The Cornell Brewing Program provides vital consulting and research assistance to many of New York's over 300 craft breweries.

Courtesy of Cornell

The Cornell Brewing Program provides vital consulting and research assistance to many of New York's over 300 craft breweries.

November 25, 2019

From Cider to Spirits, Cornell Craft Beverage Institute Helps Brew New York’s Alcohol Industry

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It’s no secret that many students rank as experts in fermented beverages, from kombucha to Keystone and beyond. The Cornell Craft Beverage Institute, however, brings a new level of expertise to this field, using advanced techniques to bolster New York’s burgeoning beer and wine scene.

With capabilities in researching distilled spirits, wine, craft beer, hard cider and more, the CCBI serves as a vital source of support for industry producers across New York State. Last year alone, the Institute analyzed over 1,750 beverage samples with the goal of giving producers feedback on how to optimize ingredients, according to a University press release.

For New York’s over 300 independent breweries — like the regionally famed Ithaca Beer Co. — the Institute’s Cornell Brewing Program has worked to bolster craft production by facilitating laboratory procedures and sharing informational materials.

For brewers looking to improve their operations, the program provides training sessions and consulting services at cost, as well as “a modest amount” of free guidance to craft operators — which now, according to a report, is a $5 billion industry that employs over 20,000 in New York.

But beyond beer, the Institute also operates two other programs, the Cornell Extension Enology Lab and Craft Beverage Analytical Lab — reflecting the demand Cornell has increasingly faced from New York’s growing beverage industry for more specialized advice and assistance.

The former offers specialized certifications in subjects such as “Tasting Room Education,” “Wine Production & Analysis” and a course on how to set up a still and how to make a distilled beverage — a type of program rarely found in the U.S. The latter performs more than 25 different tests for beverage products, including heat stability, dryness and acidity for wine and cider, and tests of sugars, alcohol and acetic acid for kombucha and distillates.

“Over the past 10 or so years, we started noticing that more people were asking us for extension help with cider analysis and with spirits analysis,” said Prof. Anna Katherine Mansfield, enology. These requests, which “got to the point where we just didn’t have the manpower,” prompted the creation of the CCBI to serve as an umbrella organization for Cornell’s three beverage services.

Such services have proved invaluable to New York’s producers, according to Pam Raes, a research aide who cited the Institute’s accessibility and far-reaching services as a reason for its popularity.

One example: A cohort of staff members stands ready to answer phone calls and help clients troubleshoot a variety of issues, ranging from queries about “traditional fermented beverages like wines and ciders to food products containing alcohol like jams and barbecue sauces,” Raes said.

Beyond offering consulting services to business, a key goal of the Institute is to make sure that key, scientific developments in beverage science make their way to the industry and public, principally by conducting outreach in the form of publications, media and workshops.

According to Mansfield, the Institute often acts as a “translator” of knowledge: They gather research findings at Cornell and elsewhere, summarize them and convey the information to brewers and producers who might otherwise have to pay a fee to access such information in a journal article.

“These people are really passionate about what they do, and they’re really interesting because their backgrounds are so diverse,” Mansfield said. “They’re farmers who are spinning off something new, or they have just always loved a particular product and now they want to make it … you meet really interesting people who are really into what they’re doing.”