GENEVA — When it comes to the science side of things involved in making craft beverages — and there are lots of them — wineries, cideries, breweries and distilleries from across the state turn to the experts at Cornell Craft Beverage Institute at Cornell AgriTech.
The new institute brings the Geneva-based Cornell Enology Extension Laboratory, the Craft Beverage Analysis Laboratory (formerly the New York State Wine Analytical Lab) and the Cornell Brewing Extension Laboratory under one umbrella.
With the demand for craft beverages growing seemingly by the day in New York, the lab moved beyond its original scope of wine to beer, hard cider and spirits.
Scientists in Geneva conduct analyses for commercial producers and answer questions by phone or email. For complex problems, the extension staff visit farms or processing facilities across New York.
“We work with both new and experienced beverage makers, whose problems range from fairly simple to technical and complex,” said Anna Katharine Mansfield, associate professor of enology in Cornell’s Department of Food Science.
Cornell said the institute is “New York’s one-stop reference desk for fermented beverages.”
Such expertise is needed in a state that is a national leader in a number of beverage categories: First in cideries, second in hand-craft distillers, third in breweries and fourth in wineries.
In total, the state now has 1,156 licensed craft beverage manufacturers, resulting in a total economic impact of $5.4 billion in 2018, according to the New York State Brewers Association. Additionally, New York’s wine industry — centered largely in the Finger Lakes — generated $13.8 billion in economic activity in 2017, according to a National Association of Wineries report.
The nascent craft cidery and distillery industries have not done comprehensive economic impact studies, according to Cornell.
Local wineries laud institute
Within the last year, officials at Cornell say the institute’s Craft Beverage Analysis Laboratory has analyzed 1,762 craft beverage products and processed 2,500 samples for research.
Count Vinny Aliperti among the institute’s biggest supporters. He and his wife, Kim, own Geneva’s Billsboro Winery, .
“Like many Finger Lakes wineries, Billsboro has been sending wine samples to Cornell for years,” Aliperti said. “Their testing lab is professionally staffed and equipped to provide timely and accurate analysis of juice and wine, thus helping winemakers maintain quality control and product integrity.”
Scott Osborn, owner of Fox Run Vineyard in Benton, Yates County, said the Cornell Craft Beverage Institute assists his winery in a number of ways.
“There are so many different aspects to viticulture and enology (the growing of grapes and the making of wine) that we’re always trying to tap into what’s new,” he said. “The information we get from Cornell helps us make wines that are competitive on the world stage.”
Osborn added that as “a small business, we don’t have the bandwidth to take on in-depth and extensive research in-house. That’s where Cornell AgriTech comes in. Cornell allows us to take our winemaking and viticulture to the next level with the most cutting-edge analysis and research. Our biggest asset as a small business is Cornell.”
Cornell said the institute also schedules a spectrum of short workshops throughout the year, from basic viticulture and enology certification to winery sanitation, pathogen monitoring, beer sensory programs, distillery operations and tasting room sales strategies. The institute — through Cornell AgriTech — has educated 500 craft beverage professionals and entrepreneurs in the past year alone.
Erica Paolicelli, co-owner of Three Brothers Wineries and Estates in Fayette, said co-owner Dave Mansfield has been a speaker at institute events.
Kaylyn Kirkpatrick, an extension associate who previously worked for New Belgium Brewery in Colorado, now supervises the institute’s Hops Analysis Lab and brewery pilot plant, which is scheduled to open early next year. She helps New York brewers test ingredient quality.
“Before we had this lab, New York’s hop growers would have to mail the hops across the country, pay a lot of money and wait a long period of time to get results,” Kirkpatrick said. “Now, it’s almost instantaneous, so this is huge for them.”
Cornell said the lab tests moisture content and storage ability, while the latest technology is used to analyze the hops’ qualities, including bitterness potential, which indicates harvest maturity and readiness.
The demand for the service is enormous, said Cornell. When the Hops Analysis Lab debuted in fall 2018, Kirkpatrick received about 100 samples. The lab tripled its workload following the 2019 fall harvest, providing services to commercial growers and university research programs along the East Coast.
Cider’s move to cans
Chris Gerling, the institute’s extension associate who handles wine, cider and spirits, is a busy guy.
Earlier this year, the state marked the fifth anniversary of the Farm Cidery Law that created a license for hard cider made from apples grown exclusively in the state, with the number of producers jumping from eight in 2014 to 73 today, according to the New York State Liquor Authority.
The institute handles routine needs for most of the state’s cideries, said Cornell.
Amid the growth, the hard cider industry is increasingly moving to easy-open cans, making them very portable, Gerling said.
However, there is a challenge to canning cider, he pointed out: It can re-ferment. If there is too much sugar or yeast, he explained, the can could explode.
“Cans are all the rage,” said Gerling. “It’s a consumer’s dream and a producer’s nightmare. We do microbiological tests all the time and help out cideries every day with that and day-to-day tests.”
Cortni Stahl, who owns Hopewell’s Star Cider with husband Adam, said the institute has been invaluable to their growing business.
“The Cornell Craft Beverage Institute has helped us ensure the consistency of our products,” she said. “They are a great resource for quality-control checks and who we turn to when we have any cider-making questions.”
Stacy Dedring, a cidermaker at Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction in the Hudson Valley, said having the institute available for cider-making technical questions frees up her creativity.
“Just having this wonderful group of scientists available to contact when we run into an issue is invaluable,” said Dedring. “We’ve leaned on the institute’s expertise. After all, making cider is a science and an art.”
Cornell University Media Relations contributed to this story.