Torie Fisher spent her 19th birthday in Iraq, during the first of her two deployments with the U.S. military.
The service was all she had ever known, starting with her station in Germany after high school.
“I wanted to do something different,” Fisher said. “I was ready to move on.”
In September of last year, Fisher pounced at the opportunity to combine her interest in craft beer with a business partnership to open Backward Flag Brewing Company, a two-barrel brewery and tasting room, in Forked River.
“We put in our retirement money, sold a lot of belongings and fundraised,” she said.
Fisher credits her 13-year career in the military with helping to teach her the organizational and research skills and develop the confidence she needed to start her own business.
But not even the military prepared her for what came next, she said.
“We hit all of the goals in our three-year plan within six months,” she said. “Right now, we are jumping through hoops every week to make sure we have beer in the tasting room.”
In June, Fisher left her position in the military as a Blackhawk helicopter crew chief and aviation life support technician to manage the brewery on her own full-time.
Backward Flag Brewing Company is currently open Friday through Sunday.
Torie Fisher said being a woman in the military was never an issue.
“When you walked into a room, you did not automatically assume that the man in the room was in charge. Both men and women held positions of authority,” she said. “But, since operating as a brewery in the civilian world, anytime I am with a man — usually one of my volunteers — whoever comes up to talk to us at festivals or events automatically turns their attention to him and starts talking to him as if he is the owner, even after they are corrected.
“Most of the time, it is men that do that.”
The rest of the week — sometimes up to four times — Fisher and her crew brew popular beers such as X-626 Oaked Ale and Forked River Mountain Spout.
“The brewery is a unique business in which I can also interact with members of the community in a way that other businesses can’t,” Fisher said.
For example, Fisher said, she recently took her daughter to harvest hops from a farm in Colts Neck. She also has been working with local business owners who want to work with veterans and frequently meets with other entrepreneurs to collaborate on projects.
“For example, I have a meeting with a woman to talk about how she can make soap using our beer,” she said. “That’s what I love about this very versatile job — I love sharing stories and introducing others to new things in the world of beer.”
Backward Flag Brewing Company’s location at the Jersey Shore hasn’t slowed business down, either.
“I have not seen a big difference between our summer and winter crowds,” Fisher said. “We get a lot of support from the local area.”
Especially from other veterans.
“In some ways I might even compare our business to a modern-day Veterans of Foreign Wars (post),” Fisher said. “We welcome everybody, but people tend to gather here to share their experiences.”
Fisher also makes it her mission to hire veterans or prior law enforcement that want to learn about beer.
“A man came in yesterday looking for a job. He is getting ready to retire from law enforcement and was in the Marines for five years,” she said. “Today, he’s learning how to clean kegs.”
Technically, he’s still an intern. All of her employees are.
“We have a couple police officers, a member of the military — we work around their schedules and supply them with beer education and knowledge for their time,” Fisher said. “If they take a certifying class, I give them a cash bonus as well as reimbursement for their education. And on the first Thursday of every month, we have staff training and tastings.”
Fisher also supports veteran and law enforcement organizations by hosting public community events during the week, such as discussions regarding post-traumatic stress disorder, with guest speakers and services.
Biz in brief
Company: Backward Flag Brewing Company
Executive: Torie Fisher, founder and owner
Headquarters: Forked River
Founded: September 2015
Revenue: Undisclosed, but business is good; the brewery cannot keep up with supply and demand. “We have sold out on two different occasions and have had to close for that reason,” Fisher said. “We are now at the max of our abilities.”
Employees: About 10
One More Thing: “Coming from a career in the military, I’m used to male-dominated fields,” Fisher said. “I do try to focus on and talk to women when they are here, because a lot of times, when they come in with their husbands or boyfriends, they’ll be timid about ordering or are not sure what they’re looking for. It helps them to know that they can be comfortable talking to me about beer.” Fisher said she is looking forward to hosting more women-only beer appreciation events.
“Our branding is what helps to separate us from everyone else,” she said.
Backward Flag Brewing Company’s mark as a veteran-owned brewery has not gone unnoticed — nor has the quality of its beer.
Voted fourth-best in the state (behind Conclave Brewing Company in Raritan Township; Kane Brewing Company in Ocean; and Carton Brewing Company in Atlantic Highlands) by Untappd.com — a social media site used by more than 3.2 million beer enthusiasts — supply and demand has become an issue.
“We put out the first batch of S.T.F.U.” — a pale ale with the coffee and cocoa characteristics of a stout — “a few weeks ago, and sold out in one weekend,” Fisher said.
Fisher is working on expanding Backward Flag Brewing Company into a seven-barrel system, with plans to distribute to bars and restaurants who have been repeatedly calling to request the brewery’s product.
“We are also considering taking over more space in the industrial park we’re currently in to expand our tasting room,” she said.
Sudden increases in demand and having the means to expand have not yet defined success for Fisher.
“When I opened the brewery with my partners, one of the questions we used to ask ourselves was, what is our end goal? How will we measure success?” she said. “To me, that will be when we get to a point where we can get involved in community programs and reach out to help people in the ways that I want to. That, to me, defines success.”
E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @megfry3