Episode #009 – Keeping it in the Family with S&S Farm Brewery
In today’s episode we sit down with Matt Sanford and briefly with his wife Shaina from S&S Farm Brewery in Nassau, NY.
Below we have provided some show notes to follow along with if you would like. Besides hosting our podcast here on the website, we also have it streaming on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, and Tune In.
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Depending on the phone you have, trusting your GPS can cause an adventure heading to S&S Farm Brewery. After a long drive to Nassau, we went through dusty back roads and found ourselves at our last stop for the NY trip.
2:45 – Matt explains his family history of being a part of this farm for what is now 6 generations. The farm has gone through changes over time. They had an egg route before transitioning into a dairy farm. However, over time farming is a difficult. While the price of milk stayed the same, the cost of farming gradually became more expensive.
In the late 90’s the farm had to sell the cows. This new chapter of opening a brewery has been a way to revitalize the farm.
6:20 – During the 90’s the family decided to hay the farm and sell to horse farms. This method of farming helped them to at least pay the taxes.
Matt decided to eventually go to college for elementary education. Coming back home, the family wanted to do something with the farm but what?
Matt having been a big beer guy and into home brewing started on a path towards the future that is now.
10:20 – Interestingly, they use a small 1.5 bbl system (or 50 gallons) which requires a lot of brewing. This allows a lot of experimentation but requires a lot of brewing. Matt still works full time on the side as a school bus driver. A nice bonus as a bus driver is that he is able to work the farm, brewery, and his job through the day.
16:12 – We start getting into the first beer. This interesting session beer was made to give the driver of a group a nice beer. Still a work in progress, Matt wants a low 3 high 2% ABV beer that you can have a few and not get buzzed.
Starting the Brewery
19:15 – Matt explains how the starting a brewery came about and how they got into the new farm brewery bill. As time has progressed although, the farm bill is getting a bit more strict.
25:25 – S&S Farm Brewery is growing their own hops and have done some barley as well. While only growing a small amount, they use the crop for specialty release beers. They tend to keep it out of the older flagship beers. They want the special beers to be truly special by allowing you to experiment what came from them only. No adulteration from other sources.
26:45 – One beer series they do for instance is the School Of Hops that allows people to try a single hop in each beer. They want people to be able to learn what each hop taste like. Most of the 100% homegrown stuff ends up in their Farmhouse ale.
Challenges of Farming
28:03 – There is a lot of challenges farming your own barley and hops. They grow their barley organically, “not certified” but its done organically. Barley has to fight weeds and the way to avoid is usually Round Up. Matt chooses to not do this but grows clover among the barley to fight this without pesticides. Also, the nutrients in the ground die quickly so you need to grow other plants in order to rotate the crop locations.
31:26 – Puppy and Baby come back to say hi. Matt talks about how Mira was born next door in their home on a Friday during 3 of the 6 hours they are open each week. Perfect timing to be born right? She is adorable!
32:00 – Matt talks about learning how to farm and what its like growing up on a farm.
35:45 – Downy Mildew is a nightmare with hops in NY. The third year they got hit hard with it. These trial and error moments teach you valuable lessons each year. Currently now they have about 8 varieties of hops growing. This includes a wild hop they found that ages back to pre-prohibition. You would think with it’s wild growth for hundreds of years that it survives against downy mildew. However, it is still susceptible to it like the others. It is just a little heartier.
39:00 – We go into beer number 2. Eternal Sunshine is an IPA that is changing soon due to the farm brewery law changes. This can be one challenge as a farm brewer because the amount of required ingredients gets stricter and stricter.
42:55 – For S&S Farm Brewery, being small has helped with the farm bill. It is interesting to wonder though for these larger scale farm breweries get ingredients. As the laws get more strict, will farming keep up with the influx of breweries.
Some Future Plans at S&S Farm Brewery
44:20 – They do have a 20 bbl system they plan to move into soon. The building is finished and the system is there. It is just a matter of hooking it all up and starting to use it. You can tell Matt is hesitant jumping from 1.5 to 20 right off the bat. It will be exciting to see this equipment get going though.
49:30 – Open 6 to 9 Friday and Saturday is interesting. The reason for this was to support the community. They are located in a residential area and Matt wants to respect his neighbors. Genuinely nice, he does not want to ask his neighbors to sacrifice their residential location for the brewery.
55:58 – We get into the next beer. Their Bale Kicker Porter is one of their flagships. Matt believes in using a different yeast for the different beers which can be unique as many use a house yeasts.
Then we get into beer number 4 which perfectly is the 4 O’clock Porter. This was truly one of the best beers I have ever had. Using local cold brewed coffee this beer is amazing. Matt does not enter a lot of their beers into competitions but this one they did and won. No surprise from us. My favorite beer on the trip by far.
What’s it like to grow a beer from birth?
59:25 – Matt goes a little more in depth behind their farmhouse yeast strain created by a friend. Really interesting how this yeast was made. Their Farmhouse beer uses all farm ingredients including the barley, pre-prohibition hop, and this special yeasts.
There is something special about being able to say you grew the ingredients that are in the beer they made. Truly that is blood, sweat, and tears in a beer of this magnitude.
1:07:00 – Shaina is able to come back and sit with us for a few minutes. We get to spend some time getting to know how Shaina supports the brewery behind the scenes. Shaina is a big IPA lady but starting to get into sours and trying to get Matt to do the same.
1:15:30 – Shaina explains how a benefit of being so niche and small, is they can brew specifically for their customer. If a customer makes a special requests, they will make it.
1:18:40 – Who is the “Mean Llama?” Their mean lame llama is an interesting story about Matt’s pet llama who was as mean as they come. You would feed him an apple as a gift and he would chew it up and then spit at you. Shaina was once locked in the chicken coop because of him and more. Of course, this llama was perfect ambassador for a very bitter IPA.
Thanks for Listening
We had an awesome visit and appreciate you stopping by. For more episodes don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite podcast player. Or, simply come back every Tuesday for a new episode.
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