It’s not something you think about often, but New Jersey has a lot of different communities, and by a lot, we mean 564 different municipalities spread out across the entire state in 21 different counties.
One of these 21 counties is Salem, and for a while it stood out. Not because Woodstown is closer to Baltimore than it is to Asbury Park. Or because of the county’s rural character (you can find the middle of nowhere in every county in NJ, yes even in Middlesex, Essex, Bergen or Camden). Or that one of the best players in the NHL, Johnny Gadreau, somehow is from there.
Salem stood out as the only county in the Garden State not to have a brewery, and that all changed when Farmers & Bankers Brewing opened up in Woodstown in August of 2022. Though it was new to the area, the building it resides in is anything but: A rather large empty bank building.
The building captured the attention of owner Mike Melniczuk, his wife, Rebecca, and Director of Operations Clint Brown. Two years ago, Melniczuk bought the building and he and a small crew turned the former bank into a brewery by scratch. Having a brewery in such a place is pretty cool, but, pragmatically speaking, the owners liked how the building was centrally located in Woodstown.
“Mike would always drive by this place and would say how he wanted to do something with this building,” explains Brown. “The building is located in a main part of town, and it’s a cool little building.”
The goal was always to have a brewery in the building, but they had a larger goal in mind as well, and that was for Farmers & Bankers to be the gathering spot for Woodstown and Salem County at large.
“Mike wanted to do something with this building, but he also wanted this to be the neighborhood gathering spot,” says Brown. “We wanted this building to be the gathering spot for the town, and to revitalize the downtown.
“We also wanted to give back to the community, and a dollar from every one of our Reliance beers that is sold goes to our local fire department. We did a beer for ALS, and we have fundraisers for our local sports teams, and members of the community will use this space as a meeting space.”
Farmers & Bankers plays on the local influence when it comes to the beer that it brews. Like Brown mentioned, the Reliance Pale Ale is an ode to the local fire department. Eight Second Sour pays homage to the Cowtown Rodeo located five minutes up the road on Route 40.
The attention to detail is shown in the names of the beers plus the artwork, and also how the beers are crafted and brewed. The head brewer at Farmers & Bankers is Michael Duva, who originally hails from California, but got more into beer at a place that has an abundance of it (not all of it great): Penn State University.
“I did a lot of research in college,” says Duva, laughing. “I went to Penn State. In high school I wasn’t really into beer, but when I went to college I had a lot of pale ale. Over time I grew fondness for beer that was more than just Bud Light.”
Later on, Duva got into homebrewing as a hobby, and the hobby turned into a passion very quickly. Duva learned about the nuances of brewing beer, and realizing how the small things such as water quality can have a huge impact on beer.
“The biggest thing I learned was looking at water chemistry,” explains Duva. “Beer is 95% water, and people think that just because your water tastes good to drink that you can make beer with it, and that’s not true.”
Another major tip that Brown and Duva learned while touring breweries around the nation was the importance of good flooring and making sure everything is clean. Cleanliness not only looks good for customers, but it also helps the beer taste better as well.
“We went to Denver on a brewery tour, and everyone there said, ‘Do your floors right and don’t fuck them up and think you can fix them later because you never can and you never will,’” recalls Brown. “We spent a lot of money on the floors, but it was worth it.”
Above the pristine floors is the brewing system, a five-barrel system that can hold 150 gallons of beer. They purchased the equipment from Buffalo Brewing Company last year and drove the equipment back to South Jersey during a snowstorm.
The setup is impressive, but how the beer comes out of the brewing area into the hands of the customer is even more so. Farmers & Bankers pays special attention to how beer gets to the taps from the kegs.
“You go to some breweries and they got a 100-foot long chase, where they have to run a pipe to keep the beer cold, and you lose a lot of beer that way; the less line you have to run the better,” says Brown.
And the beer that comes out the taps is pretty solid, and there’s something for most consumers of alcohol at Farmers & Bankers, including for fans of seltzers. The Farmer’s Daughter seltzers include apple, cranberry, pineapple and raspberry.
“We have the four seltzers, and our apple seltzer is probably the sweetest thing we got,” says Brown.
The beer menu is solid as well, and there’s a little bit of everything on the menu. If you’re a normie beer drinker like myself, Farmers & Bankers has something for you, and it’s called the Gateway, which is an American-style hazy Pilsner.
“The Gateway was my idea,” says Brown. “Everyone goes through the point where you are drinking Miller Lites and then drinking more regular beer. I always told Mike I had a gateway beer. When we opened this place, we needed a gateway beer to get people in the area who don’t drink craft beer into craft beer. We wanted to do a Pilsner and have something light.”
People might Gateway themselves into the Cow Tippin, which is a milk stout that contains pale chocolate and roasted malts. Don’t head back to the Turnpike or 295 without trying it. It even got the stamp of approval from a Great American Beer Festival judge.
“The best beer we have by style is the Cow Tippin’” explains Brown. “A judge from the Great American Beer Festival came in and I thought he was bullshitting, but then I realized he was legit and knew his stuff. He told me I should enter Cow Tippin into the festival. I went out there, and I saw him. He asked me if I entered the beer and we didn’t. I was surprised he remembered me. Next year we are entering it, and we are also entering into the World Cup of Beer.”
Even though Farmers & Bankers has the beer part down, they still face some challenges that other breweries around the Garden State are facing, which is how to navigate the new brewery regulations enforced recently by the state. The regulations limit TV size, events, and partnerships with food trucks. In a sports crazed area like South Jersey, it also limits what breweries can do with regards to viewing parties for Eagles and Phillies games, since they technically count as events.
“We were fortunate in a way because since we just started we were still allotted the same number of events,” says Brown. “But next year will be hard because of the number of events we are allotted. Like the bar across the street, and we don’t view him as a competitor, but he can have karaoke nights and have bands play every Saturday night. He doesn’t have any limit on the events he can host, but we’re limited by what we can do.”
Farmers & Bankers Brewing is located at 8 N. Main St in. Woodstown. For more info, go to farmersandbankersbrewing.com.