Craft beer producers were facing a difficult decision: Raise prices, or cut staff. That's because a 12-cent per-gallon tax was carving into the budgets of small brewers across New York State. But this week the state legislature wiped out the tax in a show of support to New York's growing craft beer scene.
"We like beer in Rochester, and it's really beginning to show," said Jaime Barclay, a beer enthusiast who joined a long list of craft beer customers who lobbied the state legislature. "I think Rochester is a great city to be in if you like craft beer. Now our brewers know they have the support of the state."
If 12 cents a gallon doesn't sound like much, consider that Custom Brewcrafters in Honeoye Falls is on track to produce more than 200,000 gallons in 2012. The tax would have resulted in a loss of around $25,000.
"It would have been like the sail going down on our ship," said brewmaster Bruce Lish. "Right now we're going full steam ahead, and we can't lose that wind. The state's decision allows us to bring in more help when we're ready to grow."
On Monday, Custom Brewcrafters will receive new tanks as it expands production. But the tax would have forced owner Mike Alcorn to decide whether that expansion could continue.
"We would either decide not to hire somebody or we would decide to raise the price and be a little less competitive in a very, very tough market," Alcorn said. "Now we don't have to do either. This gives me a lot more comfort. I spent the past eight months building this expansion plan, and we know it can go ahead."
Alcorn explained that his rather new facility was quickly too small for the western New York scene that seems to be growing by the week. Recent success stories, such as Three Heads Brewing, have convinced more beer lovers to jump into the business side. Rochester establishments, including the Tap & Mallet in the South Wedge, see growing crowds and an expanding list of craft beer choices.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the legislature's move should be a signal that craft beer is a celebrated part of New York agriculture. And there could be more help coming from the state, with the legislature looking to allow farmers to sell craft beer at farmers' markets.
"It won't be long until the craft beer industry is treated much the same as the local wine industry," Alcorn said. "That's great. We have a lot in common, we bring in tourists to tasting rooms, we employ a lot of people. It's an exciting time in our part of the beer world."