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Cuomo proposes modernized alcohol laws

Gov. Andrew Cuomo talks about the growing craft beverage industry in this state. Video by Will Cleveland Video by Will Cleveland

 Will Cleveland, @WillCleveland13

7:33 p.m. EDT May 18, 2016

Democrat & Chronicle

 Gov. Andrew Cuomo called himself a “Rochestafarian.”

Citing the name of Three Heads Brewing’s hoppy Scotch ale, most of the crowd, which included representatives from many of Rochester’s craft breweries, chuckled. Admittedly, he hasn’t tried the beer. But he promised to remedy that.

Cuomo visited the massive soon-to-open craft brewery in Rochester’s Neighborhood of the Arts Wednesday to unveil plans to modernize New York’s 80-year-old Alcoholic Beverage Control Law.

Under his proposed legislation, restaurants and bars could start Sunday alcohol sales at 8 a.m. The State Liquor Authority would have the authority to allow full liquor licenses within 200 feet of a school or place of worship.

The legislation would also reduce paperwork for craft manufacturers, allowing producers to combine licenses into one application. Like breweries can already do, legislation would allow wineries to sell wine by the growler (reusable 32- or 64-ounce containers). Customers could also take home partially finished bottles of wine.

The legislation includes provisions to reduce fees for craft beverage salespeople and small wholesalers.

Cuomo frequently mentioned, “entrepreneurial government” and said, “You have an idea, you want to start a wine/beer distillery? We want to be with you. What do you need? How do we help? And certainly how do we remove the obstacles?”

Cuomo said he took the recommendations from the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law Working Group to fashion this proposed legislation. He noted that there are about five weeks left in the legislative session and hopes to see it passed and enacted in the near future.

He added, “This is one of the bills that has to be taken up. These laws should have been reformed 80 years ago. They should definitely be reformed this year. There’s no excuse for the Legislature to leave Albany without changing this law.”

Paul Leone, executive director of the Rochester-based New York State Brewers Association, said Cuomo’s previous legislation, including the 2012 Farm Brewery Act and the 2014 Craft New York Act, have helped the state grow by over 150 breweries in the past three years.

“The whole idea behind this is to make business grow, make this brewing business grow,” Leone said. “It’s really unprecedented to have all the leaders from the craft beverage industry meeting in Albany to simplify things. This new brewery is a result of those efforts.”

The Craft New York Act allowed breweries to sell beer by the pint in their own tasting rooms, provided they had snacks, and eased restrictions on serving food. Three Heads’ new 19,500-square-foot facility at 186 Atlantic Ave. is expected to open to the public next month. Three Heads co-founder Dan Nothnagle said the brewery hopes to be open for Rochester Real Beer Week, which kicks off on June 10. They expect to mash in their first batch on the expanded 30-barrel system later this week.

“Sitting next to the governor and to be able to personally thank him for what he’s done for the brewing industry in New York, it’s a total mind-blown feeling right now,” Nothnagle said. “This is surreal. He really gave us the green light to just produce and sell beer, so we didn’t have to pursue an additional tavern license or apply to be a farm brewery.”

Once completed, the new facility will cost about $4 million. Three Heads has brewed its beer under contract at Honeoye Falls’ CB Craft Brewers for the past five years. The new facility, which includes about 1,500 square feet of brewing space, will allow the microbrewery to ramp up production, package in six packs, and focus on smaller taproom-only releases.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is like a 52,” said Three Heads co-founder Geoff Dale, still beaming over when Cuomo asked Dale if he was the bearded inspiration for the brewery’s flagship, The Kind India Pale Ale. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever been involved with. To hear the governor call you out by name, it’s pretty surreal. I’m just a dude who likes beer. I’ve got a high-school education. And now I’m sitting front row at the governor’s press conference in my brewery.”