Partners usually take up something simple as a couple’s hobby — long walks, gardening, maybe a house renovation. But these days, home brewing is a popular choice. For the husband and wife team of Heide and Erik Hassing, their part-time hobby became a full-time business. Angry Erik Brewery in Lafayette is the result of years of homebrewing practice and a love of craft beer.
The journey from “I do!” to “I brew!” starts at Colby College in Waterville, Maine, where the two met and became college sweethearts. While the Maine native Heide studied chemistry, the Arizona-born Erik was starting his law studies. “I joke that I picked her up on the side of the road,” Erik said on an afternoon in the brewery. As you can imagine, Heide shot her husband a look.
It Comes Down to Chemistry
The two moved to New York to continue their studies when Brooklyn Brewery was one of the only craft breweries in tri-state area. On a trip to visit family in Easton, Penn., they discovered Weyerbacher Brewery and were immediately hooked. “We came back and couldn’t find it anywhere,” Heide recalled. “It was so flavorful and exciting, so I had to try to make something like it for other people.”
Heide realized that she could combine her passion for cooking and her education in chemistry to experiment with at-home beer making. “When I was reading home-brewing books, it’s shocking that what’s written in the books is just not based in scientific fact.” Heide pointed out. “If you come at it from a scientific perspective, it makes much more sense and there’s a lot less guess work when something goes wrong.”
When the couples settled into their respective careers in chemistry and law, the brewing on the weekends took on a life of its own. “We realized that we had way too much beer for the two of us. We liked our beer way more than anything you could get in the store,” Erik said. “Since it’s just us two, we figured it would be a good idea to buy some tanks and rent a space and go all out.”
Ahead of the Curve
When the two began the process of founding a brewery four years ago, there was some craft beer in New Jersey, but nothing like it is today with almost 70 breweries and a dozen brewpubs. The location in a business park in Lafayette makes them furthest northwest brewery in the state.
Deciding to stay near their home in Sussex County did come with hesitation. “We just didn’t know if people would come when pretty much everybody we knew drinks Bud and Coors Light,” Heide explained. “We just hoped that if we liked our beer, others would too.” This month, Angry Erik celebrated its third anniversary, so it’s safe to say people are enjoying the beer.
The plan was when Angry Erik — the nickname given to him by other lawyers — opened in 2014, the two could keep their day jobs, focus all their spare time at the brewery and hire staff to run the tap room. For Heide, that plan lasted two weeks after opening and she decided to quit a career in chemistry to run the operation full-time and be the head brewer. “As it turns out, working two full jobs for 120 hours a week is not possible,” Heide recalled while laughing. “I still work in chemistry, just doing something more fun.”
That fun translates into some awesome beer made by somebody with a masters in biochemistry from Cornell University. What she brews depends on her instincts. “I don’t brew to [beer] style. I might start with a brown ale, add eight other ingredients and end up with something completely different. It’s how I like to cook and I how I like to live — outside of the box.”
Doing Something Different
While the business model is not to have a flagship beer, the Hassings want to be known for variety and to have people come back and discover something new. But there a few brews that pop up year round due to customer demand. Ravøl, a red ale, pays tribute to the couple’s Nordic heritage with a malt-forward taste swimming alongside a fruity aroma.
To celebrate their third anniversary, a bourbon-barrel Russian imperial stout called Wolves Among Thieves was introduced that clocked in at a strong and boozy 10.1% ABV and has characteristics of oak, vanilla and chocolate. Continuing on the brewery’s viking theme, Shadow Warrior is a Black IPA that balances the roasty malts with a hop bite. The Dainty Viking, a customer favorite, is a Belgian blonde brewed with Scandinavian dried flowers.
For the spring, look out for Erik the Orange, a Belgian-style strong ale brewed with orange juice, orange zest and oak chips that will put hair on your chest.
While their brand conjures up images of mead-drinking vikings, helmets with horns, dragons and men with big beards, the Hassings are a low-key, pleasant and friendly couple that can explain the link between Louis Pasteur and beer or the connection between the Reinheitsgebot and chemistry.
Up and Running
When the brewery opened in 2014, they didn’t expect 600 people to show up throughout the first day, especially when they only offered two beers. Today, they’ve expanded to make 500 barrels of beer a year. That makes Erik, who continues to be a lawyer, happy because he always has an endless supply of beer at hand.
For Heide, she takes pride in introducing craft beer to people who only knew about mass-produced, corporate beer and being a favorite among craft beer fans. “It’s great to be a part of a community, especially when both of us are not originally for New Jersey,” she said. “It makes us feel at home.”
Name: Angry Erik Brewery
Location: Lafayette Township, Sussex County
Standout Beer: The Dainty Viking Blonde Ale
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, flights, growler fills, bottle releases and merchandise. Check Facebook for up-to-date hours, upcoming releases, events and tap list. Food is allowed in the tap room. No pets. Must take tour before drinking. Parking located behind the building.
About the author: Chris Castellani writes about the NJ beer scene for BestofNJ.com. He also writes the travel blog Why Am I Not There?