Sagaponacka’s Surprising Spirits

A new business venture on Foster Farm in Sagaponack is turning produce into vodka
Dean Foster, right, and Matt Beamer’s Sagaponacka vodka is designed to showcase the flavor of East End produce. Jamie Bufalino

A tanker truck filled with potato mash was parked outside the Sagg Farm Distillery, a new business venture on Foster Farm in Sagaponack that is turning produce into Sagaponacka Vodka. The truck was rhythmically pumping its contents through a hose leading indoors to what looked like a mad scientist’s lair: a network of pipes, vats, and valves all connected to a computerized control panel. As a steady stream of the mash thumped its way into one of the vats, Dean Foster, the man in charge of the farm, talked about why he decided to throw the potatoes he grows into a brand-new enterprise. 

“I look at the distillery as a vehicle that will get us through the bad times, because the potato industry really has taken a hit due to free trade,” said Mr. Foster, adding that he was also keen to “be part of an industry that has some excitement with it.” 

The initial kick in the pants for Mr. Foster’s brand extension was the 2014 New York Craft Act, which eased the state’s restrictions on the production of craft spirits. As it happened, Mr. Foster already had an alcohol craftsman in his family: Matt Beamer, who is married to Mr. Foster’s cousin. He was a master brewer in Utah’s burgeoning craft beer scene in the 1990s and is now a partner in Sagg Farm Distillery. 

“I’ve been in the alcohol game a long time,” said Mr. Beamer, who is in charge of the hands-on process of creating Sagaponacka vodka, overseeing the mash, the fermentation, and the distillation. He also sets the agenda for which produce Mr. Foster needs to plant and harvest in order to meet vodka-production demands. 

“There are 20 pounds of potatoes in each bottle,” said Mr. Foster, who has had to adapt his usual farming routine to accommodate the new business. “Now I get up in the morning and know that I’m not going to go wrangle with 100 acres. Now I have to be more zoned in on Matt’s needs.”

So far, Mr. Beamer has concocted a potato and a wheat version of Sagaponacka vodka, but he has even more exotic beverages in the works for later this year. “I’m going to do a rhubarb liqueur and a cucumber vodka using fresh cucumbers,” he said. 

The duo are also in the midst of creating a liquor that technically does not even exist. “I was thinking, ‘Lets do something that no one’s ever done and make a potato whiskey,’ ” said Mr. Beamer. “We did, and we tasted it, and we were like, ‘Holy cow, we’re actually on to something here.’ But we can’t call it whiskey because whiskey is made from grain.”  

As they experiment with different spirits, the duo are sticking to one overarching game plan: to source all the ingredients directly from Foster Farm (from “seed to glass” as Mr. Beamer dubbed it) and to showcase the unique taste of the crops that emanate from East End soil. “If you take a potato that’s grown in Sagaponack and compare it to one that’s grown in Idaho, the Idaho one is cardboard and the Sagaponack one has this sweetness and silkiness — that’s what blows my mind,” said Mr. Foster. 

And although vodka is generally thought of as colorless and flavorless, Mr. Beamer has been throttling back a bit on the distillation “to leave a little bit of the produce’s character in the vodka, so you remember it,” he said.

Sagaponacka vodka — which is carried in most East End liquor stores and will soon be infiltrating the New York City market as well — is crafted to be a sipping vodka, and starting this summer, visitors to the distillery will be able to sample the goods on site. A tasting room, built adjacent to the distillery and with a window looking directly onto a mammoth copper Bavarian Holstein still, will give patrons an up-close look at an East End milestone.

“We’re the first distillery in the Hamptons,” said Mr. Foster proudly. “And it’s all coming from this ground right here. Nobody else can say that.”

Mr. Foster’s sister Marilee helped design the brand’s bottle. Paul Jones