wine bottlese 3Have you ever been out to dinner and ordered a bottle of wine that no one enjoyed? Have you stood in front of racks of wine at a liquor store deliberating over which bottle to buy, ultimately to find that you made the wrong choice? These scenarios, specifically the former, inspired Next Glass co-founders Kurt Taylor and Trace Smith to create the app for smartphones that makes wine and beer purchasing easier for the consumer.

Wilmington, North Carolina-based Next Glass launched the app, which helps users select wines and beers catered to their taste preferences, in late November 2014. The app has been likened to platforms like NetFlix for movies and television shows and Pandora for music. With the goal of protecting each user from wasting money on a wine or beer purchase which is incompatible with the user’s taste buds, Next Glass recommends wines or beers to its users based on each user’s personal taste profile created by the user’s rating of various alcoholic beverages. By using a highly complex instrument called the mass spectrometer, Next Glass has built an extensive database, referred to as its Genome Cellar, of thousands of molecular compounds found in wine and beer by testing 160 different beer and wine samples a day in its laboratory. The app inputs the user’s taste profile into the database to conduct a scientific-based analysis of the chemical makeup of a user’s wine and beer preferences and then consequently determines the similarities that appeal to a user’s palette. The app uses those results to recommend specific wines and beers to the user. The app’s creators claim that the software has a 96% accuracy rate of determining a user’s likability of a particular wine or beer.
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breweryIt’s a great time to open a brewery in New York. The state, through the acts of Governor Cuomo, is doing what it can to foster the craft beverage industry’s further development and growth. In an effort to encourage tourism and increase revenue, New York has implemented The Craft New York Act, which went into effect on December 14, 2014.

Under The Craft New York Act, restrictions and regulations governing the Craft Beverage Manufacturing and Marketing industry are now relaxed in order to encourage craft beverage production, promote the growth of the industry, and increase tourism to New York State. The production of craft beverages has created new opportunities for agriculture, which in turn has fostered the growth of local economies. The Craft New York Act is designed to ensure that this economic growth continues.

As a result of The Craft New York Act, a tasting at a licensed brewery or microbrewery permits the brewery to serve any beer manufactured by the licensee and any New York State labeled beer while the holders of a farm brewery license are now permitted to serve any New York State labeled alcohol during farm brewery tastings. This will allow patrons of the breweries to enjoy a sample of what New York State breweries have to offer. Additionally, to make it easier for the breweries to have alcohol tastings, the food requirement for tastings for farm and microbreweries has been eased so that serving “finger food”, such as pretzels and peanuts, will fulfill the requirement. Smaller local breweries are already appreciating the change in law, which now permits these small breweries to serve full size glasses and bottles of beer at tastings, rather than the previously allowed quarter-ounce samples.

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beergardenWhat’s in a name? Shakespeare believed that a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. It appears that Empire Brewery does not agree when it comes to its Maibock lager named “Strikes Bock.” The Syracuse-based brewery is engaged in a trademark battle with media giant Lucasfilm Entertainment Company Ltd. LLC (“Lucasfilm”) over its opposition to Empire Brewery’s use of the name “Empire Strikes Bock.”

In early 2014, Empire Brewery filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”) to gain federal trademark protection of the “Empire Strikes Bock” trademark the brewery uses in association with its “Strikes Bock” beer. As the brewery plans to expand and bottle its own beer in 2015, Empire Brewery applied for federal trademark protection of some of its most popular brews; “Strikes Bock” being one of them. The USPTO raised no objection to registering the “Empire Strikes Bock” mark and published the mark for opposition, which is a thirty day time period during which the holders of federally registered trademarks can state their objection to the approval of a pending trademark application. On the last day of this thirty-day opposition period, Lucasfilm, owned by Disney and producer of the Star Wars film franchise, filed for an extension of time to raise its objection to the “Empire Strikes Bock” mark. On October 15, 2014, Lucasfilm filed its formal opposition to the mark with the USPTO.

Simply stated, Lucasfilm has two main issues with the “Empire Strikes Bock” mark. First, it argues that the mark is too similar to Lucasfilm’s “The Empire Strikes Back,” the title of the second film in the Star Wars series, which remains popular today through the release of digital reproductions of the 1980 film on multimedia formats and through the licensed merchandise from books to toys to apparel to other goods bearing the name of the film. Lucasfilm uses the “likelihood of confusion” standard for trademark infringement to argue that a consumer who sees Empire Brewery’s “Empire Strikes Bock” mark will immediately think the goods are produced by or associated with Lucasfilm and “The Empire Strikes Back.”

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Almost one year ago, the New York State Liquor Authority (SLA) revoked the farm winery license it granted in 2006 to Vineyard 48, a farm winery located in Southhold, Long Island. As defined by New York Alcohol Beverage Control law, a farm winery “means and includes any place or premises, located on a farm in New York state, in which wine is manufactured and sold.”wine-grape-1364007-m

Throughout the course of 2013, Vineyard 48’s neighbors observed prohibited music and dancing during wine tastings being held at the farm winery. These neighbors brought this conduct to the attention of the SLA, complaining that Vineyard 48 had turned wine tastings into a rock concert-like atmosphere, which gave rise to lewd and drunken behavior. On December 17, 2013, in response to these complaints, the SLA conducted a hearing and an administrative law Judge found that Vineyard 48’s method of operation, in which it provided DJs and dancing, was more akin to running a nightclub than a farm winery. The administrative law judge recommended that SLA Chairman Dennis Rosen revoke Vineyard 48’s license. Rosen immediately revoked Vineyard 48’s farm winery license, arguing that Vineyard 48’s conduct was improper and did not fit the definition of a “wine tasting.”

However, Justice Doris Ling-Cohan of the New York County Supreme Court, disagreed with Rosen and the presiding Administrative Law Judge, and earlier this month, reversed the SLA’s ruling. Justice Ling-Cohan took issue with the SLA’s decision for two reasons: first, she found that the SLA violated Vineyard 48’s right to due process by conducting a hearing and allowing witnesses to testify without prior notice to Vineyard 48; and second, she believed revocation of Vineyard 48’s license “shock[ed] the court’s sense of justice” and was too harsh of a penalty for the licensee who had no prior violations or record of objectionable conduct.

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In this age of increasingly complex and consistently advancing technology, it is not surprising that a customer need go no further than an “app” on a Smartphone to purchase alcohol, which is then subsequently delivered to the customer’s doorstep within an hour.   The alcoholic beverage industry is highly regulated in New York, and the sale of beer, wine, and spirits is only permitted if the seller is in possession of a valid license or permit and the purchaser is over twenty-one years of age. So how can the stringently regulated activity of purchasing alcoholic beverages possibly be permitted through a Smartphone app?

Cell phonesThe creators of Drizly, an app for mobile phones through which alcoholic beverages can be purchased, have successfully figured out how to comply with the regulations surrounding the sale of alcoholic beverages while fostering the remote purchase of alcohol from some place other than the liquor store itself. Drizly allows a consumer who has downloaded the App to set a delivery location, search the inventory of nearby participating liquor stores, place an order, and have his purchase delivered in thirty to sixty minutes by a driver from the liquor store. Upon arrival, the driver will check the purchaser’s identification, the authenticity of which is verified by sophisticated forensic software. This identification authentication system also prevents underage drinking by detecting fake IDs (the use thereof will void the transaction). Provided that the identification is valid and the purchaser is of legal drinking age, the sale of alcoholic beverages is then complete.

Upon its inception, Drizly’s services were only available in Boston. They have since expanded to include New York, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington D.C., with plans to extend their services to more cities in the Midwest and on the West Coast.  However, Drizly is not the only web-based entity to master this concept. Caskers offers consumers another vehicle through which they can purchase alcohol from local craft distilleries via the Internet.

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New Jersey laws governing alcoholic beverages are among the most complex in the United States, with many of its intricacies not found in other states’ laws. In addition to meeting the state’s standards for the liquor license process, one must coordinate the application and maintenance of their license with local municipalities that also have licensing authority. The entire process of obtaining a liquor license in New Jersey  is expensive and time consuming, and calls for great attention to both state and local requirements.

Additionally, the liquor laws in New Jersey date back to the 1940’s and are therefore in dire need of reformation, according to some state lawmakers and business oriented people. The outdated law allows for only one on premises license for retail sale and consumption per 3,000 people. At the time it made sense, but now there are many inactive licenses in certain municipalities, while towns that are heavily populated often don’t have enough licenses.

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A severe problem linked to allowing one license per 3,000 people is the disparity in pricing amongst different municipalities. For example, The Cheesecake Factory paid $2.3 million for a liquor license for its Short Hills Mall location, while a license in Clifton, NJ costs less than $100,000. Licenses are typically obtained either by purchase from an existing licensee or from the state as a result of population growth. Therefore current licensees hold a lot of power in their hands because they can inflate the price given the high demand.

Another issue within the current framework of Alcohol Beverage Control Law in New Jersey is the prevention of any person or corporation from having more than two retail distribution licenses. This prohibits supermarkets and other chain stores from expanding their operations within the state and often encourages businesses to establish themselves elsewhere, in locations with more flexible and inviting laws.

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More good news relating to NY’s craft beverage industry!

On July 24, 2014 the office of Governor Cuomo announced the formation of the New York Craft Brewer Workgroup, yet another example of an almost immediate result of the second Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Cider Summit that was held in April. The Workgroup will provide recommendations to the state as to how to continue supporting the growth of New York’s craft beer sector. It will also serve as a means of achieving more fluid and open communication between the state and its agencies, and those involved with craft beverage production.

The first task of the NY Craft Brewer Workgroup is to take over from where the Summit left off and continue reviewing current legislation to find areas where change might benefit craft beverage producers. Additionally, the Workgroup will continue to aid the expansion of Empire State Development’s One Stop Shop, which is designed to provide beverage producers in New York with a direct line of contact for government assistance regarding various issues related to production.

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Members of the Workgroup will also assist in the development of promotional and marketing programs, such as Taste NY and Pride of New York, which highlight the state’s finest in local agriculture and use of local products, in attempt to draw in crowds from out of state, and even from communities within New York. Amongst the 12 Workgroup members there are various industry professionals, including representatives from New York State Brewer’s Association and various local breweries, a member of the Cornell Cooperative Extension, a professor at Cornell University in the Department of Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology, as well as a HOP specialist from the University. Additionally, there will be participation from representatives of both the State Liquor Authority and Empire State Development.

State Agriculture Commissioner Richard A. Ball said, “The Governor’s farm-based beverage summits laid the groundwork for unprecedented growth within the industry and this workgroup will take this one step further. Governor Cuomo has brought together some of the best and brightest minds within the industry to examine challenges and develop working solutions. It’s an exciting time to be part of New York agriculture and the boom in the craft brewing industry is a major reason why.”

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Now that Governor Cuomo has paved the way for relaxed restrictions and less regulation for the production of craft beverages, the time has come to strategize as to how to grow the industry. One way that the state of New York is planning to increase revenue to the craft beverage industry is through tourism, by specifically reaching out to those who are drawn by its products, who would be willing to go the distance for a good beer.

The Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce recently announced the 2014 Adirondack Craft Beverage Trail and Map Initiative, a glossy map which one can use to follow a route filled with craft breweries, wineries, and distilleries, many of which are newly opened and/or working to expand their consumer reach. Patrons also have the opportunity to join a group tour that uses the services of one of the local limousine companies in the area. This joint collaboration amongst industries shows just how beneficial the effect can be on the entire region, and not just those directly linked to the production of beverages. The entire project promotes the message: Think Local!

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The inaugural launch of the Trail and Map Initiative included placing about 30,000 maps at roughly 300 locations throughout the Capital District. The funding for this project came mostly from sponsorships and advertising from other businesses that would also benefit from an increased presence along the trail route, including the limousine company mentioned above. Additionally, various hotels and conference centers have bought a significant amount of the available advertising space.  This is a prime illustration of Governor Cuomo’s message from his June press release, in which he explained that the expansion and growth of the craft beverage industry would have a positive effect on other areas of commerce as well, namely tourism and agriculture. The  Adirondack region depends heavily on the successes of its tourism industry and thus, it will surely benefit from the added incentive to visit this area brought by the Trail and Map Initiative.

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At the beginning of the summer, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an agreement with legislative leaders to further the support of the growing craft beverage industry by reducing burdensome requirements for producers and limiting restrictions on the marketing of craft products. The bill would allow producers to hold beverage tastings and to serve their products “by the bottle” and “by the glass” without requiring a separate license. The legislation would also increase the production cap for farm distilleries and other small producers, and thus allow them a greater opportunity to maximize their profits. This bill will open the doors for different marketing techniques and will thereby help beverage producers and the industry as a whole become more profitable, in addition to helping the New York State economy. The Craft New York Act passed both the State Assembly and the State Senate at the end of the session, however, it will take effect only after being signed by Governor Cuomo.

This bill is a response to some of the needs of craft beverage producers in New York that were expressed at the State’s second Wine, Beer, Spirits, and Cider Summit held in April. The needs of cider producers were also addressed in 2013 with the introduction of the CIDER Act (Cider Investment and Development through Excise tax Reduction Act) in Congress, which had support from both parties, including from New York legislators. The federal bill would change the definition of cider in the Internal Revenue Code and address the reality that many cider producers use raw, natural materials, and thus, they often have  limited ability to control the exact amount of alcohol content and carbonation in their products. Under the existing law, if the contents of cider exceed certain limits, the cider could be taxed as wine or even as champagne, which could be up to $3.40/gallon.

In order to avoid this heavy tax, the CIDER Act would change the definition by doing three major things:

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1. Increase the limit for carbonation
2. Include pears in the definition of “hard cider”; and
3. Take into account the natural sugar content of apples when adjusting the maximum levels in the regulation of the beverage.

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New York State is amongst twelve others that permit drinking under the age of 21 for educational purposes and now California wants to follow suit.1 What has come to be known as the “Sip and Spit” Bill has passed the California Assembly and is currently headed for the floor of the State Senate. Assembly bill 1989 would create an exemption to California’s current prohibition against “furnishing alcohol to a minor”.

The need for legislation in this area was explained by Andrew Waterhouse, a UC-Davis professor of enology, in an article in the Los Angeles Times. Professor Waterhouse believes in the incorporation of all senses into the training of palate development and therefore, he supports a bill that would allow students under the age of 21 to sip the alcohol and then spit it out, solely for educational purposes. Both students and professors believe that the current age restriction forces many who are enrolled in enology programs to postpone an integral part of their studies until they are of legal drinking age. This often results in students needing to pay tuition for extra semesters in order to compete the required courses that they were forced to delay.

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These students simply want to be able to taste the wine in order to further develop their expertise and maximize their opportunity to perfect their skills while enrolled in wine making programs. The “Sip and Spit” Bill would allow wine sipping for the students, but would prohibit any swallowing of the liquid for those that are under 21 years old. Students have testified that there is a significant advantage to being able to taste the wine when learning to distinguish certain aromas or varieties and therefore, the educational force driving this change is clear.

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