Carton Brewing Company, Atlantic Highlands, NJ
One frigid, hungover Sunday in March, upon strong urging by a certain Augie Carton, I made a blurry trek into New Jersey to check out Atlantic Highlands' Carton Brewing Co. As you might remember, these folks sponsored our January trivia night and killed it on the Springsteen round. But of course.
Their delicious, hand crafted brews range from simple sessionable perfection (Boat Beer) to wild, high gravity experimentation (Regular Coffee). The brewery itself is tucked away on a quiet little street in a tiny town within a mile of where many of the Carton crew were born and raised -- true hometown heros and a very inspiring story. It's no wonder that Augie and the rest of the Carton team are so dedicated to brewing on premises -- their brewery is only a stone's throw away from the tasty water source they all know and love.
"It's the difference between being local and claiming to be local," Augie explains. "It's knowing the water."
The tour begins downstairs in the brewery. Jesse showed us around the place, a brick, 100+ year old building that dates back to a New Jersey far removed from the likes of Snookey and Bridgegate. The original building, they think, was once used to store the tents of traveling revival groups who camped on the shore each summer, spreading the Methodist gospel. Now, however, the building stores a slick 15 bbl brewhouse and a cozy upstairs tasting room that brims with thirsty locals each weekend.
The brewhouse is small but functional, running at full capacity to churn out just enough beer to satiate the tri-state masses. The "Tippy," Carton's pilot system, produces brewery only batches, giving the brewers the space to experiment with new recipes or to learn about the potentials of individual ingredients through the "School of" series, educational beers that focus on a single hop strain. It's worth visiting the brewery just to get a sip of one of these limited Tippy brews.
Deeper into the building, down a twisting basement stairwell, lurks the barrel room -- a real sight to see. Of particular note are the Laird's Apple Jack barrels housing Pumpkin Cream Ale, infusing the spicy-sweet, bubbly brew with notes of sweet apple cider and boozy liquor. The Laird distillery -- the oldest continually operating distillery in America -- is also just a few miles down the road, adding yet another layer of local flavor to the Carton family.
I was struck by how the Carton team's passion for great beer co-mingled so closely with their intense hometown pride. This is craft beer at its best -- a drink for the people, by the people, produced to facilitate conversation, community and lots of love. Bravo.