There’s a story behind everything in the new tasting room at Sagaponack Farm Distillery, and siblings Dean and Marilee Foster are enthusiastic about sharing it.
From clamps that Dean Foster used to craft funky overhead lighting, to a foot rail that used to be part of the train tracks running from Sag Harbor to Bridgehampton, to an 18-foot-long bar made from an elm tree that once stood at a nearby farm, decorative and utilitarian appointments in the sunny and airy space are rich with history.
Marilee Foster joked that she calls the room’s design style, “Farm Fancy.”
The brother-sister duo opened the tasting room in December and welcome patrons with weekend hours, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 6 p.m.
A modest space, the room measures about 20 feet by 45 feet and is located in what was once a barn just off Sagg Road. White walls top re-purposed wood panels found at the farm, with a west-facing wall of glass garage-style doors engineered to slide up along the roof line combine to create an illusion of size and openness.
At one end sits a bright green John Deere tractor, and at the other, safety glass offers a window into the shiny copper and steel distillery equipment. An antique 1878 plow rests on a beam across the open ceiling.
“I love to look at that,” Marilee Foster said of a framed photograph of a whiskey raid in Bridgehampton that took place during Prohibition. Characters in the picture are “straight out of central casting,” she said, explaining that a friend who found the old photo gave it to her.
A 1938 aerial photo of Sagaponack, taken from about 5,000 feet four months before the historic hurricane that year, is framed, and the siblings provide a magnifying glass for visitors who want to examine it.
Community and familial connections are evident in the collection of local artifacts and unique decor visitors find there.
The bar made from a tree that died of Dutch elm disease is a focal point of the room. Dean Foster “wanted something to pop,” he said, describing the quest for the perfect material for the counter. The elm tree that became the bar was cut down at a nearby farm in the early 1980s, he said.
“My dad could have helped them load this tree,” he speculated of his late father, Clifford H. Foster.
Dean Foster finished the wood himself. “His skill comes from working with my father,” Marilee Foster said of her brother.
A lifelong farmer, Dean Foster saw the industry become untenable as years wore on and the cost of farming potatoes grew while their price dipped. The distillery idea, he said, was born of “a realization that I had to think about serious diversification regarding row crop farming in the Hamptons.”
His cousin Matt Beamer, a nationally well-known craft brewer, joined the team, and they created their first spirit: vodka distilled from potatoes grown just south of Montauk Highway in Sagaponack. Dean Foster hopes to expand offerings to create a variety of spirits that “reflect the different things we grow.”
Visitors will find rhubarb liquor in unusual square bottles on softly hued wood shelves. The limited edition wheat-based spirit is a tart, non-traditional take on a traditional cordial.
Another shelf accommodates numbered bottles of Single Spud, the farm’s answer to traditional whiskey. A “mash” crafted of distilled Adirondack potatoes barrel aged in American oak, Single Spud features notes of vanilla and cherry.
Sagaponacka vodka already has won awards. There’s one made from grade-A katahdin variety potatoes that’s described as aromatic, slightly sweet and smooth. A second Sagaponacka vodka is made from winter wheat planted in the field behind the Fosters’ home farm. The neutral spirit is the foundation for the “Farm-O” house cocktail that combines vodka, rhubarb liquor, tonic, and lemon.
The “11962 Bloody Mary” is an experience. One hundred percent local, the tomatoes in the house mix are grown right at the farm, and, Marilee Foster noted, miniature versions of the pale orange carrots grown on the farm serve as tasty garnish.
“We are still pulling carrots,” she said.
Like her brother, Marilee Foster said she isn’t much of a drinker, but as a Bloody Mary mixologist, she excels.
And that moderate interest in drinking aligns with the Fosters’ vision. They don’t see the tasting room as a typical tavern and aren’t interested in drawing a typical bar crowd. A plain menu includes the motto: “Sip your potatoes, don’t get smashed.”
Tasting room drinks are meant to be savored mindfully, local ingredients to be sensually savored. There’s no giant TV in the pleasant space and, Marilee Foster said, “there never will be.”
Throughout the process of renovating the barn into the distillery and tasting room, the pair continued to work the land.
“Trying to farm and build a distillery is definitely a feat,” Dean Foster said. “It’s nice to see the lights on.”
Sagaponack Farm Distillery is at 369 Sagg Road in Sagaponack. For more information call 631-537-7300.