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Wednesday, 11 December 2013 18:09

Angry Erik bringing production brewing back to Sussex County

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Heide Angry Erik Tanks

UPDATE, Dec. 19th: State regulators granted a license to the brewery today.

New Jersey is likely to close out 2013 with one more brewery getting the go-ahead from state regulators.

 Licensing is imminent for Angry Erik Brewing, a husband-and-wife team whose efforts promise to bring production brewing back to Sussex County, the place where the modern era of small-batch beer-making actually began in the Garden State in the middle of the 1980s.

Angry Erik Logo"We're smaller than most but bigger than a few of the start-ups in New Jersey," Erik Hassing tells Beer-Stained Letter.

Officials with the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control have already inspected the 10-barrel brewery that Erik and his wife, Heide, will open in Lafayette, a small town situated practically in the bull's-eye of Sussex County, in the Skylands region, a bucolic area of the state where you're nearly as likely to see a roaming bear as a beer poured.

After inspection, the ABC requested some plumbing and electrical documentation regarding the 2,400-square-foot Angry Erik facility. The lion's share of that space is taken up by a brewhouse, a brace of 10-barrel fermenters and a bright beer tank.

The electrical and plumbing records were forwarded to ABC last week, Erik says, making the brewery's licensing ever so close.

"We're at the stage where I'm really hoping we'll be given the all clear to brew in December," Erik says, "so that we can have our doors opening in January, after we've got at least two (beers) ready to go, if not three or four."

Erik is an attorney with a practice in nearby Flanders, and Heide is both a biochemist and trained chef and will take on the mantle of brewer. The two head into commercial craft brewing with a decade-plus of homebrewing experience to their name.

That do-it-yourself beer-making reaches back to their apartment-life days in New York. Erik, 41, was a prosecutor in the Bronx then, and Heide, 37, was in grad school at Cornell University. (Erik's originally from Arizona, and Heide is from Maine. The two met as undergrads in Maine.)

Angry Erik Brewing Taking BreakThe brewery is a side project for the couple; the company name is some office humor from Erik's prosecutor days (and a polar opposite of his laid-back nature), plus a nod to some Scandinavian heritage. The beers the couple will produce for post-tour sampling and growler fills in their 400-square-foot tasting room will be offered draft-only at first. (Canning is a possibility down the road; right now such packaging options are taking a back seat. Heide and Erik also plan to make a pitch to Sussex County bars that may be interested in putting their beers on tap.)

As far as a lineup goes, Garden State beer enthusiasts can expect a cardamom-spiced porter and an amber ale that punches a little higher than session beer's weight class. Erik describes it as "an easy-drinking pale ale that you don't have to be a hop head to enjoy."

"We're usually in the 6 to 7% (ABV) range with most of our beers, unless like with the comfort ale, where we intentionally want to come in a little bit lower, at 5.5," he says. "We don't like to go below 5.5, because you start to lose out on some of the flavor intensity as you go down. The strongest we've made is an IPA that came in around 10. We'll probably repeat that on a commercial scale, just because it's a fun beer."

Speaking of IPAs, they will indeed loom large in the Angry Erik picture. Think Belgian styles, too.

"We both can't seem to stop drinking IPAs," Erik says. "We love those. We'll always have one of those on tap."

Sussex County legacy

For Heide and Erik, Sussex County offered an escape from the concrete trappings of the city. But for New Jersey's craft beer industry, Sussex County occupies a special place on the timeline.

It was a first home – practically a Jamestown, Va., a Plymouth, or some other founders colony – for New Jersey small-batch brewing, going back to 1984. That's only four years removed from Sierra Nevada Brewing's start in California, and a decade before Dogfish Head launched in Delaware, not to mention 11 years before the Ship Inn in Milford would ace out Triumph Brewing in Princeton for the title of what's commonly referred to as New Jersey's first craft brewery.

Back in mid-'80s, handcrafting beers that spoke to flavors fuller than the bland, light lagers that defined beer for most people got you tagged with the emerging label of "microbrewery" by some and fad by others.

Yet in Vernon Township, 15 miles north of Sparta where Krogh's brewpub now calls home, Vernon Valley Brewing began a seven-year run, making a flight of six German-style beers – including bocks, dunkels and zwickels – on the grounds of Action Park Ski Resort, using whole leaf hops and century-old Bavarian traditions: open fermenters and conditioning the beer in pitched, Austrian oak barrels.

The brewery, with a production capacity of 14,000 barrels, sold the beer only at the resort environs before being acquired by Clement Brewing, an upstate New York enterprise. It then began supplying restaurants in Syracuse and Ithaca held under the company's Empire State Brewing brand.

Clement Brewing went out of business in the spring of 1992, taking with it New Jersey's only craft, micro, small-batch – pick a label – brewery until the mid-1990s, and knocking off Sussex County's only brewery until Krogh's added a 5-barrel set-up to its restaurant in 1999.

Angry Erik will come in at twice that size but still diminutive compared with what stands as every New Jersey craft brewery's predecessor.

The new Lafayette brewery was conceived with the future in mind, and its 10-barrel size, Erik says, provides flexibility, a way to "push the beer through and have more variety on hand."

"We've tried to make it big enough so that we could bring in more fermenters and more bright tanks and grow a little bit," he says.Angry Erik Brewery Equipment


Read 7622 times Last modified on Thursday, 19 December 2013 21:55

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