Cohen, Bishop Push for New Hard Cider Legislation
From left, Connecticut Farm Bureau Executive Director Bryan Hurlburt, Bishop’s Orchard Farm Market & Winery Co-CEO and Winemaker Keith Bishop, and State Senator Christine Cohen (D-12) tour Bishop’s Farm Market & Winery and discuss pending legislation concerning cider sale laws. (Photo by Zoe Roos/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Connecticut has seemingly become a hot spot for local breweries, wineries, and cideries. However as local businesses attempt to expand into more products, owners and entrepreneurs have run into significant challenges due to Connecticut’s liquor laws, a problem legislators are hoping to change this year.
On Feb. 12, State Senator Christine Cohen (D-12) joined Bishop’s Orchard Farm Market & Winery Co-CEO and winemaker Keith Bishop to discuss her proposed State Senate bill (Senate Bill No. 539) “which will allow holders of a manufacturers permit for cider to sell hard cider and apple wine by the glass and bottle for on-site consumption and to sell and serve food on the permitted premises,” according to a press release.
Currently Bishop holds two liquor permits, a farm winery permit and a cider permit. However, the cider permit doesn’t allow for Bishop to sell hard cider by the glass, the way he can with wine at events on the farm.
“We have the Shoreline Wine Festival and we have done that for 12 years,” he said. “That is a venue where we sell wine by the glass [but] technically hard cider, even though it is half the alcohol content of wine, we can’t sell that on premise as a beverage to a consumer sitting here at a picnic table. That is the short ask of the statute change introduced here.”
Bishop said the change would benefit all businesses looking to expand into cider production. He said the change would also hopefully help level the playing field.
“We experimented with the keg hard cider market last fall and we kegged up stuff and Thimble Island and Stony Creek [breweries in Branford] were the two places that took our product,” he said. “We sold out of all of the product that we did keg up for the two of them to use, but ironically they can sell our hard cider at their place by current law, but we can’t turn around and sell that same glass here.”
Connecticut Farm Bureau Executive Director Bryan Hurlburt said part of the reason current statute seems a bit illogical (why no to cider, but yes to wine?) has to do with how liquor laws evolved in the state and the 87 different types of liquor permits that currently exist.
“There was really never any clearing for what made sense in the totality for laws regarding on-premise farm brewing or distillery or wineries, etc,” he said. “This is one of the first bills that is looking to clear up some of that confusion and make it easier for small businesses which have a desire from their consumers to do more, to have that opportunity.”
Cohen said there is a possibility the bill could face some opposition from others in the alcohol industry when it comes up for a public hearing in Hartford, but she said this bill is just about trying to expand opportunities for all small businesses.
“Helping businesses succeed is vital to a healthy economy,” she said. “I was made aware that our current laws were creating significant encumbrances preventing Bishops from expanding upon their business plan. They were rightfully exploring opportunities to expand with market changes based upon a product they were manufacturing, hard cider. Yet, because of an antiquated statute that perhaps didn’t have the foresight that hard cider would become popular, Bishop’s was unable to sell in a certain manner.”
Bishop said the change might seem like a small ask, but said roadblocks like these are a real challenge for local business, especially one like his where he is always trying to look at new ways to keep the business relevant and healthy.
“The next generation here is looking at what else can we do to be economically viable for generations to come and how to we adapt our business model…its about how do we grow, how do we do more, and how do we put more back into our local economy,” he said. “It’s ironic that things that could generate tax revenue are cut off or denied…we are looking at a way to creatively grow.”
According to a press release from Cohen, Senate Bill No. 539 was referred to the General Law Committee to determine if the proposed legislation will advance in the legislative process. It has been included to legislation concerning the Liquor Control Act and will have a public hearing on Thursday, Feb. 28.