Saranac Brewery Tour – Utica, NY

Saranac Tour in Utica NY - Just your typical family outing

You heard me right. We took a 5 yo and a 4 yo on a brewery tour. But before you judge let me reassure you we were not alone. There were a lot of kids following along as we toured the Saranac Brewery that ended in a pub with everyone (including the kids) having a pint.

A Bit about the Brewery

Let me back up a bit. This brewery is pretty special. First of all my husband went to college at SUNY IT and spent a lot of time in the area. He has been known to visit a time or two. (wink wink)

And second this beer has a history that goes back to 1888. They survived prohibition by selling Utica Club branded sodas, tonics and extracts. In fact it is rumored that in the store next to their ‘tonics’ was an instruction card showing them how to make beer just so they didn’t do it by accident. (wink wink)

According to brewery lore, company founder F.X. Matt happened to be in Washington when Franklin D. Roosevelt had urged Congress to get the breweries back into operation and received the first brewing license since 1920 within an hour and a half of the repeal.

One call up to the brewery and the them West End Brewing Company was back and business and were ready to serve their customer at the stroke of midnight April 7.

Return of legal beer, April 7, 1933 in Lake Saranac. Courtesy of John Van Anden

Return of legal beer, April 7, 1933 in Lake Saranac. Courtesy of John Van Anden

Once prohibition had ended the Utica Club brand stuck around and a memorable if somewhat odd looking duo of marketing characters took off. Meet Shultz and Dooley – two steins that tell you to drink more beer. What I love is they focus on the fact that their beer is ‘natural. See the health kick went back to 1933.

As you listen to the commercial note that Jonathon Winters is playing the parts of both Shultz and Dooley.

The Historical Part of the Tour

Remember this brewery was built in 1988 so the first half of the tour walks you through the history of the brewery in room that will have you back at the turn of the century.

The first room you enter is really just a holding cell. Here you sign into the tour and wait for everyone to gather. Take the time here to walk around. There are a lot of vintage brewery bottles and steins (Shultz and Dooley of course) to look at as you wait.

Saranac Utica Club Mantle with Shultz and Dooley

The next room is the grain room. Here they talk about what goes into the bear and the brands they produce. Blah blah blah. The fun part is running your hand through the grains in the bins. The kids can’t help themselves and it keeps them and you occupied until the next room.

Saranac Tour Grain Room

Saranac Tour Grain Room

You move on the the speak easy room. This one is done up in the style of the prohibition era. It highlights the sodas they make and door even has a secret opening for you to give the password before entering.

Saranac Tour Speak Easy Room

Before you leave this area look up and there will be prints describing the different stages of brewing beer. This sets the stage for the next part of the tour.

Saranac Tour Steps to Making Beer

Waring the younger kids (mine) start to get fidgety at this point. But as you move on it will get better.

Kid may get bored at times...

Kid may get bored at times…

Now We Are Making Beer

You move from the roaring 20’s to the 21st century pretty quickly. You enter the boiler room where you can see the mash cooker and the big batches of soon to be beer being made. Everything is so big the kids quickly become enamored. And the site of so many buttons have them asking if they are at NASA.

Saranac Tour Brewing Room

The second room is for fermenting. Just big white tanks. Not much exciting here except that there are oak barrels because Saranac does put whiskey in some of their beer.

Fermenting room isn't too exciting

Fermenting room isn’t too exciting

You quickly walk through the aging room which is the ‘cold room’ with lots of hoses to walk through. I forgot to take photos as I was navigating children over many tripping hazards. Still no excitement.

Final room is the bottling room. Yeah! We have excitement! Everyone has their face plastered against a plexi glass wall looking at the bottling and trying to figure out what beer or soda they are filling today.

Saranac Tour Bottling Room Saranac Tour Bottling Room

This room is the room everyone enjoys and you will spend the most time in.

Time to Drink

Once the tour is over you are dropped off in the tavern to enjoy two complimentary pints of beer. This beautiful room is about to be replaced with a bigger room. The hope is they can also sell beer and food in addition to just the samples.

Saranac Tour Tavern Room for Tasting

The kids love this room because not only to they have beer they have soda. You child can get root beer, shirley temple, black cherry, ginger ale or orange soda. (I recommend orange soda and root beer – the shirley temple is WAYYYYY too sweet) They can even go up to the bar and get it themselves. How cool is that!?

Of course the result is a major sugar rush as they also can have up to two pints of pure sugar. So watch out!

Be warned of sugar rush!

Be warned of sugar rush!

For adults I recommend chatting with the people that are behind the bar or even those leaning up against it. I happened to meet one of the brewers and he made up a beer for me right on the spot by mixing a couple of them together.

The room is comfortable and perfect for spending some time with friends chit chatting over a pint or two.

Tour Logistics

The tour is pretty cheap. It’s $5 for adults and children under 12 are free.

Saranac Tourin Utical NY

You don’t have to make reservations but I do recommend it as we have had an occasion where we could not get in because they were booked.

Take their word for the timing. You will probably have to wait a bit in their gift shop prior to the tour. The tour does last 45 minutes and you can take as much time as you like in the tasting room. In fact they will not force you out until closing time.

Saranac Tour

I would recommend setting aside 1.5 to 2 hours for your visit to account for waiting and drinking time.

So who is with me next time. The more the merrier.


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Saranac Tour in Utica NY - Just your typical family outing
Saranac Tour in Utica NY - Just your typical family outing
Saranac Tour in Utica NY - Just your typical family outing