GUILFORD, CT —It makes no sense to the owner of Bishop’s Orchards that the hard cider he makes on his iconic premises in Guilford can be savored at nearby breweries, but can’t be bought by the glass at his place.
So Keith Bishop, co-CEO of Bishop’s Orchards held a press conference Tuesday along with Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, and Bryan Hulburt, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, to trumpet legislation that Cohen has introduced to try and change that.
Cohen’s bill, SB 539, would allow holders of a manufacturers permit 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.
It has been referred to the General Law Committee, where Cohen said Tuesday it is slated for a public hearing on Feb. 28.
Cohen and Hurlburt both stated that current liquor laws need updating.
“Helping businesses succeed is vital to a healthy economy,” said Cohen.
She said she learned they were exploring opportunities to expand hard cider production, “yet, because of an antiquated statute that perhaps didn’t have the foresight that hard cider would become popular, Bishops was unable to sell in a certain manner,” Cohen said.
Hurlburt added: “This isn’t mind-blowing legislation. We just need to fix this. It’s an easy win for everybody — more revenue, more jobs.”
“This bill proposal will allow Bishop’s Orchards, as well as other cideries, the opportunity to not only manufacture hard cider, but also have the option of selling by the glass,” said Cohen. “We have breweries across the state conducting business in this manner and shouldn’t prevent sales for cider.”
Bishop said that that he currently has two liquor permits, a farm winery permit and a cider permit.
“Farm winery laws allow us to taste and sell by the bottle or glass,” Bishop said. “The cider law allows tasting and bottle sales, but is silent on selling by the glass.”
Bishop said his family wants to fully invest in growing its business by adding workers, but is being hampered by the ban on in-house cider sales.
“Our family plans to adapt our family farm business to meet the changing consumer preferences related to our areas of expertise to include more seasonable opportunities for customers to learn about and enjoy our farm produced wines and hard ciders,” Bishop said.
Bishop said he only learned last year as a result of expansion plans by another farm winery and cidery in the area that the Department of Consumer Protection’s Liquor Control Division does not allow the sale of hard cider by the glass.
“Learning that the law was interpreted to not allow glass sales of hard cider — at half the alcohol of wine — and that we can do sell farm wines by the glass was a setback to our future plans,” Bishop said.
Those plans, he said Tuesday, include having a full catering service, food menu, cider tasting bar and possible wedding location open at the popular farm off the busy Boston Post Road in Guilford.
“All I am looking for is to level the playing the field,” said Bishop, reiterating that it made no sense to him that his cider can be enjoyed by patrons a few miles away at a brewery in Branford but can’t be savored in his own orchard.
Bishop added: “The stewardship of over 200 acres of crops is important to our town, and our direct sales to the public of our crops is important to economic sustenance. All of the wines and hard ciders we make are from fruit we grow right here on our farm in Guilford.”
Asked who might be opposed to lifting the restriction, Hurlburt and Cohen first hesitated but then Cohen stated that it’s possible that “some breweries” where the hard cider is sold might object to the law.
But Hurlburt said he thinks blossoming craft beer, winery, and hard cider businesses in Connecticut can still prosper with the law’s passage.
“This (passing the law) isn’t going to harm anybody,” Hurlburt said.
He said it will create more opportunities for local producers and is one of the Connecticut Farm Bureaus top priorities for this legislative session.