In the past, New York state has focused on the regulation of alcoholic beverages, limiting where and how they could be sold. These days, like someone who’s had a couple, it has loosened up, with small distilleries the latest beneficiary. Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a new law allowing them to hold tastings and sell their spirits not only on the premises, as before, but at the New York State Fair, county agricultural fairs and farmers’ markets.
Small wineries and craft brewers already had these privileges, wineries for years and brewers since this summer. So there’s no reason that small distilleries — whose numbers, like the others, are growing quickly — shouldn’t have them as well.
Wine-making got a big boost from the 1976 Farm Winery Act, which allowed small vintners to sell their wares directly to consumers, restaurants and liquor stores without going through a wholesaler or distributor. The state also did such things as designating wine trails in the Finger Lakes and helping advertise them. As a result, the 19 wineries operating in the state in 1975 have grown to nearly 300 today.
Recently the state has been easing restrictions and creating new opportunities for microbrewers. And now it is small distilleries (there are currently 50 of them, including a brand-new one in Albany, the city’s first since Prohibition) that are getting the same treatment.
State legislators and the governor see the connection between these activities and agriculture, as do consumers, who are flocking to farmers’ markets to buy products grown and made locally. In order to be sold at farmers’ markets or fairs, the wine, beer or whiskey must be made primarily of New York agricultural products.
Later this month Gov. Cuomo will hold a “Beer and Wine Summit,” which will include distillers. The meeting will be patterned after the “Yogurt Summit” he held earlier this year with yogurt makers and dairy farmers, where regulatory changes were discussed that would allow that industry to increase sales and grow.
Alcohol, of course, is a problem in our society. But for most people, there’s nothing wrong with a drink or two. And those who would buy a bottle of wine, six-pack of beer or fifth of liquor at a farmers’ market because they’re interested in the taste and want to support local agriculture, even though it costs more, are likely to be the kind who can stop at a drink or two. They are not the problem.