Brewery Interview: Angry Erik Brewing, Lafayette NJ

It was a cloudy October afternoon in the Lafayette industrial park.  A light rain fell, making the collage of red, orange, green and gold leaves glisten.  I walked through the door of the humble brewery to find a fit, energetic young woman hauling around empty kegs and flipping high-bar chairs over in preparation for the crowds that would surely visit in the evening.

Heide and I shook hands, I powered up my laptop, and we got down to business.

As the co-owner, head brewer and C.O.O., Heide brings a scientific mind and a chef’s creativity to the recipes brewed at Angry Erik’s.  Her experience includes working in a yeast lab as a bio-chemist and attending a culinary program run by New School University.  Erik, originally a prosecutor in The Bronx, still works as a partner in a law-firm in Flanders, is more like the C.E.O. – providing the vision, logistics, and legal expertise needed to navigate the draconian laws that govern the alcohol industry.

It was in their tiny kitchen apartment in the city where Heide cooked and Erik, ever-present company, started brewing.  Allegedly, Heide bought Erik a “Mr. Beer” kit for Christmas.  His first recipe, a Canadian wheat beer, received a dash of inspiration from Heide– she slipped apricots into the beer when Erik turned his back.  The result was fruity and drinkable, reminiscent, Heide says, “of drinking Magic Hat #9.”  Five years and a bunch of recipes later, they moved to the quiet, verdant town of Byram, NJ, but the notion of Angry Erik’s started fermenting before trading in the metropolitan lifestyle they both knew.

Erik and Heide started first with extract recipes then switched to all-grain.  As with many homebrewers, their creations ended up in bottles, but it didn’t last.  They eventually kegged their beer.  Each change was a step in the direction of commercial production.  Around the change from bottling to kegging, Erik kicked around the idea of opening a brewery.

The brewery’s 10 barrel system sees very little in the realm of “conventional recipes.”  Heide’s creative and scientific mind may start with a base style, but then refines recipes until they have a certain flavor result that makes them very much Angry Erik’s product.  Take Heide’s favorite, Viva Verde, an American IPA made with jalapeño peppers, as an example.  Though it does provide some heat, it’s not precisely hot, but certainly adds a unique flavor to the recognizable style.  For the truly interested fans, the 7 employees add a small pepper slice to the beer.  Erik also likes IPAs, his favorite brewery recipe being To Taste.

Some recipes (not to mention fan favorites) are the result of wonderful mistakes.  Heide intended Fika, their sweet stout, as a batch of Old Village, their American Stout.  Due to an unknown broken thermometer and several attempts at reheating the water, the mash ended up 8 degrees hotter, containing more unfermented sugar, and a smoother, sweeter taste.  The result?  A new beer was born.

For a small, newly established brewery (Angry Erik celebrated their 1 year anniversary in February of 2015) exert an impressive reach.  They self-distribute, thanks to the law passed in 2012 in NJ concerning “limited breweries.”  As far south as Phillipsburg in Warren County, and as far east as Ft. Lee, you can find Angry Erik beer in 8 NJ counties, among 34 locations.  A van, driven by an Angry Erik employee makes this all possible.

Also possible is their ability to barrel age, one of their specialties recently included Vanagandr aged in freshly used Heaven Hill barrels.  Those lucky enough to try it experienced the flavors of the base beer (a Belgian Brown Ale) plus all the qualities one comes to expect from bourbon-barrel aging.  I asked Heide why they prefer single-use barrels.  “We want the barrel characteristics to complement our beer, not take it over,” she responded.  I nodded in agreement.  Very often barrel aging changes the beer inside to the extent that its drinker has a hard time discerning the original flavors of the beer.

When not drinking her own creations, you might find Heide sipping on Epic’s Big Bad Baptist, a highly regarded Imperial Stout hailing from Utah.  Erik, on the other hand “is an IPA guy.”

What does the future hold for Angry Erik Brewing?

Soon to be released is their Imperial Porter, Dragon Booty, with an a.b.v. of 8.5%.  Other plans may include expansion into a larger, self-owned space to accommodate more guests, canning via the aid of a “can van,” a portable cleaning system, another bright tank, and most exciting- a possible collaboration with a small NY brewery just over the state-line.

Before leaving, Heide and I discussed some of the more complicated aspects of brewing.  She brought up the interesting notion that not everyone realizes that the marriage of malts and hops, especially the newer varieties, create aromas and tastes that mimic certain yeast strains.  As a result, drinkers who think they know everything are fooled into thinking a beer is a style it is not, and judge or criticize the beer unfairly.

You learn something new every day.download

The next time you want to get mad, don’t.  Get Angry, and visit Heide and her crew on a Friday or Saturday afternoon to try their unique take on the world of craft beer.

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