JOHNSTOWN — A single word and a million little bubbles mean trouble for New York’s hard cider industry, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer warns.
To make his point, Schumer, D-N.Y., on Friday visited Rogers’ Cideryard in the town of Johnstown, one of the dozens of hard cider makers that have gone into business in New York in the favorable regulatory climate of the last few years.
Schumer takes issue with a proposed rule that would require that any cider with more that 0.392 grams of carbon dioxide per 100 milliliters be labeled “sparkling” or “carbonated.”
This would be a reversal of the Cider Investment and Development through Excise Tax Reduction Act (aka the CIDER Act), bipartisan legislation that Schumer pushed for in 2015 that helped pave the way for the growth of alcoholic cider as a craft beverage. Among other things, it set the carbon dioxide threshold at 0.64 grams.
As these changes were being made at the federal level, the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo was cutting regulations and taxes on producers of hard cider and other craft beverages, leading to rapid growth in that sector. New York now has 90 cideries, Schumer noted, the most of any state and a 300 percent increase in just five years.
The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is now proposing to move the carbon dioxide ceiling back down to 0.392 grams. Schumer has written to bureau Administrator John J. Manfreda urging him to block the change, and he spoke against it Friday at Rogers’.
“Simply put, this does nothing but misidentify local cider products and makes it harder for smaller companies to compete with commercial brands,” he said in a prepared statement. “That is why I am calling on the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to immediately reverse course; they should understand that I am watching this issue very closely to make sure Rogers’ Cideryard and other cideries throughout Upstate New York can grow and operate without nonsensical mandates.”
Jenn Smith, executive director of the New York Cider Association, said the one word, “carbonated,” runs contrary to what craft producers are trying to do.
“I think when you are talking about a product that has been grown and made by hand, ‘carbonated’ gives the impression that there is some help and some artificial intervention there,” she said. “And it does not correctly reflect the premium nature of the hard cider that is being made in New York state.”
She added: “Coca Cola is carbonated.”
The word “sparkling” is, in itself, not as objectionable to her group.
When hard cider with suspended carbon dioxide is poured into a clear glass, it visibly sparkles.
Nonetheless, the association doesn’t think “sparkling” should be a mandated word. It runs contrary to the CIDER Act and may degrade the product’s image, Smith said.
“It’s exciting for us that he’s getting us this attention,” she said of Schumer.
The senator noted Friday that New York is the nation’s second-leading producer of apples, producing roughly 30 million bushels a year on 650 farms totaling 41,000 acres. In 2017, he said, hard cider was a $100 million industry in New York, counting labor and sales. It also is an important income stream and source of tourism traffic for some apple growers, he added.
“Cideries and craft breweries throughout Albany and the Capital Region pour local products and jobs into our economy,” he said in his statement, “which is why we must make sure their exciting growth is not choked off by bureaucratic nonsense that makes no sense and hurts New York’s hard cider industry.”
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