New Legislation Would Overhaul State’s Blue Laws, Consolidate Licensing and Ease Regulatory Requirements for Wineries, Breweries, Distilleries and Cideries in NYS
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that he is advancing legislation to modernize New York’s 80-year-old Alcoholic Beverage Control Law. The legislation is a direct result of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law Working Group, a blue ribbon panel created by Governor Cuomo in November 2015 tasked with developing recommendations to modernize the laws governing the manufacturing, wholesale and retail of alcoholic beverages in New York State. The Governor announced the changes at a ribbon cutting ceremony at Three Heads Brewing in Rochester – the region’s newest craft beer destination.
“New York’s investments in the craft beverage industry have driven growth, created hundreds of jobs and unleashed a new optimism and energy amongst wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries across the state,” Governor Cuomo said. “This new legislation will build on that progress by modernizing the state’s Blue Laws, cutting through the red tape and removing artificial barriers to growth. The grand opening of Three Head’s Brewery in Rochester is a testament to our continued success, and I look forward to working together to keep the momentum moving forward in the years ahead.”
The new legislation builds on the progress made by the Governor over the past five years, including enacting the Craft New York Act, to cut burdensome requirements on producers and ease restrictions regarding the marketing of craft products. Since 2011, the state has implemented a number of significant reforms and expanded programs to grow the craft beverage industry, including creating new farm-based manufacturing licenses, launching a $60 million statewide promotional campaign and hosting wine, beer and spirits summits across the state.
The success of New York’s investments in the craft beverage industry can be seen from the Finger Lakes to the Capital Region, with the number of microbreweries in New York increasing 248 percent since 2010. The grand-opening of Three Heads Brewing in Rochester, NY, is further proof of that growth – with the brewery expected to begin full operations next week and hire an additional 15 new employees. The $4 million project includes a 15,000 square foot space for brewing, a 30-barrel fermenter to allow Three Heads Brewing to offer different seasonal and one-off beers every three weeks in the 2,100 square foot tasting room.
The Governor’s new legislation will ensure the craft beverage industry in New York continues to thrive by modernizing the state’s Blue Laws, consolidating licensing and reducing burdensome fees for wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries statewide. The legislation would amend ABC Law to include the following:
- Expand Sunday Sales: The Alcoholic Beverage Control Law includes provisions strictly prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages at on-premises establishments (restaurants, bars, taverns) before noon on Sunday. The Governor’s legislation would create a permit to allow these licenses to serve between the hours of 8am and noon on Sunday.
- Modernize the Licensing Process: The ABC Law contains provisions, known as the “Two Hundred Foot Law,” prohibiting full liquor licenses to locations within two hundred feet of a building that is exclusively used as a school or place of worship. There have been numerous examples where the local municipality, school or place or worship has not opposed, and in many cases supported, the approval of an application only to see the business denied because of the Two Hundred Foot Law. The law was first enacted in 1892 and included in statute when it was adopted in 1934, and strictly prohibits the SLA from issuing a license to a facility in that vicinity. The Governor’s legislation would provide the SLA with discretion to consider license applications for restaurants that fall within the Two Hundred Foot Law, provided the local municipality, in addition to the school or place of worship, are provided prior notice and an opportunity to be heard on the application.
- Reduce Paperwork for Craft Manufacturers: At the 2012 Wine, Beer and Spirits Summit, Governor Cuomo ended the State Liquor Authority’s policy prohibiting multiple manufacturing licenses at the same location, recognizing the additional burdens this placed, for example, on a small winery that wanted to also make whiskey – including building a separate facility. However, businesses holding multiple licenses must still file paperwork and renewals for each separate license. The Governor’s legislation would combine craft manufacturing licenses into one application to reduce burdensome paperwork for these small businesses.
- Authorize the Sale of Wine in Growlers: Current law requires that wine sold at retail for off-premises consumption be kept in their original sealed containers, and consequently, New York wineries are prohibited from filling growlers. This prohibition unduly burdens wineries that can open a container to sell wine for on-premises consumption, or can sell wine for off-premises consumption, but cannot fill a growler to be taken away from the winery. The Governor’s legislation would enact a common sense change to the law to allow wineries to fill their customer’s growlers. In addition, the Governor’s legislation would authorize wineries and farm wineries to allow customers to take home partially finished bottles of wine.
- Reduce Fees for Craft Beverage Salespeople: The ABC Law currently requires that any salesperson or solicitor employed by a manufacturer or wholesaler must obtain a solicitor’s permit in addition to a bond. Recognizing the financial hardship imposed by these unnecessary additional fees, the Governor’s legislation would reduce the fee for a solicitor’s permit and eliminate the bond requirement.
- Reduced Fees for Small Wholesalers: The primary business of most alcohol beverage wholesalers is selling their products to licensed retailers, such as bars, restaurants and liquor stores. However, there are currently a number of small wholesalers in New York that sell limited number of brands they import directly to large wholesalers for distribution to retailers. Under the current law, these small wholesalers must pay the same amount for their license as their larger counterparts, with costs ranging from $1,460 for a one year beer license to $27,280 for a three year liquor wholesale license. This financial burden often requires these small businesses to make a choice between continuing to hold a New York wholesale license or to relocate their business outside of New York. The Governor’s legislation would amend the ABC Law to create a low-cost “importer’s license” that would be available to wholesalers that sell only to other wholesalers.
By fueling opportunity for small businesses across the state, this legislation will ensure the state’s beverage producers continue to excel in the years ahead. New York is now home to nearly 900 wineries, breweries, distilleries and cideries. The number of craft beverage producers in New York has more than doubled from 2011. Since 2015, 177 new manufacturing licenses have been issued, including fifteen new cidery licenses, forty-two distilleries, twenty-nine winery licenses and ninety-one new brewery licenses. Combined with distribution and retail, producers account for more than $27 billion in economic impact and support tens of thousands of jobs statewide.
New York State Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley said, “This legislation is another example of efforts to make the state a better place to do business by bringing the industry and state leaders together to openly discuss issues and develop solutions. The legislation advancing will make common sense changes to modernize the state’s liquor laws, so these businesses can continue to create jobs, generate new economic development and drive tourism throughout New York.”
“Rochester’s rebirth is in full swing and it is being driven in large part by the job creation abilities of small and medium sized employers and entrepreneurs.” Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren says, “Governor Cuomo and our local state delegation have been great partners in helping us make it easier for job creators to succeed in Rochester and the surrounding area. Three Heads Brewing is a testament to Rochester’s resilience and their continued growth will help chart our future, not just for the families who will rely on their payroll, but for all of their suppliers and vendors whose employees will also benefit from a paycheck as a result of Three Heads ongoing success. Achieving our goal to create more jobs, safer, more vibrant neighborhoods and better education outcomes for all our children will be successful based directly on the success of Three Heads Brewing and employers just like them across our city.”
Now, the region is accelerating Finger Lakes Forward with a $500 million state investment through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, announced by Governor Cuomo in December 2015. The state’s $500 million investment will incentivize private business to invest well over $2.5 billion – and the region’s plan, as submitted, projects up to 8,200 new jobs. More information is available here.