Thoughts on the New York Farm Brewery Law

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.

5 Responses to "Thoughts on the New York Farm Brewery Law"
    • Currently NY grown barley is more available than NY hops but the availability of both will change significantly in the next couple years. Since all commercial NY hops were sold soon after harvest last fall none are available until this years harvest.. New York grown barley and wheat are available in limited supply through Valley Malt in Massachusetts. Valley Malt is a small, family run malt house and they are working hard to meet a high demand. They purchase grain from a few NY farms to malt and track the source of each batch.

      The outlook for both malt and hops is improving and will look better with each years harvest. Two years ago there were less than 20 acres of hops in NY, now there are over 150. Hop plants take 3 years to mature so each year we should see more production coming from hop growers. The group order of hop rhizomes through the North East Hop Alliance was almost 50,000 rhizomes each of the past two years. That is a lot of future hop production. Progress is also being made on equipment to harvest, dry and pelletize hops.

      Barley growing and malting may be advancing even faster than hops. Unlike hops a farmer can convert a field to malting barley in one year. By the end of 2013 there will be at least 3 malt houses in New York State to malt our local grain. Farmhouse Malt in Newark Valley is now in operation and selling malt. Two others are under construction in Dryden and Batavia.

      With the rapid growth of NY farm breweries and demand for NY grown ingredients it will be interesting to see if agricultural production can keep up. That is the very positive environment for agriculture in the state that the farm brewery was intended to create. Everyone wins in the end. Farmers have a market for two high value crops, breweries get excellent quality ingredients and beer drinkers get to discover some great new beers.

  1. How would you say the process was for your Microbrewery license compared with the steps for the Farm Brewery License process?

    Did you have to have commercial property or certain agricultural zoned areas, etc etc. This is quite an interesting topic!
    Thanks in advance, and best luck to you!
    Cheers,
    David

    • David – You are right. This is an interesting and evolving topic.

      Federal – The Brewers Notice issued by TTB does not distinguish a farm brewery from a microbrewery so the license process is exactly the same

      NYS – The NYS application for farm breweries and microbreweries is the same so there is no difference in the application or license process.

      NYS building code – Assuming you want people to visit your brewery, have a tasting room and retail outlet it will be a commercial property by the building code. This carries many requirements that your architect can sort out. If you are thinking of setting up in a old barn or something have an architect determine if it is feasible for a commercial business.

      Local – This is where the farm brewery license could be a real bonus. Most zoning ordinances consider a brewery to be an industrial facility and you would need to be in an area zoned industrial. The farm brewery by definition is an agricultural operation and can be in an area zoned agricultural. This is what has allowed the farm wineries to be in rural areas. I used the local wineries as a precident to get a zoning determination that Hopshire is agricultural including the tasting room and retail outlet. That allowed us to build on a site that is zoned agricultural.

      I hope this is helpful.

      Randy

  2. So I have few questions about this. If I have a farm licence and cannot get hops at all this year, or next and need 20% in my beer, what do you do? I need to keep production going but am I violating the law if the ingredients are unavailable? Can I not produce beer if I cannot get ingredients? What happens if all the ingredients are inferior?
    My other question is how this law really regulated? I would think it would be allot of bureaucracy to know which beer has what, and in fact, are they going to audit to see how much people are buying?
    I think in theory it’s something that will only help NY state, but as brewers, what happens if the ingredients are inferior? Some of the malt being produced now that I’ve seen is of very poor quality. IF forced to use 60 or 90% down the road, and the quality of ingredients is terrible, it could have the complete opposite effect of what’s intended, as you can’t make excellent products with inferior ingredients.
    Scott

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