The new ‘Farm Meadery Licenses’ are similar to the state’s farm brewery, distillery, and cidery laws.

By Mike Pomranz
March 21, 2019
Alissa Sanderson/Getty Images

Though America’s craft beer, cider, and spirits boom has clearly been driven by increased interest in these products (you can’t sell something no one wants no matter how hard you try), legislative changes on both the state and national level have also helped fuel the fire — whether it’s something as simple as Florida legalizing 64-ounce growlers or the more complex act of Congress agreeing to lower the federal excise tax.

On the latter end of that spectrum, since 2012, New York State has precipitated its own craft beverages boom by making it easier for people to open craft beverage businesses. Taking inspiration from the state’s Farm Winery Act passed in the ‘70s, New York lessened many of the bureaucratic hurdles required to open a “farm brewery,” “farm distillery,” or “farm cidery” as long as these new ventures used a certain percentage of agricultural ingredients grown in-state. The results speak for themselves: The Governor’s Office states that the number of farm-based beverage producers has grown by 174 percent over that period including 232 new farm breweries.

Now, Governor Andrew Cuomo is hoping to extend that run to another, lesser-consumed type of alcohol beverage: mead. This week, New York announced that the state is officially taking applications for “farm meaderies” — a new distinction that became legal thanks to legislation passed last year. “By creating this new license, we are building on New York's nation-leading craft beverage industry while capitalizing on our standing as the number one honey producer in the Northeast,” Cuomo said in a statement.

As Food & Wine covered in March 2019's "The Makers Issue," mead is an often misunderstood beverage, but this alcoholic drink, which New York bills as the “world’s oldest fermented beverage," couldn’t be much simpler. Alcoholic beverages are created by fermenting sugars, and in mead, that sugar comes not from grapes or malt, but from honey. That’s really about it. Mead is a beverage of fermented honey water. And just like wines can be made sweet or dry, though a drink made from honey sounds sweet, it can actually be fermented all the way down to a dry beverage — like the Brut mead made from Sonoma’s Bee d’Vine meadery.

Meanwhile, New York’s Farm Meadery License will also allow these new ventures to produce braggot — a more complex, beer-like beverage made with both honey and malt, as well as hops, fruits, spices, herbs, and other agricultural products. “The new law defines New York State labeled mead and braggot as craft beverages made exclusively with honey produced in New York,” the announcement explains. And beyond being able to offer on-site tastings, “farm meaderies have additional privileges, including the ability to sell their products by the glass or by the bottle from their manufacturing facilities or tasting rooms, in addition to any other wine, beer, cider or spirits produced by a New York State farm manufacturer. As with other craft beverage licenses, farm meaderies have the privilege of self-distribution, in addition to the ability to market and sell their products through existing wholesalers. Farm meaderies may also operate up to five no-fee offsite branch offices with tasting rooms anywhere in the state.”

“Mead is one of the fastest growing segments in the craft beverage industry, and this new license capitalizes on this growth and the increasing demand for New York produced honey,” added State Liquor Authority Chairman Vincent Bradley. If the previous farm beverage acts were any indication, expect New York-produced mead to grow faster than ever over the next few years.

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