Beer buddies milk family's farming heritage to breath life into new business, old property

By Lauren Halligan,

NASSAU >> An old dairy farm in southern Rensselaer County is no longer producing milk. It’s made the switch to beer.

Sanford & Sentz (S&S) Brewery is co-owned by Jason Sanford (the brewer); his brother Matt Sanford; (the agriculture buff); their brother-in-law Addam Sentz (the businessman); and Carol Sanford (the mommy). The brewery is located on the family farm at 274 Middle Road.

Sanford Farm has been in the family for hundreds of years, but it stopped dairy production two decades ago.

When New York passed the farm brewery law in 2012, the Sanford bunch got on a new bandwagon.

“We saw that as kind of an opportunity to revitalize the farm,” Sentz said.

“We needed something to keep the farm sustainable,” Carol Sanford said, and when new legislation passed, it all seemed to click for the brew-loving farmers.

So, they got to work, started the fields back into rotation, refitted the old cow milking barn into a brewery and invested in new equipment. With the right tools and know-how, S&S Brewery began producing 50-gallon batches of handcrafted beer made from organically grown crops.

The farm-fresh barley and hops, grown on sixth generation soil, make for a beer with a rich history. The mission of S&S Brewery is to produce high-quality beer with ingredients that are grown locally using ethical and sustainable agricultural methods. The family now has a new sustainable model on the farm, and they’re fitting it into their other operations.

The burgeoning beer industry has welcomed S&S with open arms.

“It’s a really neat time to be involved in this ’cause there’s kind of so many different people coming from so many different directions at it,” Sentz said.

Where S&S fits into the big beer puzzle, is “growing great beer,” the company slogan. On a five-acre patch of their abundant farmland, the farmers grow the barley. To stick to the organic practices the brewery prides itself on, the farmers use organic weed-killing crops, carefully planned rotations, bees from their uncle’s beehive and natural substances that release nutrients in the soil.

S&S Brewery grows Cascade, Centennial and Willamette hops varieties on the farm in a hops-growing fixture they built themselves. The different types affect bitterness, aromas and other attributes of the beer, Sentz said.

In the greenhouse, there’s something special, the family members say. Through word of mouth they connected with another farm and found a gem for their brews: Way back from a time when New York was a leading hops producer, S&S Brewery has transplanted age-old wild hops found on a former pre-prohibition Sharon Springs hops farm.

“That’s the end goal, is to have this stuff taste a certain way that you can’t duplicate elsewhere in the country,” Matt Sanford said. “We like for those subtle tastes to be distinctive in our beer, so we can say this is what this region tastes like.“

S&S Brewery has four great examples of the region’s flavor. First on the list is Bale Kicker Ale, a porter made with a variety of five specialty malts and two kinds of hops to create a hint of coffee and caramel tastes in the mildly hoppy brew.

On the darker side, the Brown Chicken is proving to be a fan favorite at the farmers market. It’s a classic American Brown Ale with a balance of maltiness and bitterness. The deep copper color attracts beer-drinkers and the smooth finish keeps them sipping, the Sandfords and Sentz say.

The throwback drink is Old 82 Ale, a golden beverage based on a pre-prohibition style. To add a little Sanford Farm history in there, too, the creators named it after the combine used to harvest their first field of barley.

And at 8.4 percent alcohol by volume, the Lame Llama IPA is named after one of the most-beloved Sanford Farm animals. Just like the character of its namesake, the IPA is bitter to the bone, with a robust malty flavor and four types of hops.

“Those flavors throughout the beer are based on what hops you’re using at different times during your boil,” Matt Sanford explained.

Brewing has become a passion for all three of the guys on the S&S brew team.

“It’s really cool because the sky’s the limit with the different styles you can build from it,” Sanford said.

The brewers are constantly tweaking their recipes and experimenting with new brews.

But it’s business, and the team keeps in mind the main goal of sustainability for the family farm.

S&S Brewery’s products are sold Saturdays at the Farmers Market at the Crossings, located off of Albany-Shaker Road in Loudonville. Its station offers tastings and growler-fills, as well as a chance to meet local farmers.

Lauren Halligan may be reached at 270-1287.