New Jersey's Atlantic Highlands is home to one of the Garden State's freshest production breweries -Â Carton Brewing. Situated just a few blocks inland of the Sandy Hook Bay in an unmarked and repurposedÂ 100+ year old red brick building, these guys are churning out signature beers. They are driven by a passion for quality food & drink, an enthusiasm that translates throughout their beer.
As soon as you enter the main space at Carton's facility you're aware of their mantra, painted in bold letters above the brew house doorway. This doorway also marks the edge of the original structure and an addition which was put up in the 1950's. Â The building has held many occupants such as a beer distributor's warehouse a few decades earlier.
Brewer Jesse Ferguson is making tasty beer with a shiny new fifteen barrel brew house from Canada'sÂ Newlands Systems. The system even features a stack condenser, used to reclaim steam from the boil kettle intoÂ usableÂ water. Â This increases efficiency and dramatically reduces odors from the brewing process.
The day we visited the brewery they weren't scheduled to brew, but that doesn't mean there weren't beer responsibilities demanding attention. Jesse was keeping busy hosing out the trash cans previously filled with spent grain that had just been returned from one of the local farmers, who had picked up the grain after a brew and used it to feed livestock. The guys at Carton were admirably vocal about keeping waste to a minimum and practicing sustainability wherever possible.
Say hello to "Tippy," Carton's twenty Â gallon pilot system which allows Jesse and Augie a range of flexibility to experiment and tweak recipes before brewing it using the main system on a significantly larger scale. Â The small batches brewed on this setup are split up into four or five separate carboys to test out different yeast strains. Â After they settle on a yeast strain for that particular recipe, it then moves on to further testing and eventually production on the main system.
The Squire Plus 2: Carton's premium washing, sanitizing, and filling station for their shiny new kegs. Â These brand new kegs are some of the nicest we have seen. Â What makes them so special is their size and weight - they are a bit squatter than all steel kegs and have a plastic rim at the top and bottom which reduces the weight and allows them to be stacked four high without fear of toppling over.
Augie Carton poured us up some Boat Beer to sample first. He was very adamant about the beer being an experience to drink, from the first sip all the way to the last. He designs his beers with the drinking process as a whole in mind. He wants the flavor to evolve and keep your attention as you work your way through a pint over time. As a session ale, it's important for the fourth or fifth beer to be just as tasty and interesting as your first sip.
A key element to any beer is the water. Both Augie & Jesse insisted on brewing with theÂ unadulteratedÂ local water, treating only with a charcoal filter to remove chlorine/chloramine (which would eventually lead to pitting of the stainless steel brew house). The Atlantic Highlands drinking water comes from underground aquifers, providing a clean, fresh, and unique water source for the brewery. Â They are only a block and a half from the closest pumping station, allowing them to interact with city workers and to monitor their water source.
Boat beer - a 4.2% session ale for IPA drinkers. Â This is Carton's flagship brew, the one that we went back to time and time again for drinking and discussion alike. This is brewed with a pilsner malt base, citrusy hops, and German Kolsch yeast which all play well together creating a crisp quaffer. This beer is ideal for the warmer months, but suitable for any time of the year.
Brunch. Dinner. Grub. - This 6% ABV "country" brown ale is referred to by Augie as a "table beer" because he loves to pair this with foods. What do most meals have in common? Â They are served with some form of bread. That is what this beer emulates - a crusty French bread, a mellow brown that pairs well with any meal.
077XX - Â East Coast Double IPA, an 8% Â heavily influenced by bold west coast IPA's but with a Jersey flare: our water. Pungent and piny, this crisp, resiny IPA showcases the characteristics of the water the most. The name pays homage to local Monmouth County region, as most of the town's zip codes begin with 077.
Â Check out Carton Brewing on Facebook or if you are in the area on a Saturday drop by for a tour and growlers of some of the freshest beers around. Thanks to Augie and Jesse for their hospitality; we had a great time on our visit and look forward to enjoying their brews all around New Jersey's better beer bars.
6 East Washington Ave
Atlantic Highlands NJ 07716