New beer license brings farmers, brewers together

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Ireland Brewery co-owner Greg Martin (center) harvests hop cones with assistant brewers Liam Hudcock (left) and Fred Keller at Condzella Farm in Wading River last year. Long Ireland is one of a few local breweries to spring for a farm brewery license, which requires a specific amount of local ingredients to be used each year.

If you build it, said the voice in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” they will come.

Such is the state’s hope as a growing New York beer industry builds itself up. Now, the state is also trying to spur interest in growing products – namely, hops and barley — to create a truly local beer.

And so far, a few local breweries have ordered up one of the state’s new farm brewery licenses, created last year by legislators to promote local hops and barley cultivation— and one more plans to do so soon.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the first round of farm brewery licensees last week, noting that Riverhead’s Long Ireland Beer Co. was among the first 14 in the state to be granted the new classification. Distinct from microbreweries, farm breweries are expected to use a certain percentage of New York State-grown ingredients each year, with thresholds for each key ingredient, excluding water, increasing from 20 percent to 90 percent over the next 10 years. In return, their beer earns the label of New York State-made product, and breweries are eligible for incentives such as the ability to sell pints of beer for consumption on premises and exemptions from certain state fees and tax filing requirements.

Greg Martin, Long Ireland co-owner, said the Pulaski Street brewery obtained its new license several weeks ago. And while the incentives to use New York State-grown hops and barley may prove beneficial, he and others say working enough local ingredients into their brews is posing some difficulties.

“It’s a little challenging now,” said Mr. Martin, who opened Long Ireland in 2010 along with partner Dan Burke. “We’re trying to lock in suppliers so we can hit our compliance rate, but we’re getting a lot of people who are saying, ‘We’re out of product for the season.’ ”

While much has been written recently about the increase in hops production on the East End, barley — one of the other main ingredients in beer — remains less attractive to growers.

“I don’t think if we bought all the barley in New York State that would be enough to support us,” Mr. Martin said.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Long Ireland brewmaster and co-owner Dan Burke brewing in Riverhead.

David Katleski, president of the New York State’s Brewer’s Association, said a task force led by the state’s deputy commissioner of agriculture and markets has said that sustaining the state’s farm brewery industry would require 30,000 acres a year of pale two-row barley, a base grain used in many beers. He estimates that less than 1,000 acres of barley are grown currently in New York State.

Dale Moyer, agriculture program director at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said that barley could be grown on Long Island — it would take to the soil and climate just fine — but would be expensive. “With the cost of land on Long Island, it doesn’t lend itself very well to growing grains,” he said, adding that grain takes up a relatively large amount of space compared to other crops. Getting brewers to pay more for the homegrown product, he noted, might be difficult and could help explain why barley isn’t being grown locally.

The high cost of land has John Condzella — a Wading River hops farmer who purchased a $27,000 hops processor earlier this year — wondering how much more investment would really be worth it. Mr. Condzella is doubling the size of his one-acre farm in the coming year, but if he knew that New York State-grown hops would be worth the effort, increasing the farm 20-fold instead of twofold wouldn’t be out of the question.

It’s difficult to balance the economic needs of start-up breweries with those of hops and barley growers, and that challenge could lead to changes in the law.

“It’s certainly aggressive,” said Rich Vandenburgh, co-owner of Greenport Harbor Brewing Company, and a member of the New York Brewers’ Association board of directors, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised to see the thresholds required to maintain a farm brewery license adjusted or increased more slowly over a longer period.

But, Mr. Katleski said, “the state recognizes that brewers won’t be able to fulfill their obligations unless local ingredients are readily available … and [the state] won’t hold their feet to the fire if supply can’t meet demand.”

Mr. Katleski, owner of Empire Brewing in Syracuse and a member of the task force looking into the future of craft beer in New York, said that pelletizing hops — which increases their efficiency for brewers and makes the ingredient more marketable — is currently a solution that’s being explored to make the investment in hops growing more worthwhile. And creating either multiple small malting facilities for processing barley or one large centralized location is another possibility the task force is exploring.

“This forces the hands of farmers and everybody else to step up and make it happen,” Mr. Katleski said.

Gov. Cuomo’s office said that over $2 million has been invested statewide in hops production over the past couple of years, including the hiring of a full-time hops specialist, who recently made a trip to Wading River and met with 20 to 30 people interested in growing hops.

And while work remains to be done on the supply side of locally grown ingredients, not all brewers say they won’t be able to meet the initial 20 percent threshold. Moustache Brewing Co., expected to open soon in Riverhead, will be a much smaller operation than Greenport Harbor or Long Ireland. Co-owner Lauri Spitz said she and her husband, Matt, will be able to find enough locally grown grains to hit the 20 percent mark, and some of the perks that come with the new license stood out as they were filing their initial paperwork.

The same goes for Duffy Griffiths, co-owner of Crooked Ladder Brewing Company, which just opened in downtown Riverhead. Mr. Griffiths said that while his brewery is currently classified as a microbrewery, he and partners David and Steven Wirth, after reviewing the pros and cons, will likely apply for the new license soon.

“The tax incentives are a lot better and we try to buy local anyway,” Mr. Griffiths said. “So now, hopefully, we can create more of a market for them local growers, and this is an incentive for them to take care of it.”

[email protected]