In January 2013, a newly-instituted Farm Brewing Licence required that all beer brewed in New York’s breweries had to ensure that 20 per cent of the ingredients used were grown locally. ‘In return,’ explains Paul Leone, executive director at the New York State Brewers Association, ‘the breweries received many benefits other breweries don’t, such as the ability to open five satellite locations and to sell other NYS farm beverages like wine, spirits and cider in their tap rooms.’
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo also supported the industry, adding incentives and tax reductions to help people get started in the industry. ‘The bottom line is, the brewing industry creates jobs and revenue for the state and has an overall economic impact of 3.5 billion dollars,’ says Leone. The net result? A massive upswing in the amount of breweries opening across the state in recent years, far outstripping the national average. In fact, 57 per cent of the regions breweries are less than five years old.
Youth isn’t everything of course. Saranac Brewery (pictured below) in Utica belongs to the Matt Brewing Company and was founded in 1888. It’s a family firm now run by the Matt family’s fifth and sixth generations and is the second oldest family-run brewery in the US. ‘They have seen the best and worst of the brewing industry,’ says Leone, ‘but everything changed for them in the 80s when they rebranded to become Saranac, and began brewing higher-end craft beers.’ The very first Saranac product won a medal at the Great American Beer Festival and the Saranac line of beers has taken off ever since.
Saranac also brews ale aged in 125-year-old scotch barrels imported from Scotland.
Another effect of the boom in breweries are the raft of new beer festivals that have appeared across the state, such as the Craft New York Brewers ROOTS Festival or ‘Belgium Comes to Cooperstown’ – a two-day festival held at Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown every summer.
This article was published in the May 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine