One thing, at least, you can expect out of the beer at Galloway’s Garden State Beer Company is precision. Consider the folks behind the South Jersey brewery:
Jason and Carisa Stairs, who both have degrees in chemistry. Jason holds a doctorate in chemistry and manages a federal quality control lab. Then there’s Bryan Saul, a computer scientist who works for the FAA developing tools for air traffic controllers. Even the head brewer, Cole Branson, spent part of his career in a precision-oriented field: he served six years in the U.S. Air Force.
They’re also beer nuts. The two co-exist well; scientists tend to mind all the details of the brewing process and have experience working with sophisticated technology and systems. It’s kind of their thing. Take, for instance, the concern for the water that forms the base of Garden State’s beer.
“A lot of attention paid in the the beginning was to the water chemistry and to make sure each style was not only brewed with the right ingredients but also the water chemistry,” says Carisa Stairs. “In the beginning when people were brewing, they were brewing with what they had and those styles came from that. You may have a stout that’s really thin, and that’s because the mineral content isn’t there to have a heavy body.”
Garden State sends its water to be analyzed every six months to make sure nothing has changed, Stairs says. (It usually doesn’t—Galloway water is “pretty neutral; there isn’t a lot of mineral content.”) If a particular beer style calls for a certain mineral content—which the brewers find through a variety of resources, including books dedicated to the subject—supplements are added.
It’s all proof positive that the details matter in the brewing process; that they lead to better beer, and that better beer can inspire a community to form around it. The Stairs got their first taste of it in Karlsruhe, Germany almost two decades ago, when Jason was doing a research fellowship.
“My husband, particularly, has always had an appreciation for beer,” Stairs says. “While we were in Germany, the little town that we lived in had its own brewery. That was the first time we had seen that. Everyone in Karlsruhe went to this one brewery.”
Stairs says the founding group began the process to open Garden State Beer Company in 2012, but that, of course, was when laws in NJ regarding breweries were just changing. So, it took a few years to get applications approved and to construct and outfit the brewery. Finally, Garden State opened in its Galloway (about 15 minutes from Atlantic City) spot in 2016.
The goal has always been to create “highly drinkable, well-balanced beer,” evidenced in Blue Jersey, a blueberry wheat made from Hammonton blueberries that is the brewery’s best-seller. It’s a “one-off” Jason did for a family celebration, but when they put it in rotation at the brewery, “we could hardly keep up with the demand.”
Stairs says a beer that typifies the Garden State approach to brewing is the Leeds Point Porter: “I think people are scared of dark beers; they think they’re going to be overbearing. [Leeds Point] is not. It’s light and chocolatey, and I really like that one.”
You’d also be hard-pressed to pass up an Absecon Bay on a visit—a session IPA that mashes East and West Coast styles, blending floral, citrusy and earthy flavors. Garden State also dives into red ales, a great beer style desperately in need of a resurgence. Its Caddie Corner Red Ale is billed as easy-drinking with hints of toffee, caramel and roasted dryness.
And have you heard of a partigyle? (I’ve written about beer for close to a decade and never seen one). It’s, put simply, where wort from the production of one beer is used to make another. For Wild and Crazy Gyles, Garden State took its Anniversary mash (a Scotch heavy) and made a beer reminiscent of an English bitter (another style in need of capable hands to resurrect in the U.S.) that possesses a biscuity malt character.
The brewers have also been known to dip into fun beers like the Extra Spicy Peach Habanero, a wheat ale with a kick thanks to some local peppers.
For all this talk about science (and it’s true that brewers with science backgrounds can be trusted to produce beers with precision), brewing is also an art. You’ll see that, literally, in the beautiful chalkboard designs that comprise the taproom’s menu board, created by the staff at Garden State. But you’ll also taste it in the well-crafted, approachable and flavor-forward beer, and it’s worth a trip to do so.