When most college students graduate, they have short-term ambitions of getting an entry-level job, paying down their student loan debts and jump-starting their careers. For Eric Ruta of Magnify Brewing Company, all he could think about was starting his own brewing business. “If you’re going to do something for a long time, you might as well love it,” he said.
At 24 years old, the Ridgewood native is the youngest brewery owner in the state, which gives him the unique perspective of being able to only know America’s craft beer boom of the past few years. Since its opening last year, Magnify exploded onto the NJ beer scene with their constantly rotating draft list of different styles and innovations.
The journey to Magnify started in Maine, where Ruta studied Environmental Studies and Philosophy at Bates College in Lewiston. While nearby Portland is home to the well-known craft breweries Allagash and Shipyard, he worked a low-level marketing job at Baxter Brewing, a small, but well-respected micro-brewer by the college, to learn the ins and outs of the business. “There’s an amazing community in Portland of not only brewers, but of chefs and restaurant owners that I really fell in love with,” Ruta said on a Sunday afternoon. “They all feed off each other, so I wanted to bring that sense of community back home to Jersey.”
Ruta’s degree in Philosophy helped him plan what he wanted to do — and how to accomplish it. So after exploring areas in Central Jersey, he settled on Fairfield in Essex County, where the only other brewery in the area is Cricket Hill. Explains Ruta, “I wanted to magnify this area as a destination for great beer.” And that’s how he got the name.
His next step was to hire an experienced head brewer, Erich Carrle, who worked at Almanac and Speakeasy, to do the brewing. The two of them laid out a business plan to create different styles of beers using a combination of hop styles and yeast strains. “I would go to so many breweries and get blown away about how unique they tasted,” he recalled. Like other upstart brewers in the state, Ruta had to set up his business model, build a facility and secure a license before he could brew his first barrel of beer.
In the meantime, his parents were behind him all the way. Even better, the other brewery owners supported him even though his young age gives him a unique position. “For the most part, they all respect it. Age is just a number,” he explained.
That respect comes from Magnify’s three year-round beers that can be found throughout the state in major restaurants and supermarket. Their most-popular is Vine Shine, a dank and piney East meets West Coast IPA. It’s floral enough for the hop heads, but easily drinkable for those who like just a little hop bite. The Search Saison is a funky, wine-like farmhouse-style ale that supports Magnify’s mission to bring something unusual to your palate. Finally, Low Visibility is a 4.8% ABV pale ale which works as a great introduction for those trying craft beer for the first time.
If you visit their taproom on a random weekend, you’ll get plenty of surprises from their tap list and take-home can releases. They aim to re-write their chalkboard every two weeks to rotate in a barrel-aged beer, double IPAs or a funky sour from their new fermentor. “I’m not a fan of seasonal beers because it limits your creativity. I want us to be able to brew anything that comes to our mind. Experimentation is what excites us.”
Their chaotic May 2015 opening was a sign of things to come in terms of their popularity. In fact, their first customer comes in every week. It didn’t take long for a line 100 people deep to form to get one of their speciality can releases. “I’ll admit that I was scared before we opened because I put in so much blood, sweat and tears to get us going,” he said. “I figured it out along the way. Luckily, my dad was helping with deliveries while my mom helped with the numbers. Personally, I don’t recommend starting a brewery because people have to realize that I put in eighty hours a week. It’s really hard work.”
For Ruta, the goal is to create world-class beer in the Garden State, but he couldn’t imagine that its reputation would extend beyond the state. Online, you can find a nationwide community of beer traders looking for Magnify’s latest offerings. “The hard work does pay off. We’re not just making good beer, selling it all out and making a profit. We’re building a community of people who really love beer and make friends along the way.”
Missed the last installment of Brew Jersey? Read all about River Horse Brewing Company. Don’t forget to check out the entire Brew Jersey series here.
Name: Magnify Brewing Company
Standout Beer: Vine Shine IPA
Know Before You Go: Tasting room provides pints, 8-oz. pours, growler fills and special can releases. Building 7 Unit 40C is located within The Junction business park, which can be accessed via Bloomfield Ave. and Rt. 46. Check Facebook for up-to-date hours and tap list.
About the author: Chris Castellani writes about the NJ beer scene for BestofNJ.com. He almost bought a t-shirt that said “I Wish You Were Beer”. He also writes the travel blog Why Am I Not There?