Medford’s Nale House Brewing Co. got its start in a state that we haven’t yet visited in our Brew Jersey series: Montana. Big Sky Country houses about 35 breweries and it’s where Nale House founder, owner and head brewer Eric Lerner got his first taste of craft beer.
“My first local craft beer was Moose Drool Brown Ale from Big Sky Brewing Co.,” he said on a Saturday afternoon in his tap room. “It was my gateway to finding other beer like it. Montana is an awesome place to discover things. People ride horses everywhere. The West is alive and well.”
After attending school in Montana, Lerner made the move back home to New Jersey. It was there that he noticed a neighbor brewing beer out of his garage and the two struck up a friendship. Lerner got involved in homebrewing and never looked back.
Nale House Gets its Start
“I loved the artisan side of it. The science end of it, I kind of let Mother Nature do it’s own thing, ” he said. “I realize that you don’t need to brew to a specific style. You make your own version of an IPA or a stout.”
Soon, Lerner was brewing gallons of batches every month. However, he was stuck traveling more than an hour for equipment and ingredients. This led to Hoptopus’s Garden, the homebrew shop that Lerner opened up in Medford. This would prove to be the first step towards opening up his own brewery.
“It wasn’t until somebody said the magic word – money. As in, ‘I would give you money to help you start a brewery.’ That’s when I knew I could actually build something,” he said.
The initial idea was to open a mid-sized brewery in a warehouse setting in Medford.
“That came crashing down. I realized that might be too ambitious,” he explained. “I went with a more downtown, pedestrian setting so that I could concentrate on making the best beer possible in small batches.”
The small storefront location gave Lerner the opportunity to show people the brewing process right next to the taps and bar area, giving the space an intimacy you don’t often find in breweries.
For the taproom, Lerner decided to touch on the origin of the name Nale House – the word “nale” is a 14th century term meaning “alehouse.” This brought a “rough around the edges” look to the taproom, complete with wood beams and functioning gutters.
When it came to the beer lineup, Lerner didn’t feel the need to make the same recipe over and over.
“The word ‘flagship’ is tossed around a lot and I just associate that with big corporate beers,” he said. “So I’m never going to make a flagship. It’s not what I do. I might make something similar to what I previously made, but you won’t find beers returning. The world is ever changing so why drink the same thing twice.”
Another philosophy that Lerner lives by is not rushing out beer that isn’t ready.
“It’s quality over quantity. I’m not going to have five taps running just for the sake of having five taps. It’s just me brewing, so I like to make sure everything is great.”
The beers have straight-forward names so there’s no guesswork to be done when ordering your brew. On my visit, they were pouring a dark chocolate stout, a crisp German ale, a French saison and a juicy pale ale. What’s brewed next is based on what Lerner feels like brewing on a given day.
Since opening in 2016 (around the same time as their down-the-block neighbor Lower Forge), Nale House has settled into a nice routine when it comes to clientele.
“Fridays tend to be for the locals, where I know everyone who comes in,” he says. “Saturday is for the beer traveler, pulling in from all directions. Since we don’t distribute out, it’s always interesting to see how people hear about us.”
While word of mouth is strong, don’t expect the brewery to go big anytime soon.
“We’re learning to crawl, then we’ll learn to walk and eventually we’ll jog and sprint,” he said. “In my professional opinion, you can’t rush it. Everything has to be about the beer and making the absolute best beer possible.”
Helping him make the best beer possible is his father, Rob, who chips in on occasion.
“It’s pretty funny that I had him wash the windows this morning. Joking aside, it’s a blessing that my family and friends have been with me and supporting me the whole time and watching this grow with me.”
Name: Nale House Brewing Co.
Location: Medford, Burlington County (32 N Main St.)
Standout Beer: House Pale Ale
Know Before You Go: Taproom is open for pints, growler fills and merchandise. Parking located on street or in municipal parking lot. Outside food and pets allowed. Check Facebook for updated tap lists and events.
All Photos: © Chris Castellani / Best of NJ