Cuomo touts boost to NY distillers

Bottoms up, New York.

Not only does the state – and Long Island in particular – house a growing craft-beer scene, but liquor-, cider- and wine-producing distilleries are also pouring in, thanks in no small part to cost-savings policies implemented specifically to help these spirits-makers thrive.

Policy changes since 2012 have saved New York distillers over $450,000 in labeling and licensing fees, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, and helped increase the number of statewide distilleries from 10 in 2011 to 78 today.

The number of distilleries grew by 16 in the last year alone, the governor said, including the debut of vodka-producing Sagaponack Farm Distillery (formerly Sagaponack Spirits) in Southampton.

A quick chemistry lesson: Distillation is the process of separating components in a liquid mixture by selective evaporation and condensation. Distillation of fermented products – wherein carbohydrates have already been converted to alcohols, carbon dioxide or organic acids using yeasts or bacteria – produces beverages with high alcohol contents, including cider and liquor.

According to Cuomo, many of the policies spurring New York distilleries were implemented after he hosted the state’s first summit for wine, beer, spirits and cider producers in 2012. The first of those regulatory and legislative reforms came at that inaugural confab, where the governor eliminated a requirement that farm distilleries obtain a special permit from the state in addition to a liquor license. That saved farm distillers over $30,000, according to Cuomo.

Another plus for distillers came in December 2013, when Cuomo exempted smaller batches of spirits – annually, less than 1,500 barrels of cider and 1,000 gallons of other distilled spirits – from branding-label fees. The state has subsequently approved nearly 1,700 no-fee brand labels produced by craft distilleries, saving farm distillers over $420,000.

The governor has also ended the State Liquor Authority’s longstanding prohibition against issuing multiple license at the same location, allowing 23 distilleries to obtain multiple liquor licenses – meaning a farm that wants to produce whiskey from local grain and also produce rum from imported molasses no longer needs to build separate distilleries.

“The incredible increase in the number of farm distillers these last few years is a testament to our efforts to lower costs, cut red tape and make it easier for these producers to open and grow,” Cuomo said in a statement, citing statewide benefits including increased tax revenue, job opportunities and produce demand, as well as a tourism boost.

State Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley said the legislative reforms have capitalized on the “growth potential of New York’s small craft producers.”

“By enacting innovative changes to the state’s liquor laws, policies and regulations … this administration has significantly reduced both startup and operating costs for manufacturers, creating jobs in our communities and new markets for local farm products,” Bradley said.

Brian McKenzie, president of the New York State Distillers Guild, cited “a total transformation in our relationship with state government agencies.”

“It’s refreshing to do business in an environment where the state recognizes our contributions to the economy,” McKenzie said. “The regulatory and legislative changes that have occurred over the past four years have helped our industry flourish.”