“It all started kind of by accident,” admits Sean Galie, owner and operator of Lower Forge Brewing about the origins of his small brewery in Medford, New Jersey. “It began in efforts to revitalize our downtown, as we had hopes of attracting a local brewpub chain.”
With Pola Galie, Sean’s mother, being a wizard with baking and fermentation and Sean’s experience in homebrewing, the thought occurred to them, ‘What if we just did this ourselves?’”
There was just one small hang-up in getting things started for the Galie family. At the time, alcohol production was outlawed in their town. After two years of petitioning to lift the law and proper build-out, it was so. In 2016, the mother/son duo launched their 3 bbl nano brewery. Once they were dialed in, their efforts immediately turned to creating a truly sustainable beer.
“We are friends with a lot of farmers,” mentions Pola. “Supporting local and small businesses is not only important to us but also to our customers. We want to supply our guests with ‘Jersey Fresh’ ingredients. We are in the Garden State, after all!”
The Galie’s intention is to achieve zero waste, and they do this in various ways. First, they strive to brew with yeast that ferments at a higher temperature, namely the Kviek strain. This allows them to keep their brewhouse at a higher ambient temperature and reduce energy usage. They are also recapturing 150 gallons of water for every 100 gallons produced and sending it to their cooling loop, which feeds into their filtered water supply for use in non-product applications, such as cleaning. Sean and Pola eventually hope to sequester additional water using a portable tank, which would increase their recollection potential to 220 gallons of water saved for reuse per every 100 gallons produced. Their spent grain gets sent to cattle farmers for feed— and some of it even gets soured for use as a deer repellent to protect nearby hazelnuts, the fruit of the hazel tree, which is a native but fleeting plant of New Jersey.
Joining the Craft Maltsters Guild was extremely important to supporting Lower Forge’s mission of creating the most sustainable beer they could make. “As a brewer, I love the good quality and efficiency of craft malts,” says Sean. “We believe in buying from local maltsters to further our mission of sustainability. We’ve been working with Rabbit Hill Farms since 2018 and it is a relationship you just cannot beat.”
Piney Punch, a pineapple Radler beer, is brewed using a combination of Rabbit Hill’s Light Munich malt and wheat. Sean says, “I find that the base recipe for a lot of our fruit beers is inspired by Belgian Wits and German Hefeweizens since the malts sometimes compliment and accent flavors from the fruit we add during fermentation.”
Sean’s Rabbit Hill malt of choice is Chillum, a nice biscuit-forward malt that is best comparable in the larger market to Maris Otter. Sean says, “Yesterday, we were brewing one of our Fall releases, Cinn & Redemption, a popular pumpkin beer and the Chillum malt adds almost a pie-like crust taste to the combination of flavors we target in that recipe.” He continues, “Chillum can still be used in one of our pale ales without overpowering other malts or hop characteristics. It’s probably one of Hillary’s most versatile malts to come from their farm.” Sean is also a big fan of Rabbit Hill’s Matapeake, a malt that, he believes, outperforms the mass market 2-row in any recipe.
The folks of Lower Forge celebrate local farms and craft malt by hanging the Craft Malt Certified Seal in their taproom, where they act as ambassadors for local ingredients. They do this by educating guests about their sustainable practices and the importance of local agriculture, further supporting their belief in what craft beer should be: small, intense, responsive, and responsible.
In the future, Lower Forge is looking to expand the brewery’s local footprint, getting more experimental to boot. The team has taken interest in creating cocktail-inspired beers and exploring the non-alcoholic sector. Recently, they acquired packaging equipment that will allow them to widen their distribution and prepare them for sharing their brews beyond New Jersey for the very first time.
“The idea is to look at what everybody else is doing and then try something different – maybe we’re having too much fun being the oddballs in New Jersey’s brewery scene,” says Sean.
Pola adds, “That’s our motto: Think Independently, Drink Independently!”