The days when family farms are just farms have long passed. To survive today they need to be “destinations.” Indian Ladder Farms, the century-old, family- run operation in Albany County, has been drawing kids of all ages for generations — for spring fruit picking and fall harvests, hayrides, and cider donuts. Last year, it added further enticements for those of an older age group: beer and cider.
The farm, founded in 1916 by Peter Gansevoort Ten Eyck, has gone through many iterations — a dairy farm with award-winning Guernsey cows, a fruit orchard, an agro-tourist hotspot — but Dietrich Gehring, the man behind the brewery, believes that Ten Eyck “couldn’t have imagined anything like this would happen here.” He would know, because his wife, Laura Ten Eyck, is Peter’s great-granddaughter. They live on the property, and Gehring, a home brewer, started adding hops and barley to their crop rotation years ago.
To help get things going, Gehring called on the help of Stuart Morris, an old college friend who now works in wine sales. The two decided to focus efforts rst on the cidery: mainly because they are, after all, a fruit orchard, but also because “we only have a three-quarter barrel system, so we can only make so much beer,” Gehring says. That beer promises to be something special, though. Their brewer, David Van Houte, has a Ph.D. in molecular biology — “His dissertation was on brewer’s yeast,” Gehring notes — and he has isolated wild yeast from the farm to create beers made entirely of estate-grown products.
To produce more beer, they collaborate with other breweries from Brooklyn to Albany. “We bring our own malted barley, hops, and yeast and go to, say, the CIA/ Brooklyn Brewery and talk about the kinds of beer we are looking to make,” he says. “I send them a list of ingredients we have and leave it to the brewer. Part of the fun is working with everyone, saying we have great stuff for you, now go make something great.”
They also work with CH Evans Brewing in Albany, Sloop, and Chatham breweries, and hope to team up with the folks at Suarez, too. “We are trying to have our friends help us out so we can build bigger without going so far into debt we don’t see the light of day,” he says. Part of the problem is that the water on the farm is not great for beer making, so they plan to begin digging a new well and building a 30-barrel brewery soon.
For now, they produce two beers of their own. The Red Poppies of Passchendale, a Flanders Red, is a Belgian-style sour ale that’s Solera-aged in a Merlot barrel. The Liquid Reuben American Sour Ale is tart, like a berlinerweisse, but also spiced with orange peel, coriander, and grains of paradise. They offer these, as well as the various co-productions and the many ciders, at their new biergarten, open seven days a week during the warmer months behind the main farm store.
In a way, Gehring is returning the farm to its pre-Prohibition roots, when 40,000 acres were planted with hops. Today, it’s just 250 acres, but those plots are key to keeping this fourth-generation family farm vibrant. “This is a big piece of the way forward,” he says. “We need to diversify in order to sustain. This is another step in our 100-plus year history.”
Indian Ladder Farms
342 Altamont Road, Altamont