Beer Tourism Getting a Lift in Central New York

Everyone knows about the wineries of the Finger Lakes; now there’s a big push to make their neighbors to the East famous for breweries. An initiative called Brew Central has mounted an aggressive campaign to highlight breweries, cideries, distilleries and even hop farms in the rolling hills Madison, Onondaga, Broome, Schoharie, Otsego and Oneida counties

Using NY’s farm brewery license, ushered into law last year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as a springboard, the campaign aims to bulk up agritourism in the area, even to reinstate the hop industry in Madison and Oneida counties, once the nation’s largest hop growing area.

Since the legislation passed last year, close to 50 farm brewery licenses have been granted.

Farm Brewers

Good-Nature-05Good Nature Farm Brewery & Tap Room in Hamilton was one of the first to take advantage of the new license. Founded two years ago by the energetic young couple, Matt Whalen and Carrie Blackmore, Good Nature is moving fast. They went from a 2-bbl system to 7-bbl, then opened a taproom in Hamilton’s townsquare across from the Colgate Inn (a great place for dinner if you’re visiting, with a more than decent tap list). Now they have plans on the drawing board for a brand new brewery with a 20-bbl brewhouse to be built on the edge of town. As their name suggests, Good Nature plans to be as green as possible.

The use of locally grown hops and grains, as required by the farm brewery license, is right up their alley.

Justin Behan at Green Wolf Brewing Co. in Middleburgh, in Schoharie County is brand new — just now opening his doors. Justin had plans to go into organic farming, but fell in love with brewing. With the farm brewery license he can combine both his passions on his 3-bbl system.

Not so new are Larry and Kate Fisher at Foothill Farms in Munnsville. They’ve been dabbling in hop growing for several years and now have six acres devoted to a dozen hop varieties. Hands on is an understatement for Foothill: Larry, who runs an electrical business, built his own 20-ft-tall hop harvesting machine; Kate, a technical coordinator in the local school system, makes all kinds of hop related goodies on sale in their farm/homebrew shop: beer glazed almonds and walnuts (Good Nature beer brewed with Foothills hops); hop infused shampoo; and various hop jellies and jams.

critz3Critz Farms is no stranger to agritourism. Matthew Critz, a former civil chemical engineer, bought his Cazenovia farm 20 years ago. Along with his wife, Juanita, he began growing Christmas trees as a cash crop; then he harvested pumpkins and pick your own apples; then maple trees and syrup. Don’t forget a restaurant to cater to visitors, and a corn maze.

When he installed a heavy-duty cider press, things began to get really interesting. Now he produces a range of award-winning hard ciders using both imported European cider apples as well as his own, under the Harvest Moon label; visitors to his farm/tasting room reach 5,000 a day during harvest season.

The well-established orchards at Beak and Skiff in neighboring Lafayette took notice. They now produce their own ciders as well as vodka and gin distilled from their own apples that have been grown commercially for generations. A brand-new visitor center sits on their hilltop property selling all kinds of craft beverage related products.

Cazenovia is sort of a poster town for Brew Central. In addition to Critz, the town hosts a winery (Owera Vineyards) and an about-to-open distillery (Life of Reilly) — and as Madison County tourism Exec. Director Scott Flaherty says, Empire Farmstead will become the fourth leg of Cazenovia’s craft beverage stool.

A “natural” outgrowth of the 20-year-old Empire Brewpub in Syracuse, owner David Katleski, has plans for one of the largest farm breweries in NY State so far: A 60-bbl JVNW brewhouse with an estimated 60,000-bbl annual production; eight of the farm’s 22 acres devoted to barley, rye and wheat crops and six to hops; as well as a 32,000 sq ft visitor center.

Katleski, who co-founded the New York State Brewers Association, and was instrumental in the passage of the farm brewery license, expects to break ground on the Cazenovia location this month (Aug).

saranacinset2Utica Some breweries may never be able to take advantage of the farm brewery license, which currently requires 20% state-grown ingredients, and as much as 90% after 2023 — they are simply too large. In central New York, one brewery spreads its wing like an eagle over the surrounding territory — the venerable FX Matt Brewing Co.

Founded in Utica in 1888, Matt is into its fourth generation. The brewery has seen the seasons change — from its inception and days of rapid growth around the dawn of the 20th century, to weathering Prohibition, to struggling against national breweries as post-industrial Utica was turning into a backwater, and finally embracing the craft brewing revolution with their Saranac brands. The brewery has continually reinvented itself and with a view to the future is helping fuel a renaissance in Utica.

Their Thursday night summer concert series at the brewery has become legendary and turned Varick Street into a veritable nightlife hotspot. “We finish the concerts at 8 p.m. so you basically have a captive audience of 2,000 people who want to go out somewhere,” said President Nick Matt.

Chris Talgo, who opened his Nail Creek Pub next door to the brewery six years ago, said Matt has been a great neighbor. He also said that a fire that destroyed the brewery’s packaging room five years ago, might have had a silver lining. “I think it enabled them to upgrade a lot of their equipment,” he said.

Notably, Matt has invested a lot in lab equipment including a $100,000 spectrometer to study the beer aging process. One new toy in the brewhouse that Rich Michaels is particular proud of (his title is Quality Innovation Manager) is a horizontal decanter which strips liquid from hops making their whirlpool much more efficient. Another toy is a 2-bbl pilot brewery that Matt took on from Good Nature when they upgraded, although Michaels said, “they wouldn’t recognize it now.” New blood to the brewery comes in the person of Nick Matt Jr. who brings marketing savvy in his return to the family business with his father and uncle, Fred Matt, CEO.

Talgo has been part of the Varick Street renaissance. He says he bought the first part of his current operation for $2,000 seven years ago. While his 3-bbl brewhouse is currently on hiatus, he has found growing success in his increasingly locally-sourced menu. I can attest the chicken, cappicola, red pepper sandwich was fantastic and if you don’t want a side of fries or slaw, you can order a side of Utica Club beer.

ADK-Distilling-05At the other end of Varick Street, past the pubs and pizza places, is Adirondack Distilling Co. Jordan Karp, a former political advisor, has invested in high-end microdistilling of gin, vodka, bourbon and white whisky. His spirits are all distilled from corn, which he says is a “a little more expensive and a little more finicky.” But there are three main reasons why he does so: “One, it’s gluten free; two, the flavor — it makes a slightly sweeter spirit; three, there’s a good local source.”

He will be making a whiskey for Good Nature using their wort. Good Nature will sell it in their tap room.

Indeed, farmer brewers license holders are able to cross-promote selling each other’s beer, wine, ciders and spirits in their shops.

The Craft Act

There’s good news coming from Albany for non-farming craft brewers also. When Gov. Cuomo signs the Craft Act, as he is expected to do, all craft breweries will be able to sell by the pint at their breweries and tap rooms, not just serve samples.

While some are now questioning the advantages of now applying for the farm brewery license. NYBA Director Paul Leone says most who have applied for the license are in it for the opportunity to source locally, not just to sell beer by the pint.

Said Katleski, “Brewers used to be the ugly step-child of the wine industry.

Not any more.”

“This will provide an important revenue source for small breweries,” said Nick Matt. (The Governor’s) just trying to make it easier to do business in the state.”

And that’s a good thing.

– Tony Forder, Ale Street News

Filmmaker Concentrates on Area Hops Growers for Documentary

Leslie Von Pless believes social change is best captured on film.

And one of the faster growing issues she’s latched on to? Hops, and the people who grow them.

“What I think is most important is not only the types of hops and how it’s made, but how it’s contributing to the local economy,” the New York City resident said.

A Central New York transplant – she grew up in Liverpool – Von Pless saw the craft beer movement spreading across the country, but wanted to explore it from its natural roots in New York. She chose several Mohawk Valley farmers for her documentary “Hopped Upstate: Rise of Hop Farming in New York,” which was released at the end of September.

The 15-minute film mostly features Dave Pasick and his wife Kayla of Szaro Farms, who fell into hops growing when they discovered the flower-like cones used to bitter and flavor beer  creeping up the side of a barn on their Schuyler property.

Von Pless filmed the family starting up in the fledgling business of hops growing. In their first year, the Pasicks picked a “measly five pounds” of hops they were then able to send to the F. X. Matt Brewing Co. for part of its Wet Hop IPA.


Governor Cuomo Welcomes 14 Licensed Farm Breweries in New York State

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo today welcomed 14 newly-licensed local farm breweries that have opened as a result of legislation signed by the Governor that took effect in January 2013. The “Farm Brewery” license allows craft brewers that use products grown in New York State to operate in a similar fashion to the state’s farm wineries, leading to increased demand for locally grown farm products as well as expanded economic development and tourism.

Additionally, the Governor announced nearly a 100 percent increase in microbreweries across the state over the past two-plus years. In the first quarter of 2011, there were 51 licensed microbreweries across New York State; today, there are 93.

With the opening of 14 farm breweries since January and a nearly 100 percent increase in our microbreweries, it is clear that New York’s craft beer industry is booming – and this is just the beginning,” Governor Cuomo said. “The State is committed to promoting New York’s exceptional food and beverage producers through our Taste NY initiative and investments in research and development to further grow the industry. Not only do these efforts benefit New York’s craft breweries, but they also help our agricultural sector to flourish. We want New Yorkers and visitors alike to ‘buy local’ and keep coming back for more.”

In July 2012, Governor Cuomo signed legislation to support and strengthen New York’s craft breweries. Under the new law, in order to receive a Farm Brewery license in New York State, the beer must be made primarily from locally grown farm products. Until the end of 2018, at least 20% of the hops and 20% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State. From January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2023, no less than 60% of the hops and 60% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State. After January 1, 2024, no less than 90% of the hops and 90% of all other ingredients must be grown or produced in New York State. The beer manufactured under these guidelines would be designated as “New York State labeled beer.” The legislation was modeled after the 1976 “Farm Winery Act,” which spurred the growth of wine production in this state, including the creation of 261 farm wineries and tripling the number of wineries.

Under the farm brewery license, brewers do not need an additional permit to serve beer by the glass, which has the highest return for brewers in terms of sales. Farm brewers can also make cider and serve that cider by the glass. They are allowed to have five branch offices, where they can sell their products and other New York State labeled beer, wine, and liquor, in addition to having tasting rooms, retail shops and restaurants

There are currently 14 licensed farm breweries in New York State, which use 20 percent of local products in their blends, with more than a dozen more applications currently in the pipeline. These include:

  • Good Nature Brewing (Hamilton)
  • The Beer Diviner (Stephentown)
  • Rooster Fish Brewing (Watkins Glen)
  • Climbing Bines Hop Farm (Penn Yan)
  • Hopshire Farm and Brewery (Freeville)
  • Fairport Brewing Company (Fairport)
  • Brown’s Brewing Co. (Troy)
  • Abandon Brewing Company (Penn Yan)
  • Hamburg Brewing Company (Hamburg)
  • Erie Canal Brewing Company (Canastota)
  • Henneberg Brewing Company (Cazenovia)
  • Long Ireland Beer Company (Riverhead)
  • Honey Hollow Brewery (Earlton)

The farm brewery legislation is also helping to grow the state’s agricultural sector. This year’s hops acreage is currently at about 140, which is double the amount of last year’s number of acres. Growers have already invested more than $2 million in hops production over the last two years. When investments in tractors, buildings, harvesters and malt houses are factored in, this investment is much higher.

The current state budget includes $40,000 for the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva to establish an acre of disease-free certified hop varieties that are of particular interest to the New York hop industry. The hop varieties were certified as part of the USDA National Clean Plant Network Program. Research is being conducted at the Station to determine how well the hop varieties perform and what practices need to be implemented to control major diseases and pests that can threaten hop production in New York. The planting will provide opportunities for faculty and hop growers to interact in research that will be essential for the growth and prosperity of the industry.

In addition, more than $117,000 in Consolidated Funding Application dollars is helping New York Craft Malt in Batavia purchase equipment and machinery. New York Craft Malt will use locally-grown, malt grade barley at the facility.

Dean Norton, president of New York Farm Bureau, said, “New York Farm Bureau has always been a strong supporter of increasing opportunities for our farmer members. The opportunity created by the new farm category of licenses – either winery, distilleries, cideries or breweries – has created new possibilities for growth. I’ve seen firsthand the excitement of our farmers when their kids return to the farm and embrace the beverage sector, by planting relatively newer crops like hops, malting barley varieties, and of course, new varieties of grapes. We’re pleased to have worked with Governor Cuomo and the Legislature to create these new opportunities and look forward to tasting more New York products.”

Paul Leone, executive director of New York State Brewers Association, said, “With more hops and malted barley being planted every year, more and more breweries will have the opportunity to qualify for a farm brewery license and take advantage of this legislation signed by Governor Cuomo. The growth of our industry is huge – at the rate we’re going, we could possibly see over 200 breweries across New York State by the end of 2014. I thank the Governor and the state’s lawmakers for their continued support of our industry.”

Garry Sperrick, owner of Abandon Brewing Co. in Penn Yan, said, “We received our Farm Brewery license at the end of July and just opened our tap room on September 28. By late afternoon our parking lot was full. We’re already developing a loyal grassroots following. We’ve also been active in sampling under the ‘Taste NY’ initiative, which has helped our business get some great exposure outside of Penn Yan. In addition to hops, our farm grows grapes and apples, which we plan to convert into cider and beer flavors. The farm brewery license is great for our business and is helping local agriculture expand as well.”

Jonathan Post, owner of The Beer Diviner in Stephentown, said, “Our tap room has been open in Stephentown since early summer. I’ve been a one man operation since last year and thanks to the Farm Brewery license I plan to hire an additional worker to help me with bottling and distribution. The farm brewery license also helps me diversify my brews with home grown New York State products, which in turn tell their own story in every glass. My coffee oatmeal stout has won a bronze medal for best beer in the Hudson Valley and we have a number of other beers to choose from. I appreciate the state’s support for my business.”

Greg Stacy, vice president of sales and marketing for Brown’s Brewing Co. in Troy and Hoosick Falls, said, “Brown’s has been brewing its own hops and working with other hops farmers for a number of years now. The Farm Brewery License helps us be a visible participant in the ‘buy local’ movement. We are pleased to partner with the state on this initiative, which is still in its infancy. We’re a local New York company and we’re excited about the great promise that this industry has to offer.”

The Governor created an online “one stop shop” to provide New York’s wine, beer and spirits producers with a single point of government contact for assistance regarding regulations, licensing, state incentives and any other questions facing the industry.

VIDEO: Hopped Upstate – The Rise of Hop Farming in New York

HOPPED UPSTATE: Rise of Hop Farming in New York from WAKE Multimedia on Vimeo.

Dave Pasick is starting a hops yard on his family farm in Utica, N.Y. Located right in the middle of the Mohawk Valley’s former hops belt, Dave found wild hops growing around the old barn and silo on his land.

After transplanting them to a homemade trellis, he was able to successfully grow new hops last summer. His first harvest was used to make a wet hop IPA for F.X. Matt Brewing Co./Saranac.

Craft beer is booming across the country. New York itself ranks in the top three states with the fastest growing craft beer industry. It’s been called a “bright spot” in the state’s economy and the rapid growth is welcomed in many areas of upstate New York.

In 2012, the state Legislature passed the Farm Brewery Act, which includes tax incentives and other benefits to give financial relief to burgeoning breweries. The legislation requires that 20 percent of ingredients used by breweries must come from New York state farms, and that will increase eventually to 90 percent.

Dave and other farmers are hoping that by incentivizing local hops and barley production, it will create a new market for the products needed by local craft breweries.

During the first year that the Farm Brewery Act is in effect, Dave plans to expand his hop yard in hopes for not only a larger harvest this season, but to be a part of a budding economic movement in his rural hometown.

Created by:
Leslie Von Pless

Vegabond Motel by Chris Molitor
Pay It Forward by Olive Musique
Room With A View by Jahzzar

VIDEO: Hopped Upstate

WAKE Multimedia‘s series on the revival of upstate New York hop growing continues. View the two latest chapters, “From the Ground Up” and “A New Crop” (featuring shots from Middle Ages Brewing Co.) below …

Hopped Upstate: From the Ground Up from WAKE Multimedia on Vimeo.

Dave Pasick of Szaro Farms in Utica, N.Y., has been working to expand his hop yard for the last several months. After an attempt to raise money on Kickstarter didn’t work out for him, he’s been researching other opportunities for funding. Dave, like many new hop farmers across the state, is starting from scratch and building his hop yard from the ground up. Hops are a new crop and new industry in NYS, but despite the challenges, he feels confident in the backing by the state and the resources that are becoming available for farmers and brewers.

Hopped Upstate: A New Crop from WAKE Multimedia on Vimeo.

In the last decade, craft beer has boomed in New York and, as a result, so has a brand new hops industry. Its a new crop for most of the farmers building hop yards and there’s a lot of room for growth. Steve Miller, state hops specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension says that the biggest challenge standing in front of a maturing hops industry is lack of knowledge by beginner hop farmers. He works with CCE, the Northeast Hop Alliance, and the Geneva Experiment Station to do research on growing NYS native hops – and most importantly, getting that information to the farmers.

New Farm Brewery Coming to Cazenovia

What started as a passion for home-brewing beer seven years ago is taking shape as the first farm brewery to be created in the Cazenovia area this year.

John and Maria Henneberg, owners of the Henneberg Tavern on Albany Street, are in the process of creating a micro-brewery called Henneberg Brewing Co. on their 97-acre farm in New Woodstock. The new brewing enterprise will be one with a smaller, more local scale of production versus the upcoming Empire Brewing Company farmstead brewery on Route 13 — and one less likely to cause controversy.

The Hennebergs will not only brew their beer at the new farm brewery, but they are already growing and processing hops and grains on their farm with an ultimate goal of growing 100 percent of their raw brewing materials within eight-to-10 years.

“This has always been a dream, but I never thought it was a real dream,” said John Henneberg, whose home brews were so well-made that he had a waiting list of family and friends wanting his product. About five years ago he began pushing himself to make better brews and see if his beer could be produced and sold on a bigger scale. With the opening of the Henneberg Tavern in Cazenovia last year, the idea to make and sell on tap Henneberg Brewing Co. beers at the tavern seemed even more possible.

Henneberg currently has a few acres of hops and barley planted and growing on his New Woodstock farm, which will continue to “fill out” for another four to five years, and ultimately he plans to change about 30 acres currently planted with alfalfa to barley fields, he said.

“I hope to be the only brewery in the area to grow and brew our own beer — actually I think we’ll be in the only one in New York state. As of last year, there were none,” Henneberg said.


Something Brewing

New York State has been part of the craft beer revolution, with many successful microbreweries now keeping the public happy. Home-brewing has also become a passionate hobby for many. Along with these developments is a return to hop farming, once prevalent in upstate New York.

In the latter half of the 19thcentury and into the 20th century, hop farming helped shaped the economy and social life of Sharon Springs and neighboring communities.

By the Middle Ages, hops were the most widely used flavoring and stabilizer for beer making in Europe, having replaced a wide variety of herbs and flowers. The hop plant (Humulus lupulus) was reportedly introduced to America in about 1630. In the 18th century, with the growing number of German settlers in upstate New York, beer making became common along with a need for more and more hops.

Farmers grew a variety of strains for their special attributes. By the mid-19th century, New York State had attained the national leadership in the production of hops, with Otsego, Schoharie, Montgomery, Oneida, Madison and Chenango Counties having the most productive hop farms – the so-called hop belt.

Many year-round residents of Sharon Springs grew hops along with their other crops. Successful businessmen including urban brewers, who frequented Sharon Springs for its spas, also invested in regional hop farming.

To create a new hopyard cuttings were planted in small hills along rows about six feet apart. By the second spring hop poles – typically 12 feet high and of cedar – were needed to support the rapidly growing vines or bines (the flexible twining stems). By midsummer, the hop yard resembled a small forest with tall plants. Clusters of green cones containing the female buds grew at the top of the plants. Toward the end of summer, the buds were harvested by cutting the bines, lowering the poles, and plucking the buds over large boxes.

Pickers, many of them migrant workers from Albany or New York City, sang songs during the arduous task, some of the songs having originated among the hop pickers of England. The boxes were then used to carry the buds to hop barns (also called hop houses and hop kilns) for drying over charcoal fires.

The price of hops, set in New York City, varied significantly, ranging from about 10 cents to a dollar a pound. Since the cost of raising a crop was about 8 to 12 cents per pound, the risk was great but so was the potential of a big payoff.

In 1889, The New York Sun reported a “mania” for hop farming. The railroad played an important part in the hop business. Some of the pickers were brought in by train; hop poles were shipped in; and some of the bales of dried buds were shipped out.

On Chestnut Street in Sharon Springs, opposite the D&H depot (see our earlier blog “All Aboard!”) – the Hop Exchange Hotel (later known as the Pratt) became a commercial and social center for the hop culture. Out-of-towners during harvest time included the well-to-do frequenting spas as well as the hard-partying pickers with their songs and dances.

Hop farming in upstate New York declined rapidly over the ensuing decades. Repeated growing in the same hopyards depleted the soil, contributing to the plant’s lowered resistance to disease and insects. In 1909, a blight – the downy mildew Sphaerotheca humuli, popularly known as blue mold – attacked the hop crops. In 1914, an attack of aphids further reduced hop yields.

Meanwhile, hop farms out west offered stiff competition; Oregon, California and Washington  took the lead in hop sales. Prohibition, beginning in 1920, eliminated much of the need for hops. Dairy farming and farming corn, grain, and potatoes again took the lead. Hop farming virtually disappeared from Schoharie County and the other counties where it once thrived. But some enterprising farmers are at it again. Wish them luck while you enjoy locally brewed craft beers.

The History Boys are

Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.

Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) andEncyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.

Hopped Upstate: A Rising Tide

This is the third video from Hopped Upstate and the second update from Dave and Kayla Pasick of Szaro Farms in Utica. I visited Dave in May while he was finishing up a new row of poles and transplanting new wild hop plants from the barn and silo on his land. At that time, he was already seeing tremendous growth in the bines and by now, they’re probably towering.

Earlier this year, Dave set up a Kickstarter campaign in an attempt to crowd source some funding to help expand his hop yard. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to reach his goal (meaning he received none of the money pledged), and felt that maybe the timing had something to do with it.

Now half way into the first year of New York’s Farm Brewery Law, we’re seeing a rising tide of media attention around craft beer, hop farming, malting, etc. Dave was interviewed in April by Innovation Trail radio, and before that by the Utica Observer-Dispatch. He feels extremely encouraged by the continuing hype and thinks it’s the best way for people to get informed about the business and farm networks developing in their local communities.

Watch the latest video below and learn more about Hopped Upstate here.

Hopped Upstate: A Rising Tide from WAKE Multimedia on Vimeo.