New brewers, distillers push for temporary permits amid state backlog

Guy Bucey, owner of Mixed Breed Brewing, draws a sample of one of the Guilderland craft brewery's beers Friday, Aug. 6, 2021.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Guy Bucey, owner of Mixed Breed Brewing, draws a sample of one of the Guilderland craft brewery's beers Friday, Aug. 6, 2021.

GUILDERLAND — Remember that interminable wait at a crowded bar, trying to catch the bartender’s eye and order a beer or three?

Would-be craft brewers have a similar problem. 

New York’s craft beverage industry is thriving, and so many new producers are trying to join the field that the state Liquor Authority is backlogged in reviewing their license applications.

Approval can take as much as six months, and the state’s beer industry group estimates 90 new craft brewers are hoping to get a license, some of them accruing costs and lacking income as they wait.

State Sen. Michelle Hinchey, D-Saugerties, chose one of the Capital Region’s newest craft breweries to highlight the situation, and to press Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign into law legislation the Assembly and Senate passed unanimously that would allow issuance of six-month temporary permits.

New winemakers already have the opportunity to receive such a permit in New York, she said, and breweries, cideries, distilleries and meaderies deserve the same opportunity.

The host of the event, Guy Busey, said approval of his 450-page application to open Mixed Breed Brewing in Guilderland Center took about five months to secure.

The majority owner of the brewery said he’s lucky he and the brewery’s co-owners/co-founders have other businesses and other jobs. 

“I couldn’t imagine if this was going to be my livelihood or my sole way of making income,” Busey said.

Mixed Breed finally cut the ribbon in April. 

“Starting a business should not be that hard,” Hinchey said. “By expanding these temporary permits, we can help our local beverage producers take that leap of faith, get their businesses operating faster, create income-generating opportunities for their communities.”

Paul Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association, called the measure a no-brainer, given that temporary permits already are permitted for wineries.

The measure is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature, and has been for a while, Hinchey said. The two chambers of the state Legislature passed 30 joint bills before the legislative session ended June 10, and Cuomo has signed 13 of them. She said she doesn’t know the logic behind his timetable, but wants movement on this particular measure.

Craft brewers and other craft beverage producers in New York have benefited from advocacy by Cuomo and regulatory changes he championed that have raised the industry’s profile and reduced some of its operating costs.

Leone said the state has seen 26 new breweries open during the pandemic, but a few applicants have canceled their plans during that same time period.

With 485 breweries in operation statewide, New York is second only to California in number of beer makers, Leone said. All told, there are more than 1,200 craft beverage manufacturers in New York, Hinchey said.

Several speakers at Friday’s news conference said there is room for more producers, and that there is typically a sense of camaraderie rather than competition among them.

If a new craft brewer opens near an established brewer, and there’s also a distillery in town, and a winemaker or cidery down the road a ways, you don’t just have four alcohol makers, you have a destination, Leone said.

The Capital Craft Beverage Trail attempts to build this into a critical mass in the eight-county Capital Region, where there are several dozen craft beverage makers. A month ago, organizers launched the trail’s 2021 passport — a blue booklet with promotions and a destination checklist.

Hinchey cited industry statistics about economics involved: New York is first among the 50 states for number of hard cideries, second for craft distilleries, second for craft breweries and fourth for wineries. Together they have a $10 billion impact and support 100,000 jobs.

Hinchey represents a sprawling, mostly rural district that stretches from the Mohawk Valley across the northern Catskills into the Hudson Valley, with the small and mid-sized cities of Amsterdam, Kingston and Schenectady on its edges. The freshman legislator chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and was the sponsor of the temporary permit legislation in the Senate.

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