While most craft breweries in New Jersey are born from home brewers looking to gather friends and experiment with different recipes, Lower Forge Brewery sprung from a different kind of hobby. Sean Galie was simply looking for a way to de-stress after long days spent as a firefighter and EMT. What he found was a whole lot more.
“You do 24 hours on, 24 hours off. On the off days, I brew,” he said on a Thursday night in his taproom. “When you’re out on a call, you tend to meet people when they are at their worst, but helping people is extremely rewarding. Here, everyone comes in wanting to enjoy a good beer. I love talking to everybody coming in here, so it’s a different kind of reward.”
Since opening in early 2016, Lower Forge, along with a handful of other new businesses along Main St., has helped transform Medford into a vibrant destination. Following the economic recession in 2008, the town had been struggling to fill vacant storefronts.
“Since I moved here in 1994, Medford was always filled with antique stores,” he recalled. “I guess because of Ebay, most had to close.”
Brewing to De-Stress
After moving to Medford as a teen, the Philadelphia-born Galie later became a firefighter and EMT for the town. It was the long hours and grueling nature of the job that led him to find a way to decompress.
“I started with a cheap Mr. Beer kit, but it made awful beer. Then I went to a home brew shop and got decent equipment,” he explained. “When I came home from work, I was just not in a good mood. Home brewing forced me to slow down since it’s a long process. It was cathartic and helped save my relationship with my wife.”
Having been a Guinness man himself, Galie traveled to Philly to experiment with other beer styles.
“Maybe I’m just a local guy, but the Philadelphia beer scene is much better than North Jersey and New York. For me, we just have more fun beer around here.” he stated. “I’m a pork roll over Taylor ham guy. There’s a different food scene from up north, so it goes with having a different beer scene.”
As Galie got more into home brewing, a rumor made its way around that Medford was courting Iron Hill Brewery to open a new location to help spur economic development. When the Delaware-based restaurant and brewpub chain didn’t bite, he thought, “Why not me?”
Lower Forge Gets its Start
Having been laid off from the Medford Fire Dept., Galie cashed out his severance to fund his big brewery idea.
Originally, he wanted to do something in a warehouse setting, but Galie’s wife convinced him to go for a warmer, more welcoming vibe in a small space.
Knowing that Medford was looking to spruce up Main St., he found a storefront, which had previously been a print shop, and had laid vacant for a decade.
He decided to furnish the space with found antiques (check out the 1927 switchboard) and new artwork from local artists.
“This town is very much tied to the past, so we wanted to give the place some soul by showing some of the original structure and having a name that tied to local history.”
Having been in Medford for two decades, Galie knew that the town’s beer choices didn’t get more exotic than Blue Moon. Thus, he set out to make approachable beers that would both resemble what non-craft beers drinkers recognized and that would also appeal to wine drinkers.
For those wine drinkers, Blueberry Fields is a light and aromatic hefeweizen that has characteristics of wine due to its dry and acidic palate. Also in their wine-like repertoire are lemon and peach-based shandies.
Vertically Challenged, an 8% ABV imperial porter, is their highest rated beer for its roasted malt taste and smokey, chocolate flavor. It also boasts a hoppier profile than you might expect.
Their best seller is an ode to Galie’s wife’s grandfather, a World War II veteran. The Major’s Irish Stout is traditional dry Irish stout with an earthy texture and bright coffee finish.
Although Galie favors darker beers, he recognizes the need for hoppier beers (New England IPAs especially).
“We do like to have a variety of styles on the eight taps whether it be German, Belgium or British-based,” he explained. “If you come away like three or four, I think I’ve done my job.”
All in the Family
During the process of scaling up his home brew and building out the business, Galie’s mother took an interest in learning the craft. Having a background in distilling, she became so well versed in making beer that she now brews alongside her son.
“She can run circles around anybody in terms of fermentation,” he said. “God forbid if we ever close, she would not have trouble finding another job.”
Since opening in May 2016, the Galie’s have kept up with the demand for locally-brewed beer. They’ve expanded into canning and are now featured on tap at a few restaurants. More importantly, Sean believes the beer tastes better than ever.
“I thought I knew everything and I was hot stuff, then I realize I can always be better at brewing by changing little details,” he said.
“I believe in the third space theory where your first space is home, the second space is work and your third space is your community,” he explained. “In the 70s and 80s, towns thought malls would be gathering places, but now I feel town’s breweries can be people’s third space.”
Name: Lower Forge Brewery
Location: Medford, Burlington County (14 S Main St)
Standout Beer: The Major’s Irish Stout
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, flights, growler fills and merchandise. Parking located on street or in municipal parking lot. Outside food and pets allowed. Check Facebook and Untappd for updated tap lists and events.
Don’t forget to check out the entire Brew Jersey series here.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ