Portrait of a Brewer: Aeryk Heeg, Black Plague Brewing

Black Plague Brewing's head brewer's a fan of red ales, pizza and Michael Jordan

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There are hundreds of hard-working brewing professionals giving their all to help maintain the storied reputation San Diego’s brewing scene has earned over the past several decades. Some have risen to great fame among industry pros and craft-beer enthusiasts. Some ply their trade in obscurity (and are more than happy to do so). Some are Instagram famous, trendsetters with cult followings that would rival social-media influencers. And while they share plenty of similarities, each is their own unique person with their own likes, dislikes, methods, techniques, inspirations, interests and philosophies. The goal of San Diego Beer NewsPortrait of a Brewer series is to not only introduce you to local brewers, but to have some fun delving into the aforementioned areas so you can get to know them a little better and appreciate them and their contributions to the county’s standout brewing culture. All that plus stellar portraits from brewery lifestyle photographer extraordinaire Matt Furman.

Today’s featured brewer is…

Aeryk Heeg

of Black Plague Brewing

What is your current title?

Head Brewer 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up about 50 miles north of San Diego in Corona

What brought you to San Diego?  

I moved to North County in 2009 to attend college at Cal State San Marcos. 

What was the first beer and/or alcoholic beverage you ever had?

That’s a good question! If I had to guess I’d have to say it was probably a Miller Lite taken from my parents’ refrigerator…ha!

What was your a-ha moment that turned you on to craft beer? 

My a-ha moment that turned me to craft beer was my first experience with Stone Ruination IPA. At some point in college I started to drink IPAs because they had a higher ABV (alcohol-by-volume). Sadly, yes I was one of those. But after tasting Ruination everything changed. I’ve been in love with beer ever since. 

What led you to consider a career in brewing?

I had been a fan of San Diego beer for years and was a regular guest at just about every North County brewery at the time. Back then we only had a handful but the community was still so great. During this period I never really considered brewing to be a possibility, but I did have my eyes fixated on a sales gig. At some point, my brother Art and his wife Jenn bought me a Mr. Beer homebrew kit which ignited something within me. I ended up building a ridiculous homebrew system in my parents’ garage and haven’t  stopped brewing since. 

Where did you first apply for a brewing job and where did you get your first brewing/brewery position? 

I applied for just about every brewery job possible. I was relentless. But after dozens of applications I only landed three interviews with Alesmith, Ballast Point and Stone. As you can guess, I did not get the jobs. Their loss…wink. Jokes aside, I believe that everything happens for a reason and without being denied by those companies I wouldn’t have met the owners of Black Plague, which is ultimately who gave me my first brewery job. 

What breweries have you worked for over your career and in what roles? 

I have only worked for one—Black Plague Brewing. I started on the keg-cleaning machine and quickly moved into the cellar. Within three months of starting with the company I was our head brewer. 

Who have been the individuals that have helped you the most to learn and advance in your career, and how?

I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by a couple of the best brewers in our city, but no one has had a bigger impact on my career than Bill Batten (Fall Brewing). Bill came in during the early days of Black Plague and was nothing short of a mentor for me. Without the foundation he laid, I don’t know if I would have been successful. But I would be crazy not to also acknowledge the great Paul Segura (Karl Strauss Brewing) for always being so welcoming and helpful with any and all questions I’ve had over the years. I’m very fortunate to know both these dudes. I should also shout-out two of my closest friends in the industry, Andrew (Embolden Beer Co.) and Brian Kelly (Fall Brewing), for always helping and giving knowledge where they can! 

What advice would you give to someone interested in becoming a professional brewer? 

Keep learning! Don’t get complacent. Keep your head down and work hard. 

What ultimate career goal would you like to achieve?

When I started in the industry my ultimate goal was to eventually become a head brewer for a San Diego-based brewery. That happened a lot faster than I ever would have expected so I had to reset my milestones. I have set my sights on earning Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup gold. 

What is your favorite beer you’ve ever brewed, be it on a professional or amateur level?

My favorite beer I’ve ever brewed was a collaboration we made with Duck Foot Brewing. Here at Black Plague we created an oak-conditioned Vienna lager called StOAKed. It was so good, and had so much depth to the flavor. It will always be one of those beers I wish we could brew more of. 

What is your least favorite beer you’ve ever brewed

My least favorite beer I’ve ever brewed was a homebrewed American stout. To this day, it’s the only beer I’ve ever put down the drain. There was just no way I was going to drink five gallons, and I needed my keg back for another batch…ha!

What are your favorite and least-favorite hop varietals at present?

My favorite hop varietal is Simcoe. In my opinion, Simcoe is king. It’s versatility is unmatched. I’ve used it at every step of the brewing process and it has never let me down. My favorite place to use it is at knock-out for a flavorful charge. My least favorite hop is a tougher question, but I would have to say I’m not the biggest fan of the aromas associated with CTZ. I usually end up with some onion or garlic. I do, however, use it as a bittering hop quite often. 

If you weren’t a brewer, what do you think you would do for a living?

I’d probably still be working in construction sales. I worked for Fastenal for around six years before jumping ship. 

In your opinion, what non-brewing position is of great importance at a craft-beer company but often gets overlooked or less credit than those making the beer?

Cellarman, 100%. I can make a perfect beer on the brew deck but none of that matters if your cellarman doesn’t do their job. A good cellarman can bring so much to the team and it’s important to remind them just how important their work is. 

What is your favorite beer style? 

I’m glad you asked. Red ale! There is no other beer that matters, but get out of here with those overly sweet reds! Give us something with some hops. I would also like to take this opportunity to say thank you to AleSmith for creating and continuing to release Evil Dead Red. 

If you could wipe one style of beer off the face of the Earth, what would it be?

Does seltzer count? But no, really, I would probably have to get rid of rauchbier. It just reminds me too much of hot-dog water…ha! I can’t get past it.

What is your favorite San Diego County brewing company? 

Fall Brewing.  Their vibe is unmatched. It doesn’t hurt that the beers are really good, too. I love that whole crew! Great people over there. 

What is your favorite brewing company outside of San Diego? 

I would have to say my favorite brewery outside of San Diego is June Lake Brewing. The crew over there is putting out great stuff and the views are unreal. If you’re into snowboarding or skiing in the winter, then June Lake is a must-visit! 

What three breweries that you haven’t yet visited—local or elsewhere—are on your current must-see bucket list?

TRVE Brewing, Cellarmaker Brewing, 3 Floyds 

What are your favorite local beer events?

My Two favorite events are Collabapalooza and Rhythm & Brews.

If you were to leave San Diego, where would be the next-best place you’d want to brew?

Tough question, but it might be cool to explore what the East Coast has to offer. 

Which musical genre or artists are on your brew-day soundtrack/playlist?

We listen to a lot of metal and hip-hop at Black Plague. Personally, I’m usually listening to some death metal or pop-punk in my headphones. 

What motto rules the way you brew and approach brewing in a professional brewhouse? 

Quality over quantity. This is one of those things that I am unwilling to sacrifice. My passion has caused some headaches for our brewery, but I will always fight for the highest quality product. 

When you’re not at work, what do you like to do for fun?

Outside of work my favorite thing to do is go to concerts and watch sports. I’m a massive soccer fan so you can usually find me wearing a Liverpool kit. 

Where do you like to drink off-the-clock?

Off-the-clock you can usually bet that I’m drinking a lager at Eppig. Their Vista brewery is on my way home, so I like to sneak in there for a quick pint when I can. My girlfriend and I frequent their Point Loma tasting room almost every week. 

What is your favorite food and beer pairing of all time? 

Pizza and beer remains undefeated! I’m not picky about what beer I pair my pizza with, but I would prefer a nice pilsner. 

If you could somehow plan your last beer dinner before dying, what would you drink and eat, and who would you invite to join you?

I would keep it simple. Give me some barbecue, some pilsners, and some good friends and I’m set…and obviously Michael Jordan would be there. 

Who do you think you are (a purposely broad question)?  

This is a tough question and I’m not exactly sure how to answer it, but I do know I’m more than just a brewer. My identity doesn’t revolve around my job and I’m proud to say I have meaning outside the walls of our brewery. 

If you’re a brewer at a San Diego brewing company and would like to be featured in our Portrait of a Brewer series, drop us a line at [email protected].

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