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Local breweries concerned new state law could have negative impact on business

National Public Radio

A new state law awaiting the Governor’s signature would raise the age to serve alcohol from 18 to 21 and impose some restrictions on sample sizes. A resolution was introduced Wednesday afternoon by Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo and Assemblyman Erik Bohen opposing the proposed changes.

Rusty Nickel Brewing Company President Jason Havens said the intent of the bill is to help. If implemented correctly, it could allow breweries to save on some of the tax burdens for sampling in tasting rooms.

“For a business like us, we could be looking at something around 10k to 15k in tax advantages in savings in casings alone in a given year,” said Havens. “That certainly could go back to hiring a new employee, expanding our production opportunities, or in our case possibly even getting in to distribution across Western New York”

Havens is just concerned about the execution of the bill. A brewery like Rusty Nickel can serve 5 five-ounce samples in one day. After, they would have to charge sales tax on any further samples. Keeping track of how many samples have been given out throughout the day could prove difficult.

“How do we ask our staff to differentiate before a sale to one individual and a sale to another individual when more often than not, individuals are purchasing for groups? That challenge could lead to a tax audit or implications that we’re not doing things correctly. That is why we are trying to amend the way that this is written with respect to the tax savings,” he said.

Lorigo said the age restriction could hold back young professionals from entering the field.  

“A number of local colleges have brewery science programs that require internships for people to come in and learn the craft,” said Lorigo. If people can’t get in and start handling alcoholic beverages until they are 21. That severely limits their ability to get their degree in a timely fashion.”

If you look at the actual text of the law, Lorigo said, it could be interpreted to mean that even restaurants and bars, not just breweries, could be affected.

“If you have a waitress at a restaurant that wants to bring you a beer that is 19 years old, the way the current law is written, potentially that waitress or waiter wouldn’t be able to bring you that beer simply because of how poor the current legislation is written,” he said.

Havens and Lorigo both are urging Governor Cuomo to veto the bill so it can get back to the state legislature where changes can be made.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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