Eye on Agriculture: Hopshire Farm & Brewery offers a glimpse into the beer-to-table industry

By Sue Henninger
Tompkins Weekly

Photo by Sue Henninger / Tompkins Weekly
Randy Lacey is the co-owner and head brewer for Hopshire Farms & Brewery in Freeville.

October is traditionally a month many associate with beer.
Hopshire Farm & Brewery in Freeville aims to give both beer novices and aficionados an authentic taste of how beer-to-table works in upstate New York. Owners Randy Lacey and Diane Gerhart are dedicated to showing their clientele how hops are grown, the steps that go into brewing beer from natural ingredients, and the wide variety of quality beers that a small-scale local brewery is able to produce.

Lacey was already growing hops at their Ringwood Road home when the couple decided to expand his efforts by purchasing 35 acres of available farmland on Route 13, one of the busiest roads in Tompkins County. Starting from scratch, the two planted hops and constructed a brewery, complete with a hop kiln and other necessary equipment, which opens into a carefully designed tasting room. Lacey explained that he and Gerhart visited multiple breweries in Colorado beforehand to get a sense of what they wanted theirs to look, and feel, like.

In 2016, the pair added an event room off the tasting room for weekly live music sessions and other activities like Wednesday yoga classes and an annual IPA festival where they release a special fresh hopped community beer.

Old-timers may recognize the tasting room bar – a burnished section of mahogany from Plum’s Restaurant on Aurora Street in Ithaca. Beams from an Odessa barn, as well as salvaged lights add to the historical ambiance. However Lacey noted that they embrace the new as well as the old at Hopshire.

They have a strong online presence and have installed modern sound panels to improve the acoustics for their musicians. The brewery is kid and dog-friendly, making a trip to Hopshire like “coming into our living room for a beer,” Lacey said with a smile. The end result is a relaxing and inviting atmosphere, exactly what they were striving for.
“You can build a building, but you can’t build a vibe,” he emphasized.

According to Lacey, Hopshire attracts two distinct groups of customers. The first crowd usually lives less than five miles away and comes out for dinner and the Friday night music. The brewery is where they meet their neighbors to relax and catch up with each other. Lacey calls the second group “beer travelers,” people who always make a point of checking out the local breweries when they visit a town.
“They appreciate beer, always teach us something, and are a lot of fun to be around!” he asserted.

To accommodate these various palates, Hopshire has three beers, brewed by Lacey and his cousin Marty Lacey, that are always on tap. Beehave (mellow) is a honey ale, made from 100 percent local ingredients and is one of their most popular beverages. Shire is their Scottish Ale (middling), and Near Varna (mighty) is an India Pale Ale, strong and hoppy. A rotating selection of seasonal beers completes the bill of fare.

Though the couple realized food would be essential to creating an outstanding experience for their customers they knew they didn’t want the responsibility of a running a kitchen. Big fans of collaboration, they turned to other small area businesses and now regularly offer food from Dryden Community Center Café, Bickering Twins Latin Cuisine, and occasional pop-up pig roasts by Van Noble Farms and Bici-Cocina Latin Cuisine. There’s also a well-stocked cooler in the tasting room where visitors can purchase bottles of beer and cheeses to accompany it from local producers like Scheffler Farms and Muranda Cheese Company.

Hopshire Farm & Brewery is licensed under the farm brewery law (January 2013). This designation was created to stimulate farms to grow more of the ingredients needed for brewing beer and requires Hopshire to use a minimum of 20 percent of both New York State grown grain and hops. Lacey was also one of the founding board members of the Northeast Hop Alliance, which hosts an annual conference in Morrisville, and schedules field trips to various farms and breweries from Maryland to New Hampshire. Committed to helping the beer industry in any way he can, Lacey is also a member of the Farm Brewing Committee of the New York State Brewers Association.
“We legislate to make our voice heard about what we care about,” he explained.

For those who are contemplating opening a brewery, Hopshire will be hosting another “New Brewery Workshop” on November 5-6 (limited to 12 people).
“It’s an eye-opening experience for many who are considering it.” Lacey observed.

Though it’s a lot of work to update the materials they hand out, Lacey said it can’t be avoided as federal and state requirements are constantly changing. Nonetheless, the couple has found the workshops rewarding and the feedback from participants gratifying.

Are there any misconceptions about beer that Lacey can clear up?
“I’d like people to understand that there is craft beer made by independent breweries, there’s local beer, and then there’s local beer made with local ingredients [Hopshire’s practice],” he stated. “We use a thousand pounds of local honey a year. We get our ginger from a local farm, and use locally-produced maple syrup.
“Our beers have no preservatives, no additives, and no food flavorings (i.e. apricot flavoring),” Lacey added. “When you drink our beer you aren’t just supporting us, you are also keeping New York hop processors, malt houses, and other farmers in business and helping money stay in our state.”

Though the farm-to-table movement has blossomed in Tompkins County and beyond, this hasn’t always translated to a public demand for beer brewed with locally-grown ingredients. Lacey is amazed that consumers want to know where their kale came from and who grew it but don’t always apply the same principles to their beer ingredients.
“You can get pretty excellent beers from local breweries like ours,” he concluded.