As we honor our veterans this month, Backward Flag Brewing Co. in Forked River is a place to recognize our military and first responders by not only saying, “Thank you for your service,” but also, “Thank you for your beer.” While founder and owner Torie Fisher embraces the fact that Backward Flag is a military-themed brewery and attracts members from the armed forces, her mission statement is simple:
“It has to be about the beer,” she said. “The brand might be great and it represents who we are as people, but the beer needs to be great. We have high expectations for ourselves to be quality brewers above all else.”
The Louisiana native is a self-described “army brat” who moved around the United States. By the age of 17, she enlisted in the army and celebrated her 19th birthday in Iraq in 2004.
Fisher’s career in the military gave her a sense of the world outside the small farming communities she grew up in.
“Being in the Army gave me an itch for more culture and travel and I didn’t want to be stuck in some 9-to-5 job,” she explained. “When you’re 16, 17, 18, you’re still a kid, so you grow up pretty quickly when you join the Army.”
Introduction to Homebrewing
A year after returning from active duty, Fisher missed the military life and enlisted with the National Guard, which led her to a second deployment to Iraq.
It goes without saying that finding beer, or any libations, is no easy task in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I like to tell people that the best beer I ever had was a warm bottle of Bud Light somebody managed to sneak into the base,” she recalled. “It was probably the first beer I had in over a year at that point and it was the most delicious beer ever.”
A fellow soldier from Fisher’s unit was a homebrewer and taught her the ins and outs of hops, water, yeast and grain. During this time, Fisher came across a unique looking beer label from Stone Brewing. She was intrigued by the flavor profiles and ingredients that went into making Arrogant Bastard and Smoked Porter.
The end result of homebrewing wasn’t the only part that Fisher found compelling, she was also interested in the process of making better beer. Eventually, it inspired her to train for a cicerone certification (a sommelier for beer).
“Getting training in the sensory side of tasting beer really informed what I wanted to do here,” she said. “I studied my ass off learning every single detail to get certified.”
She eventually landed in New Jersey to start a family, but had eyes on starting her own business.
“My military career was slowing down after my second deployment and I felt the need to do something for myself rather than the Army,” she said. “I had a successful career, but in the military, there’s always somebody above you that you need to answer to.”
Backward Flag Gets its Start
Fisher’s original idea was to start a brewpub, which would combine her love of cooking with her love of brewing. However, opening up a restaurant proved to be a daunting task.
“I quickly realized that I was in way over my head,” said recalled. “On paper, starting a brewery seemed much more realistic and lower risk.”
Going with a military-themed brewery was obvious and naming it Backward Flag would symbolize the fighting spirit of the American soldier. On the other hand, Fisher had apprehensions with the military look and feel, thinking it might alienate or intimidate a different audience who might think the focus was on the military, rather than the beer.
“After we opened, it became apparent that people from all walks of life were coming in,” she said. “One customer told me that ‘it’s not about you now…just be who you are.’ It flipped a switch on my philosophy. So we embrace it now.”
That goes for the beer as well. Fisher originally wanted to focus on American-style beers like pale ales and IPAs. Eventually, that idea evolved into Backward Flag’s version of a Belgian blonde or a German hefeweizen.
“We’re definitely not in a box. We make beers that we want to drink, but we’re not all over the map,” she said. “It’s important that our beers are not so regimented.”
Case in point, their most popular beer is the Oak Armored Ale (named after the Old Ironsides 1st armored division in World War II), which is a hybrid pale ale and blonde ale that’s aged on toasted oak. The end result is a flavorful, smooth and full-bodied beer and slightly heavier at 7% ABV.
“It’s my pride and joy,” shared Fisher.
Zero Dark Thirsty (a play on the movie, Zero Dark Thirty, as well as the military term) is one of the many stouts they offer. This one is a milk stout, making it sweet with a mild roastiness. For more flavor, try their Coffee Cake Amber Ale, which is infused with coffee, vanilla and cinnamon.
You’ll find valkyrie iconography throughout military history being that they are the goddesses of the battlefield. Thus Backward Flag created Valkyrie Two Forty (M240 being the machine gun Fisher used), a double IPA that uses Falconers Flight and Zythos hops for a barrage of floral goodness.
For more attacks on your taste buds, their Forward Assault series showcases their brewing ingenuity with such brews as Combat Edison (an American Wit with orange peel) or Something’s Missing, a New England IPA with no bitter hop bite.
In the Community
Since opening in September 2015, Backward Flag has had their hand in various military organizations and charities. It is true that they hire ex-military personnel, but Fisher explains that’s not always the case.
“We hire the best people for the job, not just those with a military background,” she said. “We want leaders who figure things out for themselves. There’s a beer we have called Figure It Out (a barrel-aged sour). We don’t micromanage here. It’s like in the military. You’ve given a task, some basic tools and you’re told, ‘Just get the job done.'”
In the end, Backward Flag is a way for Fisher to be in touch with the military community, but also the growing NJ craft beer scene.
“With the brewery, I’m still connected to my military roots. I might not be wearing a uniform but I still talk the talk and walk the walk,” she said.
The taproom, located in a cluster of warehouses off Rt. 9 in Forked River, has become a de facto meeting place for old Army buddies and those who are about to be deployed. More importantly, the Hero Wall displays the photos of fallen soldiers from New Jersey who have sacrificed their lives for our country.
“When somebody died in the line of duty, a local veterans group would run a mile with that flag. They retired the flag and gave it to us to display on the Hero Wall,” she said. “I cried when they gave the flag to us. The families come in and have a beer with us under their picture. It’s a tremendous honor to have that flag in here. ”
Name: Backward Flag Brewing Co.
Location: Forked River, Ocean County (699 Challenger Way)
Standout Beer: Oak Armored Ale
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, flights, growler fills and merchandise. Ample parking available. Outside food and pets allowed. Check Facebook for updated tap lists and events.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ