New York state’s post-Prohibition craft booze industry is still very much in its infancy. The Farm Distillery Act, passed in 2007, set the regulatory path for small-scale outfits to open up with reduced-price licenses and to welcome tourists into their facilities—provided they sourced half of their raw materials from the state.
Since 2003, when Tuthilltown Spirits became the first distillery to make bourbon in New York since the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, there’s been a boom in small-scale distilling outfits from the Catskills to Brooklyn.
The more than 40 distilleries that are now up and running “have already created nearly 200 jobs and buy 1,000 tons of grain from New York farms and lure in a half million visitors clambering through their tasting rooms annually,” according to Edible Manhattan.
Another new, and potentially much larger industry, could wipe out all of that progress, according to Ralph Erenzo, Tuthilltown’s cofounder: drilling for natural gas in the massive Marcellous Shale using hydraulic fracturing.
As in Germany, where the powerful, historic brewing industry is warning that natural gas exploration could ruin the groundwater its beer depends on, Erenzo warns that the burgeoning New York spirits industry could be similarly ruined by fracking.
“The single most important raw material the distiller must have at his disposal is water,” he writes in an op-ed in Albany’s Times Union. “It makes up a majority of our product and is the source of employment for our 45 employees.”
Erenzo applauds local governments for passing bans and moratoriums on fracking, but he warns that only a statewide ban will protect the natural resource from which he derives his livelihood.
“This time the threat is personal,” he writes. “It’s the success or failure of my business and hundreds of craft beverage producers across the state. Pollution of the aquifer and groundwater feeding residential and commercial wells is permanent.”