Posted on 05 April 2012.
HOST: Business is booming for New York’s breweries, and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed to give it a further boost. He wants a new liquor license for brewers who use largely state-grown ingredients. It comes with a host of incentives. Leanna Orr checked in with the brewmasters at Kelso Brewery in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.
SOUND: Bring up brewery ambi under narration
LEANNA ORR: The first things that you notice walking in is the smell. The garage doors at the front of the brewery are rolled up, and malty, grainy steam wafts out. The brewers are all young, bearded guys in worn band t-shirts.
JOHN CHAPMAN: We’ve got just like, it looks almost like oatmeal coming out of the side of the stainless-steel mash tun.
ORR: Brewer John Chapman rakes the steaming mass from a stainless steel tank into an enormous plastic bucket.
CHAPMAN: Right now, this is the first stage of making beer. It’s called the mash, basically what we’re doing is extracting all the sugars from this grain that will be fermented, and become beer.
ORR: Cornhusker lager, to be precise. The mash Chapman’s raking is made of barley grown in the Midwest, so this beer wouldn’t qualify under Cuomo’s proposed license. To meet the standard, Forty percent of the barley and yeast have to come from New York, and twenty percent of the hops. Kelso Brewery wouldn’t make the cut.
Head Brewer Sam Richardson is tossing burlap sacks of malted barley off a cart and into a growing pile.
SOUND: Bring bags tossed into a pile up, 1 second fade down
SAM RICHARDSON: At this point there just isn’t a lot of local ingredients, so it would be pretty hard to meet those requirements. The only local malting company doesn’t even produce enough malt for one brewery. And they’re in Massachusetts, so I don’t know if that even counts.
ORR: It doesn’t. And the sacks Richardson just unloaded come from even farther afield than Massachusetts.
RICHARDSON: The UK, Germany, this one’s from Minnesota
ORR: Cart empty, he rolls off for another load.
SOUND: Malt cart rolling, fade up 2 seconds and under
ORR: Right now, Kelso couldn’t come close to using enough local ingredients to qualify for the proposed Farm Brewery license. But Cuomo’s legislation aims to encourage agricultural production of the malts and hops they’re looking for. The bill does this by allowing small farmers to become small brewers. It’s modeled after New York’s hugely successful Farm Winery license, which cut the red tape between growing grapes and selling wine. Farmers can sell their grapes, make their own wine to retail, or both. Either way, less red tape means greater profits and more incentive for farmers to produce grapes, barley and hops. Julie Suarez is the director of public policy at the New York State Farm Bureau. She thinks the Farm Brewery bill will be just as successful.
SUAREZ: We really do anticipate that this license category, similar to the Farm Distillery license category and farm winery license category, will really help spur some nice connections between our farmers and added value production.
ORR: Bottom line: Farmers make a lot more money on alcohol than grain.
SUAREZ: It’s the fact that consumers are willing to pay a lot more for alcohol than they will for the raw agricultural product.
ORR: Her office has been lobbying for this kind of legislation for several years, and she says it has a good chance of getting through. Here’s how it works: any brewery using the required amount of local ingredients can qualify for a Farm Brewery license, even if they’re like Kelso, and not located on a farm. With this license breweries can open bars and restaurants, run tastings and retail straight to customers without jumping the usual bureaucratic hoops involved in selling alcohol. There are no tax breaks, but it alleviates a tax filing requirement—something any small business owner would welcome.
Kelso’s Brewmaster Kelly Taylor says the biggest difference for him would be in reaching his target market: locavores
TAYLOR: It would allow us to promote our products in farmers markets, kind of like how local wineries do.
ORR: The state legislature should make a decision on the bill in the next two months. At the moment, though, there’s plenty of demand for homegrown ingredients right here in New York, and not much supply. That’s not slowing down Kelso though. Shiny aluminum kegs are stacked on pallets and on their way out. They’re brimming with the juices of British hops and Midwestern malt.
SOUND: Warm under forklift backing up and loading
ORR: As the forklift heads to loading dock, one keg makes a bid for freedom.
SOUND: Keg falling off forklift
ORR: Even filled with foreign grains, it seems to have made itself at home.
Leanna Orr, Columbia Radio News.