Brewin' Up a Storm: Garrison City's Scientific Approach to Brewing

As John Bergeron moved into his new apartment in Dover after taking a new brewing job, he began to wander. He stopped abruptly after only a few short steps in his new city. Smells of distinct spirits and sounds of clinking glasses floated past Bergeron as he opened the doors at Garrison City Beerworks. Little did he know, the nanobrewery next to his apartment would be the place he’d call home.

“Their beer has a very special place in my life,” Bergeron said. “It’s become my version of the show Cheers; everyone knows my name and I can always count on someone being there that I can talk to over a few beers. Aside from the convenient proximity to my apartment, I like that I always feel welcome and at home when I visit.”

Photography by Jack Bouchard

Garrison City is a nanobrewery at it’s core, meaning they focus on concocting high quality beers on a small scale. Under the direction of Andy and Nicole Gray, the brewery is approaching its sixth year in business come this November.

It lies on Central Avenue in Dover, nestled on the corner with an outdoor seating area lit with string lights and a fireplace. Shades of pastel blues and grays radiate through the brewery, and geometric patterns sprinkle themselves along the walls.

While the vibe at Garrison City is a key component of the customers' affection, the brews are the star of the show. Garrison City’s minimal and ever-changing selection of craft beer ensures a novelty experience for anyone who walks in.

“That’s the nice thing about being small,” said co-owner Andy Gray, whose wife, Nicole, is head brewer. “We never want to brew the same beer every single week. We want to see people’s take on different styles and always have something new, and Nicole’s style definitely embodies that. She’s always trying different methods of dry hopping. We have people that come in three or four times a week, and there’s always something new on the menu for them to try.”

Garrison City’s main passion is the New England-style India pale ale, but they also offer an array of fruited sours, saisons, and stouts for those who enjoy a heavier brew.

Drinkers who enjoy a tangy drink with underlying funky fruit notes will be pleased with the fruited sours at Garrison City. Take their Brazen Pinata, for example. Brewed in a stainless steel kettle, this brew evokes flavors of key lime and pineapple—a step-up in creativity from your standard margarita.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the stout, a dark, full-bodied brew that typically boasts notes of chocolate and coffee.

“We always try to keep a stout or heavier beer on the menu,” Andy said. “There’s a time and a place for them, but usually there’s someone who will go for it.”

Garrison City’s diverse selection of beer may seem intimidating at first, but Gray says there’s a little something for anyone who wants to dive into the world of craft drinks.

“It’s completely subjective,” Andy said. “There were years where I couldn’t stand some IPAs because of the bitterness. But it’s important to try things; most breweries are willing to give you a sample to help you find something. Go out of your comfort zone and see what you like, because everyone’s palate is different. It’s all about finding where you sit on the spectrum of what you enjoy in a beer.”

Other beer lovers agree. Maggie Forrest, who just started a job at Portsmouth’s Great Rhythm Brewing Company, began her deep dive into the world of craft beer with sours because of their contrast to beer in terms of taste. An affinity for sours quickly led to exploring stouts, and ultimately, the New England IPA.

“You have to be open to trying a bunch of different things,” Forrest said. “My introduction to craft beers was sprung by my family. My dad would buy grocery store IPAs and they were just bitter, but my brother always got some hazy, floral, and fruity ones.”

Forrest later made a discovery that would flip her idea of what beer could be right on its head.

“My first beer from Garrison City was a beer called Stacks on Stacks,” Forrest said. “They were serving it at Hop + Grind in Durham, and it was a beer based on pancakes and syrup. It was incredibly dense, yet so good and unlike anything I’d ever had.”

As Forrest swayed from different styles of beer over the years, she says they all led back to the classic New England IPA.

“Every road seems to lead to IPAs,” Forrest said. “I never thought I’d like them, but now they’re all I want to drink.”

Connor Carville, a frequent customer of Garrison City, also gravitates towards IPAs for their hazy body and juicy flavor profile, most notably the Isosceles double IPA. More recently, his palate has gravitated toward sour beers.

“Right now, my favorite is their ‘Neverending Circles’ raspberry vanilla sour,” Carville said. “I’m usually not a huge fan of sours, but this one is a must when they have it.”

Andy Gray recommends pale ales to newcomers, as their full-bodied flavor and fruit notes make for an approachable drink that’s not too overwhelming. With quality ingredients and scientific brewing methods, even the niche drinks at Garrison are in high demand.

“[Nicole’s] got it down to an absolute science,” Andy said. “We do 90 gallons at a time, and Nicole is brewing four to five times a week right now to keep up with the demand.”

Although Nicole never received a degree in brewing, she found her passion for craft beer in college. After seeking out all of the best breweries in her area, she purchased a home brewing kit for Andy.

“After that it was a weekend activity,” Nicole said. “I loved the creative elements of brewing.”

She wrapped up her career in radiology and set out for New Hampshire to make a splash in the brewing scene.

“I did know in the years of working in radiology in Connecticut that health care was no longer for me,” she said. “My sights were definitely set on brewing.”

While Nicole has brewed up a number of unique concoctions over the years, she said there are two beers that really stick out to her.

“Our Dojo Jojo IPA is a jasmine rice New England style IPA with matcha green tea and Enigma hops,” she said. “It’s playful and slightly exotic. The jasmine rice gives the beer a cloud- weight body and the matcha tea complements the hops without becoming astringent. The other beer is an iteration of our Turning Tables beerwith chamomile and wildflower honey. I love this beer; it reminds me of the warm embrace of a cup of tea. The yeast is a Belgian strain known for its fruity yet dry nature. The chamomile and honey bring out notes of vanilla, lavender, and clove.”

While Nicole Gray’s out-of-the-box brewing ideas make for a unique drinking experience, Garrison team member Steve Rutherford believes the staff plays a large part as well.

“From top to bottom, the staff dedicate themselves to making sure people have a comfortable time and, most importantly, a safe time,” Rutherford said. “The community that continues to come back to Garrison City is filled with all sorts of awesome people, which only fosters an even better vibe.”

Even in the midst of a pandemic, the team at Garrison City pushed the envelope of what beer can be, and the community kept coming in.

“This whole pandemic has shown us that you have to be creative and innovative more than anything,” Andy said. “This past summer has been great for us. It was a bit exhausting, but we’re selling as much beer as we ever have and we’re having a great time doing it.”