Siblings honor Dad with whiskey made from his corn
The sibling rivalry between Dean Bindner and Diane Williams is intense. Their most heated competition is who can get their parents, Tom and Linda Bindner of Marcus, Iowa, the best Christmas gift.
During last year’s Iowa State Fair, Diane stopped at the Century Farms Distillery booth. The Spencer, Iowa, business, owned by Ryan and Amanda Bare, turns corn grown on a specific farm into bourbon whiskey. The source farm is featured on the label, and a QR code links to photos and a history of the farm on the distillery's website.
While the Century Farms label uses only corn from farms that are certified Century Farms, different labels are also available.
- LISTEN TO PODCAST: Corn to heirloom whiskey
“When I saw it, I grabbed my brother and told him I had found the best Christmas present,” Diane says. “It’s also really neat that we came across this at the fair since that’s our annual tradition.”
When their kids were young, Tom and Linda worked at the fair promoting farm conservation practices, so it became a mini vacation for the family and an annual outing they still enjoy together as adults.
Gift of a Lifetime
This would be an expensive gift, but Dean, Diane, and their older siblings Donald and Dennis wanted to do something really special for their father because he was facing some health issues.
Since Bindner Farms turned 130 years old in 2022, making some of its corn into whiskey seemed like the perfect way to honor Tom and preserve the family legacy.
“When I think of our dad, it’s always about history. It’s about family heritage, the century farm, and the legacy,” Diane says. “No matter how long my parents are here or how long we’re here, we’re instilling into future generations that legacy matters.
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Using 40 to 50 bushels of corn from a family’s farm, Century Farms Distillery makes three barrels of bourbon, or about 1,000 bottles. The aging process takes two years. The family gets 60 bottles and a barrel, and the rest is sold to the public. The base price is $4,400
Other options include custom labeling and purchasing additional bottles of bourbon or rapid-aged corn whiskey that is ready in about two months.
Corn Makes Whiskey
After the 2021 harvest was complete, Dean toured the distillery. “They walked me through the whole place, and it was awesome," he says. “I called Diane when I left and said, ‘We’re doing this.’”
Ryan Bare demonstrates part of the whiskey-making process.
On Christmas Day, the very last gift to be opened was for Tom. “They gave me a bottle of whiskey and told me it would have our name on it,” he says. “It was a big surprise. I never expected that and didn’t even know something like this existed.”
Diane says, “It was really sweet because he was super confused, then we explained it. It really gelled when Dean took them there.”
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The Bindners visited Century Farms Distillery for a tour on New Year’s Day, and the Bares explained the whole process.
Tom Bindner with a bottle of Bindner Farms Whiskey.
On January 30, Dean and Tom loaded 60 bushels of corn from their farm and took it to the distillery a week later. “Corn went up $2 after we delivered it,” Tom says with a laugh, in typical farmer fashion.
After their tour, Linda got started writing the family history that would appear on the distillery website. “It is an amazing process and they are fantastic people,” she says. Read their page on the distillery site.
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By the way, Dean claims the Christmas challenge was a tie since this was a joint gift, but Diane says she’s the winner since she discovered the distillery’s booth at the fair.
In July, Dean, Diane, Tom, and Linda went back to Century Farms Distillery. Their corn had been ground and distilled. Three wooden barrels marked with the Bindner Farms name were filled with distilled liquor, and the two-year bourbon aging process had begun.
The rest of the distilled liquor was rapid-aged using wood chips and bottled as American Classic branded whiskey. Dean plans to use those wood chips to smoke brisket.
Ryan Bare with the Bindners' rapid-aged whiskey.
On the day of this visit, the Bares were actually bottling rapid-aged whiskey made from the Bindner Farms corn, so each of the family members got to take a turn filling bottles, and they helped seal and box them. The bottles were later labeled, the family purchased some, and the rest is now being sold around Iowa.
The family is looking forward to celebrating with Bindner Farms whiskey well into the future. They plan to reserve bottles for special occasions like their children’s weddings and future farm anniversaries.
“It’s not like the old days where you grew the wheat, crushed the wheat, and made the bread,” Diane says. “Having your end product is rare. From the point when you put the seed in the dirt and said your prayers that it would turn into something to having an actual product you can hold and enjoy makes it come full circle.”
Diane Williams and her mother Linda Bindner put corks in bottles of their family's whiskey.
Dean is hoping to take some of this year’s crop and have another batch of whiskey made specifically for the farm’s 150th anniversary party in 20 years. “In May of 2042, I will be 100 years old,” Tom says. “When we get the 150-year Heritage Farm designation that year, they are going to wheel me across the stage. That’s my goal.”
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After they finished bottling, the Bindner family rounded out their day with a burger from the food truck parked outside Century Farms Distillery and a drink made from the corn they had grown themselves. They raised their glasses, soaked in the moment, and toasted the past, present, and future of Bindner Farms.
Editor’s note: I joined the Bindners at the distillery in July. We learned Amanda Bare was at the Des Moines Metro Opera's world premiere of 'A Thousand Acres' just a few nights before, on the same night I was there, serving cocktails based on the characters. Diane and I enjoyed a pear-flavored Ginny Mule, made with Bindner Farms whiskey, of course. Read my column about the opera below.
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130 years of Bindner farms
On April 30, 1892, James Archibald “Archie“ Smith and his wife, Mary, paid $18.75 per acre for 320 acres of rolling plains near Marcus, Iowa, for a total of $6,000. The land had been conveyed to the previous owner by the U.S. government in 1869.
According to the 2021 Iowa State University Land Value Survey, Cherokee County farmland averages $11,730 per acre, so that $6,000 purchase would run $3,753,600 today.
They bought 80 more acres and later deeded that land to their son, Norman, in 1914.
Linda and Tom Bindner share their family history with Amanda Bare for the family's section on the Century Farms Distillery website.
When faced with crushing drought and the Great Depression, Archie took his own life in 1933, a fate that befell many farmers of the time. Mary and Norman managed to hold onto the farm.
Norman and wife Lucille had two daughters. Jean and her husband farmed a few years then moved on. Margery and husband George Bindner continued to farm the family land and had six children, including Tom, their second son.
Tom began operating what became known as Bindner Farms in 1964. Four years later, he bought 80 acres from his aunt Jean and moved to the family farmstead with his new bride, Linda.
He farmed with his brothers and father before striking out on his own in the 1970s, retaining his portion of the family land and adding to it over the years.
After the success of the 1970s came the farm crisis of the 1980s. Thanks to Linda’s salary as a registered nurse, plus a lot of hard work, luck, and perseverance, the farm stayed afloat.
Over the years, Tom and Linda made updates to improve conservation and keep up with technology. In 2010, youngest son Dean joined the operation while still working full-time in town.
In 2012, Tom’s mother passed away, and as often happens without a clear succession plan, a lengthy legal battle over the land ensued. In 2015, Tom and Linda purchased 200 acres of family land from his siblings to ensure the Century Farm status would remain intact. He later sold 80 acres to his sister Georgia and her husband, Robert Mayberry. “You learn a lot when you have a family feud,” Tom says.
Linda and Tom Bindner at Century Farms Distillery.
Today, Tom and Linda are easing into retirement and have moved to town, but Tom still works with Dean as much as he can, and he planted his 58th consecutive crop on the family land this year. “We are in the process of figuring out how to transition and it’s complicated,“ Linda says.
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Dean is the fifth generation of the Smith/Bindner family to operate the farm. He purchased some land and the home his parents built, and he and his wife, Christine, are raising their two young children, Kennedy and Jameson, on the farm that has been part of their family for 130 years.