Utica’s brewing history dates back to the 1700′s when several maltsers and brewers inhabited the area. Today that tradition is a proud part of the city’s west side where the FX Matt Brewery (makers of Saranac and Utica Club) sits prominently in the downtown brewery district.

While many beer fans will travel to the Matt Brewery and oh and ah over the large facility and historical presence, we were able to find a hidden gem just a bit down the road that could easily go unnoticed. Nail Creek Pub & Brewery is small operation with a great atmosphere. Owners Chris and Tracy Talgo saved the degrading building at 720 Varick Street from demolition in 2003 with the plan to eventually open a community pub. Chris borrowed elements from his college trip over seas to model a fun and rustic drinking environment.

It was a slow night at the bar when we arrived so we were able to chat it up with the beer tender and learned a little about the place. The brewery gets it’s name from the creek that now runs under the downtown but was once the life blood of the city’s brewing scene. He told us about the small brewing system that the assistant brewer rigged up to monitor and even control temperatures from his phone. We even learned about New York’s strict laws that prevented the owners from brewing for three years while they cleared the mine field of paperwork.

Due to the small system Nail Creek usually only has three of their beers on tap at any time. The year round beers, a Belgian Double and a Breakfast Stout, were delicious and the recently tapped Belgian Strong impressed me enough to order a pint, when I usually shy away from Belgians.

If you can’t find a in-house beer that agrees with you the brew pub sports a great list of taps and bottles from New York and beyond. The list is constantly changing and they encourage patrons to branch out and try new things with their World Beer Tour program that rewards those who drink 100, 200, 500, and 1000 unique beers at the pub. The record keeping system is far from technologically advanced but the three ring binder busting at the seems with customer beer lists fits the neighborly bar feel of place perfectly.

If you find your traveling through upstate New York stop in Utica and check out the Matt Brewery for the history, but then walk down the street to Nail Creek Pub and Brewery to truly enjoy the local beer.