October 22, 2021

Changes in brewery law on tap

Proposals by Cuomo would open up more opportunities in industry

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Jeff Ten Eyck of Summerhill Brewing fills a growler with Iron Plow porter, named for Jethro Wood of Scipio, who invented the iron plow with replaceable parts. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has announced a platform of changes to allow farm brewers greater access to markets.

Jeff Van Eyck spent Monday cleaning the kegs, retail area and doing paperwork at Summerhill Brewery, which he co-owns.

Summerhill Brewery is among several breweries in the greater Cortland area, many of them established since a new state effort to develop the beer and hops industry in 2013.

New proposals by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s in his State of the State would give breweries and universities more opportunities to get into the brewing industry.

Others breweries in the area include the Cortland Beer Co. in Cortland, Hopshire Farms and Bacchus Brewing in Dryden, Homer Hops Brewing in Homer and ONCO Fermentations in Tully.

Cuomo proposed changing Prohibition-era laws to allow easier investment in breweries, give breweries the opportunity to sell in movie theaters and create a license for universities that enables them to educate on brewing, brew products and then also market those items.

“The direct impact on us is probably relatively minimal,” said Van Eyck, even though he believes all of the changes would help the industry expand.

Summerhill Brewing is a seven-keg operation that recently expanded, moving into a 3,000-square-foot brewery and tasting house in October at 14408 Route 90. The company produces about 200 gallons of beer per week.

In 2015, Cuomo said the craft brew industry in New York had more than doubled, to 207 brewers, 6,500 jobs and $3.5 billion in total economic effect. In 2019 it was over 400.

That comes as a 2013 law created a farm brewery license in New York, which let farms make and sell beer in an effort to foster the hops and small-grains crops. Right now Van Eyck doesn’t see the business getting involved with selling at movie theaters.

“It’s another outlet, but whether or not we would actually sale to a movie theater I doubt it,” he said. But like he said, it’s another outlet for many brewers to get into. And craft beer sells, said Paul Leone, the executive director of the New York State Brewers Association.

“It makes them (the movie theaters) more competitive with those that aren’t going to the movie theaters and are staying home and watching Netflix,” he said. “It’s just another avenue where craft beverage could be sold. We’ve heard from a lot of movie theater folks that they’ll absolutely go local.”

Leone said changes to a 1933 law would make it easier for people to invest in breweries and align the state laws with federal laws. Under the Tied House law, there is a three tier system — breweries or manufactures, distributors and retailers. The existing law makes it difficult for someone involved in distributing to invest in manufacturing, as well, Leone said.

“What he’s (the governor) proposing is to relax those laws a little bit,” Leone said.
Because the law has been strict, Cuomo said many business opportunities have been lost.

“This stricter law has resulted in a number of business ventures — both manufacturing and retail — being denied licenses and the opportunity to do business due to these out-of-date provisions,” states the governor’s website.

Instead, Cuomo wants to align with federal laws, which provide “discretion by analyzing the details of the relationship when there is a partial ownership stake, and allows such a relationship when ownership is total.”

Van Eyck said it just makes sense to update the laws.

“You’re dealing with a law that was written so long ago, it doesn’t really make sense in today’s world,” he said.

It’s a world where the state ranks second behind California for the most breweries and is a state where brewing is a $4.5 billion industry.

The last part of Cuomo’s proposal would create a new license under the Alcohol and Beverage Control Law that would allow post-secondary institutions to create and sell alcohol.

“These requirements can limit the educational programs and training opportunities for students eager to gain these indemand skills,” states the governor’s website.

“Everything he’s proposing is just a continuation of supporting our industry, which we appreciate,” Leone said. “They’re not going to be game changer by any means but every little thing helps.”