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Beer Blogs & Resources

What’s brewing in Albany

It’s a new legislative year! You might think that means that our esteemed legislators in Albany are working hard to introduce new legislation that will loosen its stranglehold on the beer industry.

Well, not exactly. Essentially, it means that the same bills that stalled out last year - some never making it to committee - are back again this year for another try. Thankfully, some of them are getting a fair shake, including three significant bills that will be up before the Senate Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee next Wednesday. These bills will all have an impact on the beer industry in New York.

Bill: S5078-2011, “Authorizes the liquor authority to issue farm brewery licenses for the manufacture and sale of beer on farms”
Sponsors: Sen. David Valesky (ID-Madison County) and Assemblyman William Magee (D-Madison County)

What it does: This bill creates a new class of liquor license for farms looking to brew beer with fresh, local ingredients. Allows for the sale and self-distribution of the beer, as well as tasting and serving of the beer if on-site. There are stringent agricultural requirements, however: after 10 years, the farm brewery must source 90% of all its ingredients from New York State. The license cost - $320 - is about 20% less than the cost of a full-blown microbrewery license. There’s a cap of 15,000 barrels/year of output with this license.

The bill also allows these brewers to own and operate retail locations to sell their beer for on and off-premise consumption. This is pretty bold; as it essentially gives farm-brewers free rein to operate outside the “three tier” beer distribution system.

Status: On the Senate Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee agenda next Wednesday.

Bill: S1652-2011, “Relates to permits for licensed brewers to serve small samples of their beer or malt beverages”
Sponsor: Sen. Martin Dilan (D-Brooklyn)

What it does: Right now, no brewery representative can legally their pour beer at a beer festival in New York. This stupidity is often ignored, and for good reason: don’t you want someone pouring you beer to know something about the beer they’re pouring? Last year, the State Liquor Authority issued “beer fest rules” specifically to remind people that volunteers must pour beer at beer festivals. Employees of the brewery can supervise the volunteers, but they can’t pour the beer.

In fact, the beer isn’t even theirs: the distributor has to provide the beer. So even though someone may be driving directly from the brewery to a beer festival, the brewery has to provide the beer to the distributor, the festival organizer must order the beer from the distributor, and the distributor must deliver it to the festival. Sounds ridiculous? It is. Even if you support the “three tier” distribution system, forcing a distributor to get involved to deliver beer that you brewed to a beer festival where you are working is a little ridiculous.

Thankfully, this bill creates a new Beer Festival permit which would formalize beer festival licensing and streamline the process. It creates a new license that brewers could apply for, which allows them or their employees to serve beer at a festival, as well as bring their beer and take back any beer remaining after the festival. It also doesn’t break the bank, at $20 for the license.

Status: On the Senate Commerce, Economic Development and Small Business Committee agenda next Wednesday.

Bill: S5829-2011, “Relates to authorizing the liquor authority to issue certain licenses to manufacture and sell alcoholic beverages in a premises commonly known as a restaurant-brewer”
Sponsor: Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo)

What it does: Probably the most ridiculous beer-related laws we’ve ever seen proposed in New York, apart from the 500-word ABC (Alcohol Beverage Control) law that permits early-morning beer sales on one block of Utica on the day of the Boilermaker. Here’s the situation: the owners of the Pearl Street Brewery, a brewpub in downtown Buffalo, want to open restaurants in other parts of downtown Buffalo. Under current law, a brewery or brewpub can’t own a bar, as that would violate the “three-tier” beer distribution system that was established after Prohibition.

Seems unfair, so sensible people might propose to break up the antiquated three-tier system through legislation. But instead, Grisanti has proposed that ABC laws regarding brewery ownership of retail locations simply not apply on four specific plats of land in downtown Buffalo - presumably ones where Pearl Street has expressed an interest in operating restaurants or bars. Grisanti champions this bill as “economic development,” because lord knows downtown Buffalo desperately needs more bars.

Look, we’re all about giving our local breweries more freedom to do the things that ridiculous Prohibition-era laws have kept them from doing. But this self-serving piece of trash legislation adds over 1,000 words to ABC law to make special accommodations for one business. Why not work to change the entire system so that other breweries or brewpubs who want to do this in other parts of the state can? Well, we know the obvious answer to that: money. Massive amounts of money are funneled into politics from beer distributors, large breweries and wholesalers to keep the existing system that they profit from in place. Grisanti doesn’t want to wake the beast, so he’s just changing the law on four pieces of land in downtown Buffalo.

Status: Self-serving or not, virtually everyone’s going along with it. The bill  passed the Senate on the last day of the legislative session last year by a 60-2 vote, but died in the Assembly. So it’s back in the Senate again, back in committee for a hearing next Wednesday, where it’s likely to sail through again.

There’s quite a bit more legislation still out there floating in limbo, where it hasn’t been put on the calendar yet for a Committee hearing. But we’ll keep tabs on all this and any new legislation that comes up.

Posted 2 years ago | 7 notes | Comments

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