Now the 109-year-old family owned business in LaFayette is turning toward a new venture: Cannabis.
After planting a test crop of industrial hemp (a type of cannabis) last year, and an aborted attempt to make a CBD-infused beverage product, the company this month is launching a new division called Beak & Skiff Research.
Its mission will be to develop a hemp-growing and processing program. It will produce cannabis-derived CBD, both in a crude bulk form and in more refined “distillates” that can be used to make oils for salves, tinctures and ointments that are touted by advocates for their health effects.
Eventually, the company hopes to be able to make CBD-infused beverages to add to their existing drinks line, when that becomes legal.
“Innovation is in our DNA,” Beak & Skiff president Eddie Brennan said. “We’re always talking about diversification on our farms, to help balance the ups and downs of the apple business.”
Since the coronavirus emergency, for example, the company has turned its 1911 Established Distillery on Route 20 into one of the largest local producers of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
The new move to cannabis not only comes amid the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic, but also during a lingering lack of clarity on the cannabis/CBD industry in New York and the rest of the country.
A law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in December established new guidelines for the legal growing and manufacturing of hemp and hemp extracts, including CBD.
But the law did not legalize adding CBD to foods and beverages — a practice that remains common in the state despite its illegal status. CBD (cannabidiol) extracted from hemp is a non-psychoactive compound.
Last year, Beak & Skiff started a 3-acre test plot of industrial hemp on its sprawling property near the intersection of Route 20 and 80 in LaFayette. It also produced a new product, CBD Cold Brew Coffee, made with CBD from another nearby processor.
But that product had to be pulled when the state Department of Agriculture and Markets issued guidelines making the manufacture and sale of CBD in food and drink illegal. The state said it was acting according to rulings from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Cuomo promised late last year to convene experts in the field early this year to address the future of the hemp, CBD and cannabis industries. That has apparently been derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, Beak & Skiff has decided to move ahead, planting a new 20 to 25 acres of industrial hemp. It’s also building a dedicated new facility to process the hemp into usable oils.
Starting this fall, Beak & Skiff will offer its facility to other hemp growers for processing, while also working on its own products, Brennan said. It hopes to have Beak & Skiff-branded tincture and lotions available later this year.
CBD-infused drinks may come in the future.
“We’re excited by where this is headed, despite some bumps along the way,” Brennan said. “We hope there is a path to putting this into food and drink when we can do it legally and ensure the highest quality.”