There is a lot of excitement, anticipation and confusion regarding the New York farm brewery law that went into effect in January. We have been watching this law move through the legislative process for a long time. I (Randy) drafted a version of the law over 2 years ago and began sending it to state representatives. Ultimately, the requirements for New York grown hops and grain are exactly what I recommended in my first. Let’s back up and review what this law says.
The New York farm brewery law is modeled after the farm winery law that went into effect in 1976 and has created the very successful wine industry in the state. The farm brewery law requires beers to be brewed using 20% NY hops and 20% other ingredients by weight. Before you ask, no, the water does not count. After 7 years the requirement goes up to 60% and then to 90% after another 5 years. In return for using ingredients grown in the state the brewery has several privileges. The license fees are lower and the brewery can also serve by the pint, operate a bed and breakfast or serve tastings off premise at events like farmers markets. In addition to selling your own product you can serve the product of any other NY farm brewery, winery or distillery. Beers brewed with the required amount of NY ingredients can be “New York State labeled beer”. Farm breweries can also make cider from apples grown in New York. Cider was previously classified as wine and could only be made by wineries.
The details of the farm brewery law are a little fuzzy. I was told by the State Liquor Authority the requirement for NY ingredients is for each beer that will be labeled rather than an annual requirement for the brewery. A brewery can hold both a microbrewery license and a farm brewery license at the same time. That is a bit confusing.
In my opinion this law will have a tremendous impact on breweries and agriculture in New York. In the long run, it could have a larger impact than the farm winery law, and wines are a $4 Billion industry in New York. I hear you skeptics, “Lacey you are crazy! The farm brewery law can never have the impact the winery law did.” Let me explain….. New Yorkers drink 10 times as much beer as wine so the market is larger. The wineries are mostly limited to specific areas of the state where grapes grow (Fingerlakes, Lake Erie and Long Island) while breweries can be anywhere. Hops have been grown throughout the state and both hops and barley are easily stored and shipped. The timing for a growth in local breweries is perfect. With great interest in local foods and a rapidly growing desire for craft beer this is the right time for good beers brewed locally with local ingredients.
What does this mean for Hopshire Farm & Brewery? Our plan has always been to brew beers with as many New York and local ingredients as possible. We would do this with or without a farm brewery law. In fact, our goal is to produce some beers with 100% of the ingredients grown in New York, which greatly exceeds the requirements of the law. We currently have a microbrewery license and have a choice to convert this to a farm brewery license or to apply for the farm brewery license in addition to the microbrewery. Currently none of the commercial hop growers in the state have hops for sale. They were sold out shortly after last summer’s harvest. That is a big problem for a brewery with a just farm brewery license opening today as 20% of the hops in each beer must be from NY. The dilemma would be that you wait for fall harvest to brew or be less-than-honest about where your hops came from. As a hop grower we will be using hops from our freezer as well as hops grown by local hobby growers to produce some NY beers. This supply will not last until next fall but it will get us started.
We plan to apply for the Farm Brewery license and anticipate a long process to receive it. In the meantime, trust that we will push the limits for bringing New York agriculture together with our brewing to produce the most Brew York State beers we can; bridging the gap from farm to foam.