New York City’s Most Coveted Beers Are Made in a Jersey Garage

Using a modest seven-gallon brew system, Dave Martin’s homebrewed farmhouse ales have quickly become the talk of the beer world.

Getting your hands on a Mindful Ales beer can prove a difficult task. Brewer Dave Martin only nets 25 to 40 750mL bottles per batch. This, combined with that fact that he can’t legally sell them, means you’ll need to track him down in person—either handing out bottles at a local New York City-area beer event, or at his two-car garage out in central New Jersey. 

There, on a modest seven-gallon brew system, Martin has been churning out intriguing, delicate farmhouse ales for only a few years and, despite his homebrewer status, he’s already begun pouring alongside an elite circle of beer producers, including Other Half and Hudson Valley Brewery.

Mindful Ales began 11 years ago when a teenage Martin, now 28, became curious about a rudimentary homebrew kit. “I was surprised my parents actually got it for me,” he says. At the same time, he was watching breweries in New Jersey, like Kane and Carton Brewing, begin to take off. After a few years of homebrewing, he began to stray beyond the confines of established recipes. “I was buying oak chips, splitting blonde ale batches into French oak and Hungarian oak to see what the differences were,” he says.

Eventually he figured out how to create recipes that were in line with what he wanted to drink: farmhouse ales. Aside from a personal taste preference, he appreciated the style’s variance from brewer to brewer and the freedom that offered. “Farmhouse ales are open to so much interpretation on the brewer’s end,” he says. “I can make a beer that ranges in so many different ways—fruit, botanicals, yeast, hops, age—and still classify them as a farmhouse ale.”

To further differentiate his beers, Martin created a house culture, forgoing a readily available lab-grown yeast. He notes that yeast character is a main factor in the flavor profile of farmhouse ales, as opposed to, say, hops in an IPA. “I wanted a beer unique to me, unreplicable,” he says. “I decided I wanted a very distinct house flavor.” This involved a spontaneous ferment of some cacti “to get it funkier.” He started with low-gravity wort, covered it with cheesecloth, surrounded it by cactus plants and left it outside overnight, hoping for the best. He’s used it for every farmhouse beer since.

Martin progressed from homebrew competitions to larger events in fairly short order. One such event was Beergarden Volume III in September of last year. Curated by Geriz Ramirez, General Manager of Other Half Brewing, and held at North Brooklyn Farms, it’s a small festival with big-name cred. Ramirez, who had sampled some of Martin’s beer through a friend, knew he wanted to include Mindful Ales on the roster. “It was surreal because usually I’m on the other side of the table, getting pours from them,” he says. 

With few exceptions, Martin’s beers tend to be quite light. Botanic Origins, a barrel-fermented ale with hibiscus, roses and lavender, is a petite 3.8 percent ABV, but packs a ton of flavor. One of Martin’s newest beers, The Magic of Every Day, is an American wild ale inspired by Belgian kriek. It’s a turbid mashed brew utilizing hops from 2014 that’s fermented and aged in bourbon barrels. It’s then racked onto organic New York tart cherries for additional aging. It’s pretty advanced brewing for a garage operation.

At present, Martin is remains focused on refining his farmhouse offerings. Next up is the Barrel Aged Elemental, made with New Jersey honey, and Beautiful Strangers, a barrel-fermented ale infused with spontaneously fermented petite sirah juice. He’s also on the hunt for a brewery-taproom space in Jersey City, but is taking his time and trusting that his slow-growth approach will pay off. Until then, the only way to get your hands on a Mindful Ales offering is to find him slinking around the scene, bestowing bottles upon those who know to ask for them. “Right now, there is no other way,” Martin says with regards to procuring a bottle. “Catch me at a share or in passing… I may have a bottle in my backpack.”

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Cory Smith is a photographer, writer and creative director based in Brooklyn. Combining his passion for travel, photography and craft beer, he’s traveled extensively throughout the US, Spain, Denmark and Iceland in search of stories and imagery.