Cuomo, Beverage Makers meet at Wine, Beer, Spirits & Cider Summit

Governor Cuomo’s office held its second statewide Wine, Beer, Spirits & Cider Summit today in Albany, bringing together leaders from the industries and officials from various state agencies to discuss how to continue to move the state’s beverage industries forward.

The summit opened with Governor Cuomo highlighting some of the big advancements the state’s beverage industry has made since he took office. In four years, the number of breweries in New York State has increased 180% and the number of cideries has jumped 380%. Jobs in the beer sector alone have tripled since he took office, with now over 3,000 employees working in the brewing industry in New York State. He also highlighted the state’s four billion dollar growth in tourism, spurred by promotional efforts like Taste New York, which includes aggressive promotion of beer, wine, spirits, and cider - including at branded retail locations in travel hubs throughout the state.

In addition, Cuomo highlighted the strides made in getting the state to be more responsive as the onslaught of brewery, cidery, and distillery applications has come in. The average response time to an application to the State Liquor Authority has shrunk from 88 days when he took office to 36 days so far in 2014. Removing red tape

A few beer industry leaders were in attendance and addressed some of their concerns as the industry grows. Empire Brewing founder and New York State Brewers Association president David Katleski discussed the need to clarify growler sales, allow pints to be sold at breweries, and permit direct shipping within the state. He also expressed some concerns about the fast-growing farm brewery license; with now over 30 operating, the need for locally-grown hops and malted barley have become more important than ever - and as they grow, they may exceed the production cap set by the law.

Marty Matrazzo of Tioga County-based FarmHouse Brewery and Malthouse pointed out that there may be a need for tax breaks to encourage hop and barley growing. 20% of all ingredients used in beers brewed by licensed farm breweries have to come from New York State, and that threshold will increase in just three years - a very short time for the state’s farmers to supply the necessary ingredients.

Andy Goeler of Anheuser-Busch’s craft division highlighted their recent acquisition of Blue Point in addition to their Baldwinsville, New York brewery that employs over 400 people. He made the ask for more guidance from the State Liquor Authority on serving beer at public and private events - one of several gray areas where the rules in the industry have not been made clear by the state.

State officials took the floor in the afternoon to respond to some of the industry’s concerns and lay out a plan of action, much as they did back at the last summit in 2012. Dennis Rosen of the State Liquor Authority first announced that the Cuomo administration would push the “Craft New York Act” in the state legislature this session. Among the 12 concrete actions the act lays out are:

  • Lowering fees and raising production caps for small manufacturers
  • Increasing the abillity for small manufacturers to open retail outlets
  • Allow direct shipment of beer and cider
  • Eliminate the multiple, confusing permits necessary for a tasting room and retail sales

In addition, Rosen said that 10 agency advisories would be issues in the immediate future to address issues like growlers and event rules. The State Department of Agriculture and Markets will also waive an unruly requirement for cideries and a $400 fee charged to hop farmers for pelletizing hops.

Beyond the State Liquor Authority’s actions, Empire State Development has been responsible for aggressively marketing the state’s beverage industries, and will introduce and expand several initiatives to promote beer. Plans include:

  • Introducing a $6 million marketing campaign to broaden their tourism campaign around the beverage industry
  • Tripling the number of New York restaurants that take the “Pride of New York Restaurant Pledge
  • Launching the first official New York State Fair Beer this year, brewed by Utica’s FX Matt Brewing
  • Expanding their “One-Stop-Shop” for connect brewers to farmers, mentor small businesses, and connect the industry to $180 million available for business and industrial development
  • Launching Taste NY buses from downstate to New York state beverage regions
  • Providing $350,000 to fund a barley research initiative
  • Funding a hops scouting specialist to provide technical assistance to farmers on Integrated Pest Management

Among the most important initiatives, according to Governor Cuomo, is more far-reaching and long term: the state parties involved in regulating the industry must be more flexible and responsive to the rapid growth that’s occurring in the sector.

And there’s plenty of room for more growth - as Katleski pointed out, despite 180% growth in breweries in four years, New York is still 38th nationwide in per capita breweries. The bubble, he says, is far from bursting.

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New York City's source for local news about craft beer, beer bars, and beer culture in the five boroughs and beyond. | Editor: Chris O'Leary