MEDFORD—If Sean Galie’s vision becomes reality, in the not too distant future his craft beer will be available for tasting and purchase at a nanobrewery located on Main Street. With the support of a group of “angel” investors who believe in his business plan and want to see it succeed, Galie is taking steps to bring this dream to life.
“Our goal is to share the recipes we already brew at home with a larger circle of people,” Galie said. “In the process we’d also like to help the community by supporting good causes with community events and elevating the tourism value in the area.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Galie has called Medford home for nearly 20 years. He is a Pinelands region history buff, and his brand will reflect that passion.
“The business will be called Lower Forge Brewery,” he said. “It’s named for a small wilderness campsite in the middle of Wharton State Forest. My wife, Abbie, and I discovered the spot while exploring in my Jeep when we were dating.”
He hopes to use his brand to introduce people to the rich history of Medford and the Pinelands.
A home brewer for about five years, Galie said he started brewing as a hobby to relieve stress. He is a career firefighter, formerly employed by Medford Township and now working at an industrial site in Princeton. He focused on creating brews to pair with the variety of flavors he enjoys during a great meal. The result is about a half-dozen flagship recipes, an Indian pale ale (IPA), a brown ale and a few specialty recipes, including a seasonal ale incorporating local honey.
What spurred Galie to pursue the idea of opening a brewery now? Legislation updating New Jersey’s craft beer industry laws was passed in September.
“The new laws absolutely inspired us,” Galie said. “As a craft beer fan, I think New Jersey is about to experience a locally-brewed beer renaissance like Colorado and Vermont have enjoyed.”
A quick search of newjerseycraftbeer.com confirms that notion. Lower Forge is one of nine breweries sprinkled across the state in the planning phase of start-up.
“By law, we will be a small production brewery,” Galie explained. He estimates that Lower Forge’s three-barrel brewhouse will have the capacity to produce the equivalent of 992 cases of beer per month.
“In planning sales, we expect most of that to be shipped to accounts in New Jersey ranging from restaurants, pubs to retail outlets, with a small portion (to remain) on-site in Medford,” he said. “We won't serve food or be a brewpub. We'll have a sampling tap room and will sell growlers (gallon or half-gallon bottles), cases and kegs.”
Galie plans to create an interactive atmosphere that brings visitors into the experience of creating beer. He also hopes to showcase the local history that inspires his creativity when experimenting with beer recipes and names for them.
Providing a brief lesson in Pinelands history, Galie explained that the mysterious Lower Forge area was likely used pre-1850 as a transition point for ore boats heading south from Hampton Furnace through to Quaker Bridge and on to Batsto. “There are some tales claiming these same trails were also used by bootleggers during the Prohibition era to move alcohol from local stills into Philadelphia and Atlantic City,” he said.
Galie named his home-brewed recipes for the trails in the area or for nicknames given to ghost towns or ruins discovered on their jaunts through the Pine Barrens.
Transitioning a home-brewing hobby into even a small-scale brew business is not without trials and tribulations. Galie admits building capital, an estimated $250,000 to launch the brewery into development, was tough.
“I used my own savings for the initial steps and have now begun working with angel investors, almost all of them local, that are really excited about the project.”
He has also sought out advice from other craft brewers who have gone through the start-up process.
“Nobody sees each other as a threat,” he said. “Brewers help each other out. The collaboration is amazing.”
Site selection was another hurdle to overcome in the planning process
“Medford was an early favorite since the village (Main Street business district) has such potential,” Galie said. “There are engineering considerations as well because of the weight of the equipment when full. We ended up narrowing it down to a handful of local properties.”
Before any lease could be signed, some old local laws prohibiting breweries and brewpubs in Medford Township had to be updated through a revision to an ordinance. The town council supported and recently passed the revision — another hurdle cleared.
“Our timetable is getting more concrete by the day,” Galie said. “I'm looking forward to beginning the fun process of transforming our space into a nanobrewery.”
It is too soon for him to give an estimated date of opening.
“We placed deposits for equipment already, but it will take two months’ lead time for fabrication,” he said.
If you want to keep up to date on the progress of Lower Forge Brewery or weigh in on decisions about labeling and logo creation, follow them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lowerforgebrewery.