New York’s Best Beer

Craft Brewers Compete for the Governor’s Cup

Photos and Story by Michael Welch

It’s an exciting time to be in the New York craft beer industry, and to be a local beer enthusiast—especially when it comes to choice of what to drink tonight. Governor Cuomo’s office recently announced that there are more than 400 licensed breweries in New York State, with about a third of those coming from the Central New York and the Finger Lakes area. Over 200 of those breweries are newly licensed since 2012, making the New York market one of the largest and fastest growing in the nation.

And the impact this has for New York is tremendous. More than 1.2 million barrels of craft beer are produced each year, accounting for approximately 13,000 full-time jobs while the economic impact of NY craft beer brings in $3.4 billion annually.

But with all of that beer being made, how does a local beer geek figure out what to drink? Enter the New York State Brewers Association, a lobbying group that supports brewers and strives to educate the public about local craft beer. Their recent effort to promote craft beer includes the creation of the Governor’s Cup competition, which invites New York State brewers to enter their beers in a contest to determine the best according to brewing style.

“We really needed this competition to help consumers and to showcase the quality of New York State craft beer,” says Dave Katleski, co-founder of the NYSBA and owner of Empire Beer in Syracuse. “The growth from year one to this year’s event is really amazing and we’re looking forward to growing it more and more.”

“It’s all about building awareness about what’s happening here,” says Paul Leone, executive director of the NYSBA, whose group has created an app, statewide events and lobbied in Albany on behalf of brewers. “Even with all this growth, only 5% of the beer consumed in New York State is from New York State craft brewers. We still have a lot of work to do to change those numbers.”

But the brewers are certainly mobilizing to help out. In this year’s competition, 642 beers were entered and placed into 24 categories of brewing. The 43 judges from across New York consisted of professional brewers, cicerones (the beer equivalent of a sommelier), certified beer judges, beer educators and some home brewing aficionados. They were unanimously impressed with the experience.

“What I really took from today’s competition was the diversity of what’s being produced,” said judge Douglass Miller, who teaches about the business of food and brewing in the Johnson College of Business at Cornell University and is a certified cicerone. “I knew that the quality was already there, but this competition showed that there’s something for everyone being made in New York, no matter what your personal preference is.”

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