At First State Brewing Company, customer satisfaction is at the forefront.
Receiving patron feedback on beers and food items just makes sense for the team behind the new Middletown brewery. The brewery, taproom and kitchen opened its doors in December 2020, serving up a variety of beer styles paired with an innovative food menu.
First State is the brainchild of founder and CEO Paul Hester. The beer fanatic made a career change from cyber security to open the brewery and brought along fans and aficionados alike. With Justin Faulkner as taproom manager, Nicholas Carr as executive chef, Joe Spearot as quality manager and Chris Clendening as assistant brewer, the startup team puts a focus on creating a standout, high-quality product utilizing their previous experience in hospitality and beer-brewing.
And Hester comes prepared to discuss his new venture, with a front-to-back menu run-through and informational sheet on all aspects of the brewery.
First State’s beer portfolio is diverse, with an array of styles on tap. The brewery focuses on hop-forward styles including hazy IPAs and classic West Coast IPAs, plus Belgian-styles such as witbiers and saisons. Patrons will also find malt-forward styles including stouts or porters, plus classic sours.
Hester says First State stands out by creating beer that tastes like beer. This means staying true to classic creations with a dash of experimentation, but not so much that they’re caught up in one-off trends.
“We try to keep all of our beers fairly true to classic styles, but try to not necessarily be innovative, but to put our spin on things to make them a tad more interesting and approachable,” he says.
The First State team strives to be a knowledgeable one for patrons. Hester is a certified cicerone (think a sommelier, but for beer) while Spearot is an advanced cicerone. A cicerone is someone with “proven experience in selecting, acquiring and serving today’s wide range of beers,” according to cicerone.org.
All of First State’s beer servers took the level one cicerone training to be knowledgeable while speaking with guests about brews. The taproom menu is also extensive with beer details from the hops used to the flavor profile.
Since opening the brewery’s doors, Hester says it’s been an overwhelmingly positive response. The most popular beers according to the Untappd page are Black Lotus (coffee stout), Persistent Illusion (double dry-hopped hazy double IPA) and Willful Indifference (kölsch).
All the brews are served in tulip glasses to give patrons the best possible pour and aroma experience.
For non-beer drinkers, the menu includes keg-conditioned craft beer cocktails, which utilize local spirits and other flavors to create unique drinks. Currently, the most popular is the Lotus Latte, a combination of the Black Lotus coffee stout, Painted Stave Silver Screen Vodka, Kahlua Coffee Liquor and cold brew coffee that resembles an espresso martini.
For food, Hester says the goal was to stray away from the traditional tap room or pub food and offer people a different culinary experience. Carr, who most recently worked for Big Oyster Brewery in Lewes, created a menu with everything from small bites to sandwiches, salads and even an entire section on poutine.
“We have to strike that balance of staying true to what we want to be and making sure we don’t just fall into the mix of what everyone expects,” Hester says of the menu.
There’s also a dessert section where First State can put its authentic Belgian liège waffles on full display. Hester says Carr suggested importing the dense, cake batter-style waffles as opposed to trying to make his own. They ordered a case to taste-test and were instantly hooked.
“So, we’re importing waffles from Belgian. They’re not Belgian-style waffles, they’re legitimate Belgian waffles,” he says.
Some popular items coming out of the kitchen include the chicken and waffle sliders, brisket egg rolls and DELocal poutine with Hughes’ scrapple. For dessert, save room for the Sugar Rush waffle (cornflake-crusted bananas, caramel sauce, crème anglaise).
While the idea for the First State Brewing Company began years ago, Hester and his team adjusted to COVID-19 protocols swiftly. Guests are able to enjoy libations and food items inside with properly spaced tables or at the bar and, when it’s warmer, enjoy the sunshine out on the patio.
Through a glass window, guests can get a peek at the brewing process.
Hester says when the pandemic restrictions lift, the brewery plans to add more tables and barstools, along with arcade games and other fun entertainment.
The brewery also has plans to expand with a canning line in the near future to supply its beers to patrons at like-minded eateries and liquor stores. It’s also exploring expanding to making ciders and opening a food truck.
Hester is a bit taken aback by the positive response the brewery has received and is hopeful First State continues to be a locally owned, locally enjoyed dining spot.
“Middletown was in need of more non-chain establishments, ideally stuff that’s run by locals and supports the community,” he says. “So, we’re happy that it finally worked out.”
First State Brewing Company
109 Patriot Drive, Middletown, 285-9535