and downs of the industry for over 110 years and feel we'll be around to give our customers the products they want for many years to come.

WB: How do you recommend pairing your beers with food?

JK: As for food, we like to link up our brews as follows: Saranac Black & Tan with steaks, stews and hearty soups. Saranac Pale Ale with lamb, beef, veal and game. Saranac Pilsner with tuna, shrimp and other seafood. Saranac Amber with pasta with marinara sauce, chicken and Tex-Mex.

Interviewed by Will Blunt.


Amber - Gold Medal Winner, 1991 Great American Beer Festival (American Premium Lager Category).

Pale Ale - Best Pale Ale and Beer of the Show, 1995 United States Beer Festival.

Pilsener - Silver Medal Winner, 1995 Great American Beer Festival (American Wheat Category).


Saranac is brewed in upstate New York in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains. Saranac label beers were first brewed in 1989. However, the Matt Brewery that makes Saranac is the second oldest family-owned brewery in the United States, established in 1888. Their beers are widely available throughout the Eastern seaboard. Contact: The Matt Brewery, 811 Edward Street Utica, NY 13502 (315) 732-3181.