Out in the rolling hills of Rensselaer County sits a small farm that has been in the hands of the Sanford family since the 1800s. Like many others, this one has evolved to meet the needs of the market. Its most recent iteration was a dairy farm, but in the past few years the milk business failed to make ends meet. The dairy operations halted, and the barns and other buildings were converted into storage units for hay.
Carol Sanford, and her sons (yes, really), Matthew and Jason, plus her son-in-law Addam Sentz, pondered what to do about that. Home brewers all, the boys were having a few and thought: “Beer. We can grow beer.”
Each brought a different skill set to the operation. Matt is in charge of the growing the hops and grains and keeping the farm running; Jason handles the brewing and equipment; Addam is in charge of business development and marketing. As for mom Carol, “She keeps us all in line,” Addam says.
Family is the operative word. Carol and Paul Sanford own the estate, while their sons, along with daughter Stephanie and Addam — and a gaggle of grandchildren — all live on the farm. The adults have full-time jobs but wanted to make the farm productive again. When the state’s Farm Brewery Bill was passed in 2012, they thought, “Let’s give it a go and see what we make out of it,” he says.
Matt developed plans to return the fields to productive use and planted a half-dozen hop varieties. They converted the milk house into a nanobrewery, with a small 1.5 barrel, 50-gallon system. The beer started flowing in 2014. “We don’t get too crazy with styles,” Addam says. “We try to keep our ingredients as locally sourced as possible.” That includes using a wild yeast cultivated on the farm, which they use to create a particular farmhouse-style ale. “It gives it that spicy, soury flavor you expect from farmhouse ales,” he notes. They make about nine styles, each appealing to the three brewers’ tastes. “Matt likes IPAs, Jason likes golden ales and I like darker beers, so we all play in our own space.”
They started out by selling their brews at the Colonie Farmers Market. It was so well received, they opened the milk house on Fridays for growler fills, and later expanded to pint sales. “It picked up, and we had lines up the road,” he says. “We needed more space.”
A Kickstarter campaign helped fund a tasting room in the milk barn, but the community chipped in more than money: “Our neighbors helped us build,” Sentz says. “A local artist burned our logo into the walls, and a hops grower cut a piece of white pine for our bar top. It was very much a community effort.”
They continue to come together on Friday evenings, gathering in the taproom and spilling onto the grounds, where happy parents can enjoy a night out while equally happy children cavort in the fields. That, too, has become such a local happening they are considering expanding both their brewing system and their space, though that is still well off.
Their beer is now on tap at the Towne Tavern in Averill Park, the Sports Grill in East Greenbush, the Flammerie in Kinderhook, the East Chatham Food Company, and Lark + Lily wine bar in Albany, but the best place to enjoy family farm beer is on the farm itself, now vibrant again. “It’s a lot of hard work but also fun and rewarding, seeing the reinvestment into the farm,” Addam says. “We have a lot of hope around the fact that we will keep the farm growing for our kids, the sixth generation, and can leave it to them in the future.”
174 Middle Rd, Nassau; 518.336.0766; www.sandsbrewery.com
Saturday July 15, Barton Orchards, Poughquag
Like beer? What about bourbon? And bacon? If you answered a resounding “yes” or “duh” to all of these, don’t miss this year’s rendition of Beer, Bourbon, & Bacon, now at an all-new location. This four-hour event offers guests the opportunity to sample hundreds of suds from breweries and distilleries found across the world, with plenty of vendors on site to satisfy any bacon craving conceivable (and some you’d never think of).
Barton Orchards, 63 Apple Tree Ln, Poughquag; 845.471.2879; www.beerbourbonbacon.com