Crafting a Future in the Behemoth World of Beer

Crafting a Future in the Behemoth World of Beer

The increased supply and quality of local ingredients, in combination with the national boom of the craft beer industry, has enabled breweries (especially farm breweries) to grow and offer more New York beer.

The number of breweries in New York has increased tenfold since the legislation passed, rising from 78 microbreweries (and no farm breweries) in 2012, to 208 farm breweries and 199 microbreweries as of the beginning of April. Because breweries are allowed to hold both a microbrewery license and a farm brewery license, some of these numbers overlap. The state has also added 12 malt houses – where barley undergoes a process before it moves to the breweries, bringing the entire supply chain in state.

Though farm breweries will have to jump to selling products containing at least 60 percent in-state ingredients next year to keep their license, researchers and officials say this won't be an issue.

Some breweries are already far past that threshold. Brooklyn's Strong Rope Brewery is already using 100 percent New York hops and is close to reaching 100 percent local barley, by working with local farmers at Crooked Creek Hops Farm, Niagara Malt and other local farms.

New York already has more than enough hops to meet the 60 percent threshold (based on the needs of farm breweries in 2016), and malting barley is close to meeting the mark, says Cheryl Thayer, an agricultural economic development specialist at the Cornell Cooperative Extension, which links research efforts between Cornell University and its two experiment stations.

Though farm breweries probably won't struggle to find enough local products to account for 60 percent of their ingredients, some brewers might have difficulty meeting the requirement if they want to sell a wide variety of hops, according to Steve Miller, executive director of the Northeast Hop Alliance.

Hop and barley varieties range throughout the country due to different climate conditions and soil, Miller notes.

Additionally, researchers under the Cornell University system are developing new barley varieties, the first of which is expected to be unveiled in 2019. The state also hopes to create unique hops, though they can take three to seven years to develop, says Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association.

These new, proprietary varieties stand out from the more common varieties and could not only become popular with local brewers, but also with a national or global audience, Miller says.

The state, through its Department of Agriculture and Markets, has provided nearly $1.13 million for research exploring hops and barley at Cornell University's research station in Geneva.

Hops and barley farming on the East Coast might never reach the scale of that in the Northwest, where the industry is far more commercial and some farms are 3,000 acres, but unique ingredients could put New York on the map.

In addition to diversity, expanding the farms to Eastern states adds stability to the business.

Even without the new barley and hops varieties in the works, research shows that many brewers without farm brewery licenses are already choosing to pull most of their ingredients. New York's Department of Agriculture and Markets, says his team is currently in talks with the craft beverage industry.

By BOA Bureau