Sen. Schumer visits Lakewood, discusses malt beverage industry

Standing at the Southern Tier Distillery in Chautauqua County, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand access to malt barley crop insurance to growers across New York State. Schumer explained that there are currently only four counties that have access to federally backed malt barley insurance coverage in New York State, even though farmers in other states have broad coverage. Schumer pointed out that Southern Tier Distillery sources all of its base ingredients from New York State, but that their partners in the malt barley farming community lack insurance to grow the crop. Malt barley needs very specific conditions to grow and is susceptible to severe weather and disease. Schumer said that this will become more important over the next decade, when New York State will require farm craft brewers and distillers to source 90 percent of their ingredients from local farms and malt houses, and the supply of malt barley will need to increase to meet this demand.

“Craft breweries and distilleries, like the ones here in Lakewood, pour local products and jobs into our economy, which is why it is important that we continue to support this industry by providing them with every available tool necessary to continue to grow.” said Senator Schumer. “But the lack of federally backed insurance for malt barley is preventing farmers from planting this crucial crop. Without protections, the risk is just too high for some, and that could prevent our malt houses, craft breweries, and distilleries from meeting the requirements of New York’s Farm Brewing Law. In order to meet the current demand of craft brewers and distillers, New York State growers will need to significantly increase their malt barley production. That is why I am calling on the USDA to expand access to this vital program beyond the four New York State counties that are currently eligible. It is time to make this insurance available across the state so that our farmers, malt houses, distillers, and brewers can tap into their full potential.”

Schumer highlighted the success of the Southern Tier Distillery, which opened last August. The distillery is actually housed where the original Southern Tier Brewery used to be. Five years in the making, the facility has hundreds of barrels full of vodka, London dry gin, citrus gin, American whiskey, their exclusive smoked bourbon, and a New York State-maple based rum. The distillery is a sister company to the Southern Tier Brewery, which opened its doors in 2002 and is now a driving force in the craft brewery industry in New York. Southern Tier uses 100 percent New York State-sourced base ingredients and goes through 4000 pounds of malt barley each month. Schumer stressed that supporting the farmers and distilleries will help ensure this growing industry continues its momentum.

Schumer explained that there is currently a need for increased malt barley production throughout New York State as a result of its burgeoning distilling and craft brewing industry. Alongside water, yeast, and hops, barley is one of the major components of beer and of many spirits produced by distilleries. Malt consists of barley that is germinated and then dried under highly controlled conditions. These conditions help to release the enzymes needed to convert the barley starches into sugars. These sugars are then fed to yeast through the process of fermentation, which ultimately creates the final product – alcohol. Schumer explained that many New York farmers are beginning to grow this barley, which ends up being used to make spirits such as those made at Southern Tier. Malt houses take the barley seed grains and put them through the process of malting; this is so the barley seeds can begin to germinate and thus convert the starches into sugars. This malt barley is then given to brewers and distillers, like Southern Tier, who have the yeast and fermentation conditions needed to make beer and spirits.

Schumer noted that the craft brewing industry has been growing throughout New York State over the past few years, which has contributed to the success of distilleries like Southern Tier. This growth has increased the need for local ingredients, like hops and malt barley. The hops industry has already taken off, however hops are needed in much smaller quantities than malt barley. For example, to make a typical half-keg worth of beer (15.5 gallons) less than five pounds of hops would be required. Conversely, the amount of malt barley needed ranges from 35-50 pounds. As a result, New York State will need more farmers to grow barley and more malt houses to convert that barley into malt if the suppliers are to keep up with the industry needs.

Schumer said that this is especially important because, over the next decade, New York State is expected to require farm brewers and distillers to source 90 percent of ingredients from local farms and malt houses. Currently, 20 percent of all hops and 20 percent of all other ingredients, including malt barley, used by farm brewers licensed by the New York Farm Bureau are required to be grown or produced in New York State. However, by 2019, that proportion is expected to jump to 60 percent. By 2024, New York law will require no less than 90 percent of all farm craft beer ingredients be grown or produced locally within the state. Currently, for farm distillers, 75 percent of all ingredients must be produced within New York State. According to the New York State Brewers Association, while only the breweries and distilleries licensed as farm breweries are the ones required by law to meet the 60 percent (2019) and 90 percent (2024) ingredient requirements, most non-farm craft breweries and distilleries are also increasing their sourcing from local areas, so the pressure is mounting to supply New York State grown ingredients in the coming years.

Last year, Schumer successfully pushed the USDA to bring malt barley insurance to Cortland, Otsego, Ontario, and Genesee Counties for the first time, but said that the USDA needs to continue expanding access to this crop Insurance coverage across NY. New York State has approximately 2,000 acres of malt barley, which will be used by 9 malt houses. In the future, NY barley farmers will have to significantly increase barley production to meet the needs of New York State brewers and distillers.

Schumer was joined by plant Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan and Reps from Southern Tier.