New York By Rail 14th ed. - Page 44

AMBER WAVES Craft beers, cider and spirits return to New York State By Brian PJ Cronin T hink of American alcoholic beverages, and chances are your mind wanders West, to Colorado’s mountains, Kentucky’s pot stills and St. Louis’s breweries—toward endless Midwestern fields of grain. But it wasn’t always that way. In the early 1900s, New York State was a leader in brewing cider and beer and distilling spirits. Then Prohibition halted those industries. Now, the Empire State is getting back to its roots. Early Colonists brought cider from Europe, and since New York is America’s second-largest apple-producing state (after Washington), the cider industry thrived here. Grain growing was plentiful too. In the early 1900s, New York was the nation’s leading grower of hops, boasting 450 breweries (45 of which were in Brooklyn). But a flush of mildew devastated the state's hops crops just as Pacific Northwest- ern brewers figured out how easily the crop adapted to their climate. Warehousing and distribution were cheaper in the Midwest, giving breweries and distilleries there a distinct economic advantage. When Prohibition rolled around in the 1920s, suddenly the only people making money on spirits in New York were rum runners and speakeasy owners. During Prohibition, only the Brotherhood Winery in Hudson Valley’s Washingtonville kept making wine with the understanding that it would only be used for “religious purposes,” leading a disproportionate number of clergy to live nearby, but all other spirits-making died out. But just as it took a series of interlocking events to bring down New York’s alcoholic beverage industry, a new wave of laws, innovative farmers and brewers, and an adventurous public are coinciding to make the state the focus of craft brewing once again. The first step was in 2002 when Ralph Erenzo, after years of lobbying, convinced New York State’s government to lower the cost of a distillery license from $65,000 to $1,500 over three years. That allowed him to turn a 220-year-old gristmill in Gardiner into Tuthilltown Distillery, making it the first New York distillery to open since Prohibition. Tuthilltown quickly attracted worldwide attention for its whiskeys, gins and vodkas, made with apples and wheat grown in New York. Tuthilltown’s success helped spur further laws easing restrictions on craft brewers while requiring them to use a percentage of New York State ingredients. Distillers, brewers and cider makers in three key regions—Central New York, 42 | New York By Rail ILLUSTRATED BY TATYANA STARIKOVA