Jersey Beer Tour: Odd Bird Brewing in Stockton

The craft brewery shares a lot with a gas station, but make no mistake: the beer is excellent, the atmosphere cozy and it makes for a great way to cap off a day on the Delaware.

The month is now May and soon enough, if not already, people around the state (plus visitors from Pennsylvania) will be flocking towards a body of water. For many of us, that body of water is the Delaware River.

Now, growing up in South Jersey where the Delaware River is surrounded by oil refineries and industry, I couldn’t imagine doing anything recreational in it. But the river changes north of Trenton and so does one’s mind about stepping foot into the Delaware. 

Tubing is a popular activity in the Delaware, especially in Hunterdon County. Provided that sunscreen is worn, a day on the river is one of the most refreshing activities in the state. But the fun doesn’t have to end once the tube is deflated. Odd Bird Brewing in Stockton is the perfect place to wind down a day on the river, or just go to drink beer.

Located on Route 29 in Stockton, Odd Bird doesn’t look like a typical brewery; that’s because it is attached to the Eagle gas station in Stockton. But, as it turned out, the garage provided co-owners Karen Malzone and Adam Juncosa the perfect setting for their dream of opening up a brewery to come to fruition. 

“It had all the things we needed in a brewery,” explains Malzone. “Compound solid flooring in the back, and big bay doors that we could open up in the summer for ambiance.”

There are breweries located in perfect locations and they lack soul and passion (staring directly at you Center City Philadelphia), but then there are breweries that are located in strip malls such as Death of A Fox in Gloucester County, and Audodidact in Morris Plains that just feel right for drinking. Attached to a gas station, Odd Bird has that charm as well, but the appeal of the place starts with the passion Malzone and Juncosa have for their craft.

The passion for brewing began when the couple started to homebrew as a hobby. Malzone and Juncosa fell in love with the process, and wanted to homebrew as much as they could.

“Once you start to homebrew, you’re like ‘Oh my god,’’’ explains Malzone. “I remember during the first couple batches you’re like, I want to do this and want this to be our world. It escalated from there.”

It escalated to the point that Juncosa joined a homebrewing association called Annihilated Homebrew Club, and started off making Industry Standard Beer (ISB) and IPAs. Juncosa and Malzone saw the club win awards, but they also gained lessons along the way. The experience showed that not only is brewing a fun activity, but there is a big brotherhood and sisterhood of brewers around the state. 

“We learned how to take criticism and make better beer,” says Juncosa. “ It’s not judgmental at all, and it’s constructive. We are all friends in the club, which is unique. Everyone was in that club to hang out and drink beer, and help each other get better.”

“The homebrew club talks a lot about the brewing community,” explains Malzone. “At the homebrew club, if anyone needed anything we would reach out. For example, if we have extra fermenters, we would be like, ‘Hey, we have these extra fermenters, does anyone need them?’ or, ‘Does anyone have a recipe for this?’ And that carried into the brewing world; it’s more of a brotherhood, where people share ideas, share recipes and help each other out. Two of our friends are opening up a brewery and we just give them contact info for plumbers and electricians we know. It’s just a way to help each other out. Other than the big guys out there, it’s an industry of smaller, just normal humans trying to make their dream happen.”

While the dream seems to be alive in Stockton, there’s a group of people in a city 19 miles south on Route 29 that seems to be making owning and operating a brewery in the Garden State a nightmare.

Recently, Governor Phil Murphy announced plans to update the state’s liquor license system and loosen regulations on breweries, but there is skepticism about whether it will happen or not. 

Odd Bird does not have televisions in the brewery, or host that many events—which the current regulations restrict. Still, they are in solidarity with the brewers around the state fighting the regulations. 

“The regulations that were put out have nothing to do with our license, and have nothing to do with what the ABC should be regulating,” says Juncosa. “They should be regulating alcohol, safe alcohol consumption, and safety. That is what they should be doing. Instead, they are regulating how a brewery decides to run their business as a community hub, which has nothing to do with alcohol.”

Odd Bird, like other breweries in North, Central and South Jersey, shine despite the regulations, but ultimately those rules hold back breweries’ creativity and limit partnerships with other businesses in the community. Juncosa and Malzone would specifically like to see regulations on breweries serving food loosened. 

“When the law came out in 2012, the lines of the first paragraph state that breweries can’t run a restaurant or can’t run a kitchen. That is what they said,” says Juncosa. “The ABC has taken that and said, ‘OK, well we believe the intent of that law is to not have any food at all available.’ Which is insane for a place that serves alcohol. I mean alcohol and food are a perfect pairing especially in this area of Jersey with farm-to-table eating. It hurts small restaurants who can’t collaborate with breweries because they don’t have liquor licenses. It hurts the breweries because they can’t provide an all-encompassing experience. If we could work directly with restaurants we could provide beer dinners here and that is something that happens in Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut that is insanely popular.”

(Conveniently enough, though, there is a fantastic food place, Rosemont Supper Club, serving high-end, yet approachable fare on the other side of the gas station from Odd Bird. Go figure.)

While the support for breweries might not come from Trenton, the support shines at the local level. Hunterdon County, where Odd Bird is located, shows lots of love for the breweries in the county, and the breweries support one another, too. All seven of Hunterdon’s breweries are part of the Hunterdon County Beer Trail. Visitors receive a passport to be stamped at each brewery, and once you visit all seven, you receive a commemorative hat as a reward. 

Community is important for Juncosa and Malzone, and both have served Hunterdon County in their own ways. Juncosa, an electrical engineer, was a member of Stockton’s city council and Malzone was an English teacher at Hunterdon Central High School. And when one of those weekly crazy Saturday thunderstorms came rolling through in April, the couple opened up Odd Bird to neighbors who needed to charge their phones due to power outages. 

They also realize that good beer also creates community as well, and let’s just say Odd Bird has a pretty good community-building program. Good beer starts with good ingredients, and Juncosa and Malzone do their best to make sure everything they use is grown or built in the Garden State. No matter the beer, the water is also local too, and comes from Stockton. 

“One of the things we fell in love with during the homebrew process was Stockton’s water,” says Malzone. “The water comes from its own well, and we don’t have to treat it with chemicals like some breweries have to in order to balance it, just carbon filters and that’s it. The water is filtered through thousand-year-old shale, and it’s so pristine and delicious.”

Beer-wise, there’s a little bit of everything for all tastes and levels of drinkers.

“Let’s just say if there’s a family of four drinking adults, every one of them can find something that they like here,” says Malzone. “I love IPAs, but if I go to a brewery and there’s nine IPAs and one Kölsch, it will be hard to please everyone.”

One of the beers that stands out at Odd Bird is Joe’s Garage, named after their landlord, Joe, who helped them out during the COVID lockdown. It’s also named after a Frank Zappa song as well. Whatever the origins, the 5.2% ABV Kölsch is a solid, easy-drinking brew.

“This is one of my favorite beers that we make,” says Juncosa. “One of my close friends lived in Cologne, Germany, for years. If you go into a brewery in Cologne, you don’t have options, you just get Kölsch. It’s a German Pale Ale, and very similar to a Pilsner. We use authentic German yeast and malts and hops. We use a unique coal strain from a yeast lab in Hillsborough called East Coast Yeast.”

Noticing a trend here, the West Coast-style IPA Monty is named for a friend who helped Odd Bird get started. 

“Monty is a West Coast Pale Ale,” explains Juncosa. “So it’s gonna be a little bit higher in bitterness, and I hate to use the word dank, but it is. It has significant marijuana notes in the nose in my opinion. It’s a really easy-drinking crisp beer for someone who wants a beer that is lower on the IPA spectrum.”

Indeed, Malzone and Juncosa dedicate a lot of beer names to people important in their lives. The name Odd Bird itself is an ode to Juncosa’s mom.

“My mom calls me an odd bird,” explains Juncosa. “She calls a lot of people odd birds, it’s just her thing. Like opening up a brewery next to a gas station? You’re an odd bird.”

You’ll find a lot of great beer, and lots of bird decor at Odd Bird. While the place is definitely worthy of an Instagram post or story, Malzone and Juncosa don’t get too involved with what the current beer trends are on social media and they stick to what is right for them and the beer overall—and the brewery’s better for it.

“Our tap list is kind of unique,” says Juncosa. “We don’t focus on the beers that are the current trends or the popular hype. Like things that go over well on Instagram or Untapped. We stick to stuff that is classic, traditional, and stuff we love.”

Traveling on Route 29 is always recommended, and it’s more recommended that you stop at Odd Bird along the way. Word to the wise though: If you just got out of the Delaware, dry off first.