Creating Opportunity for New York’s Craft Cider and Spirits: A Case for Direct Shipping

By Kim Wagner | May 30, 2024

New York lawmakers can save small craft cideries and distilleries, like my farm-based business, Stoutridge Distillery, in the Hudson Valley. Supporting legislation (S.2852B/A.3132A) that would allow me to directly ship to my customers is the lifeline farm cideries and spirit makers need.

My husband and I first opened the doors to our farm winery in 2006 and added small-batch spirit making in 2017. We only use fruit and grains grown by New York State farmers in our award-winning whiskeys, bourbons, absinthes and more. We produce under 1,000 cases a year, by hand in small batches. We are too small to sell through a three-tier liquor distribution system like large-scale producers and rely primarily on tasting room visits. By law, we can only sell products from our tasting room or to stores who purchase directly from us at wholesale.

We do business in an area known for tourism. More than 100,000 people visit my area every year to pick apples. Others come to visit students who attend one of the many nearby colleges. They stop in, enjoy our products, and purchase a bottle. But when that runs out, they cannot get more unless they come back to the area, often a year later. About 80% of our customers follow up with shipping requests, and I must tell them no. People who hear about our awards, like taking top honors for the Best Smoked American Single Malt at Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, often want to try them for themselves. But if they don’t live near our tasting room, they cannot get a bottle, and neither we nor New York State can capitalize on this opportunity.

The proposed bill isn’t merely about convenience; it’s about survival. Five distilleries in the Hudson Valley alone have closed since November. Tourism and tasting room sales have not rebounded since COVID. As consumer behavior pivots, it is imperative that we have the ability to sell online or over the phone, just like wineries can do. My winery and others have proven it can be done successfully without negative consequences.

New York distilleries and cideries are not looking to undercut our retailers. Retailers have limited shelf space. Retailers don’t have the room for even one bottle from each of New York’s 200+ distilleries. This legislation is about ensuring the viability of niche products from small distilleries that don’t fit into a traditional liquor store product set.

We also take great care in making sure underage drinkers do not get our products. We proved we could do this when we could temporarily ship during the pandemic. It is why we only contract with UPS who guarantee their union employees get a signature from someone over 21 years of age. If we can sell more and increase deliveries across the state and nation, this would support more Teamster jobs.

In the end, this legislation is about empowering small business. It is about affording small-scale distillers the opportunity to thrive in an increasingly competitive market dominated by international players. It is about honoring the artisanal craft and entrepreneurial spirit that defines New York.

One thing remains clear: the fate of New York’s craft spirits hangs in the balance. This is a choice between transforming our craft beverage industry in New York by providing opportunities for small scale craft beverage makers or seeing more distilleries and cideries close their doors because they cannot afford to do business in New York State. New York Farm Bureau and our local spirit and cider makers are grateful to the bill’s lead sponsors, Sen. Skoufis and Assemblywoman Lupardo, and we are hopeful that their fellow lawmakers will make the right choice and support this legislation before the end of this session.

Kim Wagner- Co-owner of Stoutridge Distillery and Winery, and Ulster County Farm Bureau President
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