This weekend I started production on my new video project about the craft beer movement in New York State. Over the last decade, the country has seen an enormous shift in beer consumption from the mass-marketed “American” lagers made by large macrobreweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors to dynamic, flavorful, home-grown brews created by small, region-specific microbreweries. New York itself ranks in the top three states with the fasting growing craft beer industry. It’s been called a “bright spot” in New York’s economy and the rapid growth is expected to continue well into the future.
This is about so much more than beer. We’re seeing (what I hope are) the beginnings of an Upstate New York revival – a new appreciation and investment in small businesses, and not just the breweries themselves, but a ripple effect to other local businesses. We’re riding the wave of the “go local” trend by supporting farms and breathing new life into our agricultural industry. And it will hopefully bring the same kind of needed agro-tourism that our wine country has boasted for decades.
Last summer, Governor Cuomo and the state government started taking necessary steps to support craft brewers and farmers by passing the Farm Brewery Act, which includes tax incentives and other benefits to give financial relief to burgeoning breweries. The legislation also requires that 20% of ingredients used by breweries must come from NYS farms, and that will increase eventually to 90%. As a result, we’re seeing more and more farms expanding their operations to include hops and barley production.
To start my project, I visited Middle Ages Brewing Co. in Syracuse, NY. Middle Ages is one of the older craft breweries in both New York and the country, opening its doors in 1994. I love Middle Ages beer – it reminds me of home and special occasions spent with my family, it represents a pride of Syracuse – it’s more than just good beer or simply a brand or product. (And these are many of the same reasons that the rest of the population supports their own local breweries.)
Middle Ages was bottling their ImPaled Ale (IPA) while I was there and I chatted with owner Marc Rubenstein about the brewery. Middle Ages makes traditional English-style ales, importing their malt straight from England to give it as authentic a flavor as possible. Marc is optimistic about New York becoming a hops-growing state, but said that finding local maltsters will still be a challenge.
Next I headed out to Utica, NY and spent the morning with Dave Pasick of Szaro Farms, owned by his family since 1922. After finding wild hops growing along the old barn and silo, Dave transplanted them to a trellis and was able to successfully grow them last summer. His first harvest was used to make a wet hop IPA for Saranac Brewery.
Dave is now looking to expand his hop yard, but with costs totaling up to $15,000/acre – he, like many new hops farmers, will need financial support. He’s pleased with the legislative progress so far – helping to boost the industry and giving both brewers and farmers incentive to produce and sell crops locally – but there are still many hurdles ahead. Stay tuned for the full video!