'Lookie loos' drawn to new brewery on charming Geneva farm with progressive past

Will Cleveland
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
The striking architecture of the Bellwood barn has been carefully preserved for its new life as a Seneca Lake area brewery, and features prominently in Brewery Ardenne's marketing.

During a recent perfect spring morning in the Finger Lakes, you couldn't help but notice the amount of drivers who slowed down (or even came to a complete stop) as they approached 570 Snell Road.

For the past 15 months, Derek and Stacey Edinger have gotten used to this. Stacey calls them the "lookie loos."

"It happens a lot, which is awesome." Stacey said.

The drivers gawk at the French Norman style barn. It's so unexpected, yet it feels like it fits perfectly on the northeastern shore of Seneca Lake.

Invited guests and local dignitaries attended and took part in the unique ribbon cutting and toast, welcoming Derek and Stacey Edinger to the Finger Lakes craft beverage community.

The lookie loos finally have a chance to see how the Edingers and a team of contractors, craftsmen and family members painstakingly transformed the historic spot.

Originally built in 1909, Bellwood Farm was home to more than 2,000 sheep at its height. Two fires destroyed much of the 15,000-square-foot facility, but the surviving 5,800 square feet was rebuilt into the wonder it is today, a cozy and rustic Belgian-influenced farmhouse brewery. 

Brewery Ardennes recently opened to the public in the former Bellwood Farm's impressive Norman style barn at 570 Snell Road south of Geneva.

Edingers had a 'lookie loo' moment of their own

After graduating from Cornell University, Stacey and Derek lived in Dallas for a few years before settling down in San Francisco for nearly 20 years. While in northern California, they realized they shared a passion for fixing up old homes while paying attention to the historic touches that made them unique.

They moved back to Ithaca in 2015 and added a basement homebrewing setup for Derek before  planted roots in Geneva last year.

They thought about opening a brewery on the Ithaca Commons or something similar in an urban setting. They also considered destination-worthy properties in the Hudson Valley. 

"We weren't crazy about having a landlord," Stacey said. "We wanted our own space."

Derek found himself on Zillow, an online real estate directory, and the Bellwood Farm property got his engineering gears turning. 

"The listing had mostly pictures of the (neighboring) house," Stacey said. "It had a couple of the barn."

They drove down Snell and had their own "lookie loo" moment.

"What is this place?" Stacey recalled thinking. "We were the lookie loos. We couldn't believe what this place was. At that point, all reason went out the window. 'OK, this is it. This is the place for the brewery.'"

They closed on the Snell Road property the day New York was paused (March 13, 2020).

The unique architecture, coupled with the farm setting, and the ability to live on the property made it an unexpectedly perfect match. Geneva, being the gateway to Seneca Lake and right in the heart of the wine and burgeoning craft beer trails, made sense, too. The brewery is minutes from downtown Geneva and right down the road from Belhurst Castle and the recently opened Big aLICe Brewing.

The barn sat largely unused for 40 years, Stacey said. It was used to store patio furniture.

"The building was like 95% there in terms of not falling down," Derek said. "But other than that, like nothing. It was just an empty shell with no utilities on-site.

"We learned about very un-sexy things like wastewater."

The ultimate goal was to preserve as much of the original character of the barn as possible. Through the state's Historic Preservation Office, it was determined the property was "deemed eligible to be on the historic register," Stacey said. It is not yet approved for that status, however. That enabled them to keep windows that don't meet modern energy-saving specifications. 

"We want to make it nice, but we want to keep the charm, too," Derek said. "We love older homes and you hate to go into an older home where everyone has ripped out the original doors and windows to make it all modern inside."

"We like the fact that the window glazing is a little bit patinaed," Stacey said. 

The exterior stucco work was another hallmark that needed to be restored and preserved. The rocks came from streams on the property that were dug out, Stacey said.

A progressive beginning

In this old photo, Shropshire sheep graze outside the French Norman-style barn at Bellwood Farm. The property is now home to Brewery Ardennes.

The property reflected the wealth and eccentricities of its original owner, Katharine Bell Lewis, a noted suffragist and businesswoman. Her family had extensive holdings in coal mining and logging.

She married George Lewis in 1874 and they lived at the corner of East Avenue and Goodman Street in Rochester before moving to Buffalo in 1879

Lewis, who in 1908 made a $10,000 donation to the National Woman Suffrage Association in memory of Susan B. Anthony, purchased 350 acres of farmland in Geneva in 1898, a year after her husband died.

Her son operated neighboring White Springs Farm on Pre-Emption Road. It was known for cattle and later for fruit. Bellwood Farm, site of the brewery, was a base for sheep breeding. As Stacey put it, Lewis just kept buying land. She owned as many as 800 acres, Stacey said. One of the barns on her property is now home to Ravines Wine Cellars.

"This woman didn't do anything in a small way," Stacey said. "She decided to raise sheep, a specific breed of sheep called Shropshire."

The entire complex was 15,000 square feet. It featured inter-connected barns that mirrored each other, a courtyard between them, and a central driveway through it. The house on the current property is where the farm manager lived. 

Lewis added a private water reclamation to the property and also electricity with a miniature power plant of sorts in the garage of the farm manager's home. 

"She was really progressive," Stacey said. 

This painting behind the bar shows the barn in its larger original form before a fire consumed the portion on the right.

Passion for beer started at Cornell

Derek and Stacey's relationship has come full circle. It started with a blind date at Cornell University, where they joked they were drinking beer in a fraternity basement.

It included Derek's two decades of experimentation as a homebrewer and will continue when the Edingers open their dream brewery.

"It starts with beer and it ends with beer," joked Stacey, a southern Massachusetts native. "And it wasn't good beer, but you've got to start somewhere," added Derek, who is originally from Marion, Wayne County. 

Stacey worked in the hospitality industry, mostly for hotel companies, focusing on sales, marketing, and events. Most recently, she spent 10 years at Hyatt Hotels. 

Derek, an engineer, worked on satellite construction in the aerospace industry. He co-founded Ithaca-based Ursa Space Systems, a satellite intelligence company, upon their return to New York in 2015. Derek continues to work there part-time, but is devoting much of his time and attention to Ardennes. 

He caught the homebrewing bug in college, first encountering some gateway craft beers at Ithaca's famed Chapter House. He got serious about the hobby — which became an obsessive calling, Stacey would tell you — in 1999.

The first batch made on the kitchen cooktop was just the start.

"I witnessed the mess he made," Stacey joked. "And then he produced a spreadsheet showing how much money he was going to save us by making his own beer versus buying it. He said, 'I'll just buy a couple pieces of equipment and I'll do it in the garage.'"

"And then the engineer took over and I just kept wanting to get more toys and fancier equipment, so the amortization reaches infinity," Derek said. "It just kept on building up and building up the expertise."

Brewery will feature Belgian beers

Derek was driven by the desire to perfect recipes and processes. Belgian-style beers presented the biggest challenge.

"Belgian tripel, that's my favorite," Derek said, "and a Belgian quad is such a challenge, to have it finish dry and not sweet. Once I could get those two down, I was, 'OK, now, it's getting really good."

Outside of Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown or Allagash Brewing in Portland, Maine, you'd be hard-pressed to find a brewery that's going to embrace classic Belgian beers more than Ardennes. The Edingers fell in love with Belgium through many trips there, which only served to solidify Derek's love of Belgian-style beers.

That's not to say the brewery won't have an occasional India pale ale or fruited kettle sour. But if it does, it'll be with a Belgian flair, Derek said. Expect a hazy IPA made with a Belgian yeast.

"That's what we want to capture here — not just the beer, but a destination experience," Derek said. "The food, the beer, the setting, we want to do everything."

The inspiration for the beer came first, the property followed, and then a name was selected third. Derek noted the property feels like the Ardennes region of Belgium. 

"It's rural, it's scenic, it's hilly, it's a farm," Derek said. Much of the inspiration is derived from Brasserie d'Achouffe, a brewery in the Ardennes region now owned by Duvel Moortgat, the parent company of Ommegang.

They noticed the soaring shape of the front door looks like an "A." The logo was derived from that.

Working with consultant Bruce Lish, who was a former head brewer at Three Heads, Custom Brewcrafters, and Naked Dove, Derek and his brother and assistant brewer, Cory Edinger, have been learning the ins and outs of their 10-barrel brewhouse system. 

Traditionally Belgian beers, often made by Trappist monks (from the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance), feature a distinctive yeast profile and adjuncts like orange peel or coriander. But generally, the Belgian family of beers is difficult to categorize.

The opening tap list includes a tripel, dubbel, Blonde, cherry sour, Belgian-style hazy IPA, and others. 

Because they want to be a destination, the brewery features a big kitchen, which will focus on Belgian classics like frites, mussels and croquets. 

Derek's parents, Jon and Linda, have helped a bunch, too. Linda painted the pastoral barn mural behind the bar and completed some original artwork of classic Belgian beers in the tasting room. In many ways, it's about returning to their roots. Derek grew up on a family farm in Wayne County.

While the pandemic caused them to shift their focus a bit, it also allowed them to understand the importance of outdoor seating. So Ardennes has plenty of room to stretch out and enjoy the serenity of Seneca Lake.

"COVID really amplified the fact that most people are social creatures," Stacey said. "For us, the beer community has been so different than our other careers, because it's not as cutthroat competitive as other industries. It's collaborative. We're just excited to move this vision from paper to in-person."

"We thought so much about the experience we want people to have," Derek said. "We love traveling, we love food and beer. We would talk for hours about the places we loved. I think we always knew in the back of our mind we would do something with those experiences."