Many in the industry believe that New York’s alcohol beverage laws are outdated and, often times, difficult to read and even repetitive. The status quo makes it challenging for smaller craft producers who want to enter the beverage business or be successful in the state, as interpreting the laws from a modern-day perspective can be challenging, burdensome, and even expensive. Much of this ultimately falls on the consumer and will impact both price and selections at market.
Luckily, in June, an agreement was announced to modernize the state’s alcohol beverage law that will bring sweeping changes and level the playing field for many craft beverage producers in New York State. These changes amend archaic blue laws that have plagued the state since the Prohibition era, as well as promote the growth of local industry.
The changes brought by the amendment cover all three tiers of the industry (craft beverage producers, wholesalers, and retailers) and impact wine, beer, and spirits consumers even if not directly. The agreement itself calls for the following changes:
- An expansion of Sunday sales;
- The elimination of burdensome paperwork for New York State craft producers;
- An authorization of the sale of wine in growlers;
- Reduced fees for craft beverage salespersons and small wholesalers; and
- An authorization of giftwrapping at retail stores.
Let’s focus on some of the more direct adjustments that bring exciting changes to those who enjoy craft beverages:
Consumers will be happy to know that they will soon be able to enjoy bellinis and bloody mary’s at Sunday brunch much earlier than noon. Currently, New York’s law prohibits the sale of alcohol beverages at on-premise retail establishments (e.g., bars, restaurants, and taverns) before noon on Sundays. Indeed, this is just one of the provisions that still embraces the so-called “blue laws.” Under the new agreement, bars and restaurants will be able to sell alcohol beginning at 10:00 AM on Sundays. Clearly, this is revolutionary for Sunday brunches—a favorite meal of New Yorkers—and will be especially favorable for those who prefer to brunch earlier than noon and often miss out on cocktail staples.
“The allowance of restaurants and bars to sell alcohol before noon on Sundays is not highly significant in terms of total revenue and volumes—but the legal change is representative,” says Kevin Tighe, Bar Manager at the New World Bistro Bar in Albany. Having worked in Albany for several decades, Kevin notes he lobbied for this particular change to the state law for 35 years. “Most places open for brunch at 10:00 in the morning, but cannot serve mimosas or specialty drinks until noon. This is a change in the right direction and definitely makes sense for a full-service restaurant.”
Gift Wrap and Growlers
For off-premise retailers, the agreement allows the sale of giftwrapping and gift bags to customers. This makes things a lot easier for consumers who want to stop at a wine or liquor store to pick up a housewarming or host or hostess gift; no longer will there be a need to trek to a second store for that perfect gift bag, as the liquor store will be a one-stop shop for gifts.
The agreement also authorizes the sale and filling of wine in growlers. This is, perhaps, one of the most significant changes for the State. The current state law requires wine sold at retail for off-premise consumption to be kept in their original packages (thus making wine growlers illegal). This creates a new experience when purchasing wine—imagine being able to visit your favorite winery, fill up a growler of one of their wines, and bring it home to enjoy with friends. In addition, growlers are a unique keepsake for consumers and can be refilled many times (and thus environmentally conscious).
. . . imagine being able to visit your favorite winery, fill up a growler of one of their wines, and bring it home to enjoy with friends.
“I think it’s really interesting that New York changed its law to allow growlers. I haven’t seen many winemakers experimenting with growlers in the state, so this is one area where the law may be ahead of the industry,” says Jonathan Hull, Owner and Winemaker at Applewood Winery in Warwick. “There are a lot of great advantages to wine growlers for industry members. First, you’re not wasting packaging, bottles, caps, or corks, so that makes it economically attractive. Growlers are also a great way to preserve wine in comparison to the standard wine bottle. Finally, growlers make it easier to produce small batches of wine and experiment with different varieties without having to get labels printed.”
Wine To Go
Finally, customers visiting wineries and farm wineries will be allowed to take home partially finished bottles of wine (keeping in mind appropriate open container laws). This, of course, reduces the desire to finish a bottle of wine in one sitting and may eliminate potential waste.
We look forward to seeing how these changes will impact the industry. Until the next time—cheers!