By: R.J. Anderson
Home to more craft breweries and cideries than you can shake a pint glass at, the Finger Lakes region continues to entice new craft beverage consumers and producers. Recognizing the value and continued potential of these growing industries, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) and its educators have joined forces with industry leaders to provide research-based resources for the area’s current and future brewers, malters and grain growers.
Those collaborations were most recently on display at the second annual Finger Lakes Craft Beverage Conference hosted by CCE of Seneca County April 1 and 2 in Seneca Falls, New York.
Featuring research from CCE regional agriculture program specialists as well as real-world advice from current producers, attendees learned about avoiding potential pitfalls. From hop-growing basics and cidery set up, legal advice and supply chain analysis, there was a depth and breadth of learning opportunities.
“This event is important because it is the only craft beverage event in the state that covers such a wide range of topics – especially the legal and business-related topics,” said event organizer Derek Simmonds, CCE Seneca’s agriculture economic development specialist. “It also serves as a great networking event.”
Noel McCarthy, a home brewer and cabinet maker opening a malt house north of Syracuse next year, said the conference was a great way to immerse himself in the craft beverage industry. “I heard from brewers, grain growers, educators and all kinds of other people in the industry about trends and best practices they see across the state,” he said. “It’s given me a better sense of how everything fits together.”
McCarthy pointed to research-driven sessions, such as Elizabeth Newbold’s presentation on brewery supply chain analysis, as being especially useful. Newbold, a food distribution and marketing specialist with CCE’s Harvest New York regional agriculture team, surveyed New York’s brewers to gauge demand for locally produced ingredients as well as their interest in promoting the use of those products through a statewide branding and labeling program. In both cases, Newbold said the data indicated brewers believed consumers are willing to pay the premium prices that accompany products containing local ingredients, which cost more to grow than crops that are mass produced in states such as Oregon and Washington.
The brewers’ willingness to invest in local ingredients is partly tethered to the 2012 farm brewery law, which provides tax and fee cuts while easing some regulations for brewers who use New York state-grown or produced ingredients. With the laws escalating requirements for inclusion of New York ingredients – at least 90 percent of a product’s hops and other grains will have to be New York-grown by 2019 – the demand for locally produced hops and barley will only increase. That’s good news for current and future growers like McCarthy.
“Hearing the brewers’ responses in Elizabeth Newbold’s survey really justified my reasons for pursuing the malt house,” McCarthy said. “It’s an exciting time to be sure.”
Along with research and shared expertise, the conference promoted a collaborative culture between presenters and attendees, novice and expert alike. Brewers, malters and growers as well as scientists and educators could be found sitting side-by-side trading stories, sharing advice and networking.
“That was probably my favorite part,” said McCarthy. “Some of those people might be my customers one day. Events like this help reveal that the pieces are indeed coming together for my business and for other like-minded folks attracted to these great industries.”
R.J. Anderson is a communications specialist/staff writer for Cornell Cooperative Extension