The scent of hops was still fresh on us—after a beer-toasting whirlwind from Greenpoint to Riverhead, plus a sampling of just-made wet-hopped beers–when we arrived at the Brooklyn Brewery. Little did we know this would be the ultimate Oktoberfest party, a giddy soirée from the Governor’s office to celebrate the stupendous growth in Empire State beer making.
The invite-only happening was put on by Taste NY, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently launched market-boosting campaign that includes pop-up tasting events around the state (including the PGA Championship in Rochester and FarmAid in Saratoga Springs, where local beer sold out early), TV and online advertising (including this recent East End getaways campaign featuring Tom Colicchio and a list of bold-faced food names), and b-2-b get-togethers like the brewery event designed to get New York food and drink producers an audience with big food and drink buyers throughout the state.
So, arranged around the brewery tasting room were nearly two dozen breweries from around the state, including a handful launched in the last year alone. We counted nearly 15 beers in the room that were either “wet-hopped” or otherwise used New York grown hops, from Chelsea Brewing’s Statue of Liberty emblazoned “New York State of Mind” pour to Brooklyn Brewery’s Greenmarket wheat. New favorites also included the Eight Legged RyePA from Spider Bite, Great South Bay Brewery’s Blood Orange Pale Ale, the first glimpse of Brooklyn-canned pilsners from Kelso of Brooklyn, and Adirondack Brewery’s Maple Porter (with Empire State syrup, of course).
“Drink, eat, get to know each other. And sell,” said Pat Hooker, the deputy advisor for agriculture and markets in the Governor’s office. The crowd, which included beer buyers from the Barclay’s Center, Madison Square Garden, Delta Airlines and several large restaurants groups–was visibly pumped by the industry’s recent growth. Since the Governor took office in 2011, there’s been a 74% growth in breweries (there are now 145 statewide), 83% growth in cideries and 400% growth in local hop production. “This is the first administration that is actually listening,” said Dave Katleski, head of the New York State Brewers Association and also founder of Empire State Brewing. Among the Governor’s efforts on this front is the much-lauded one-stop-shop that helps cut through draconian approvals for farm-based booze-makers, as well as the recent farm brewery and farm cidery acts. Based on the ground-breaking farm winery act which helped launch the New York wine industry in the 1970s, the new law gives financial incentives and paperwork relief to breweries that use a majority of local ingredients.
The Governor’s been on a local-food-and-drink rampage lately. The day after the Oktoberfest event, word broke of a radical shift in wine selling laws that will allow the sale of local wines at roadside farm markets throughout the State: a boon to both farmstand business and nearby wineries. As Jim Tresize, head of the New York Wine and Grape Foundation explains, roadside shoppers can now supplement their corn, tomatoes and lettuce with “the divine juice of September.”
Honored at the brewery event was Nick Matt, part of the family that started F.X. Matt Brewing Company in Utica that makes Saranac. Matt shared another Governor success story, noting that at last year’s New York State fair he was baffled by the overwhelming presence of beers from Colorado (Coors Light), Canada (Labatt Blue) and Pennsylvania (YingLing). “And I didn’t understand why New York State beer wasn’t featured at the New York State fair. And I brought this up with the Governor.” This year, in contrast, the fair had a special incentive to get all vendors to carry New York State craft beer. “Saranac was at almost every stand and our sales were up at the fair by 50%.” We’ll drink to that.