By Michele J. Kuhn
ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – If you’re looking for a run-of-the-mill craft beer like those made by other microbreweries, say, an IPA, don’t head to Carton Brewing Company.
But, if you’re looking for something that “no one else makes,” Carton will be your brewer of choice.
The fun of making beer and creating new flavors is what Carton Brewing is all about. “The Carton slogan is, for us (the brewers), ‘think off the beaten draft’ and what we write on our can is ‘drink off the beaten draft,’” said Augie Carton, one of the owners. “The minute we run into an idea we think has been well done by the market, we drop it and go on to the next idea.”
That concept has served Carton Brewing well. About 8 months after it opened two years ago, “we were having so much trouble keeping up, that we grew the brewery’s capacity by about 150 percent …That’s the absolute capacity of the building we’re in,” Carton said.
“We’re very happy.”
Carton Brewing Company, which has seven full-time employees and five part-timers, was opened in August 2001 by cousins Augie and Chris Carton and friend, Jesse Ferguson, in a brick warehouse, built in the late 1800s for tent storage for a religious community at 6 E. Washington Ave. The building has served many purposes, including as a Feigenspan Brewing Company distribution point and a candy story. Since opening its door, Carton has become known among those who love beer as a label of small batches of unusual beers with a menu of five that can be obtained year-round.
Carton – a fixed income broker by day and a brewery owner the rest of the time – and his partners have had a passion for beer – and food – that was developed long before forming a brewing company was even an idea.
In addition to being cousins, Chris and Augie are neighbors and grew up together in the Hartshorne Woods area, as did their dads.
“We would drink together quite a bit … The beers we were in love with were these big American IPAs … The really good ones have so much going on,” said Carton, a self-described “food geek,” former chef and food blogger.
The Cartons teamed up with Ferguson. He is the husband of Augie Carton’s wife’s best friend. After he was so helpful during the Cartons’ wedding, Augie Carton gifted him with a homebrewing kit. Conversations then were conducted about beer between Chris and Augie Carton and between Augie Carton and Ferguson. Finally, they all decided “what needed to be invented was a beer at an acceptable, quantifiable alcohol level, which to us was 4.2 (percent) …
“I said, ‘Why isn’t there a 4.2 beer with all these flavors?’ … The answer, we learned, was that it’s really expensive to make a beer taste that much,” Carton said.
But, that didn’t stop them from crafting their own.
“We came up with this plan to make Boat Beer, a super-hoppy session beer for IPA drinkers. It’s 4.2, nice and clean and crisp,” he said.
The idea for the beer came about in 2008. The recipe was close to what they wanted a year later with the final recipe set in 2010. They began producing Boat Beer immediately when the brewery opened in 2011.
In addition to Boat, the year-round beer menu has: 077XX, a double IPA; BDG (Brunch. Dinner. Grub.), a super-dry brown ale “meant to evoke bread crust and herbs, some coffee … It’s meant to go with all food;” Carton of Milk, a 4 percent milk beer; and Red Rye Returning, which is a little sweeter than the other regular offerings.
The special beers that are made each year – Carton doesn’t call them “seasonals” – are beers that they “feel like making and make. If we love it and if it’s great, we might make it again.”
Carton expects by December the brewery will probably have made a baker’s dozen of special beers this year.
Carton Brewing Company also “caters” beers – those created especially for specific establishments – for places like Moby’s and Bahrs in Highlands, Copper Canyon restaurant in Atlantic Highlands and a collection of New York City restaurants.
While Carton Brewing generally keeps about 150 gallons of each batch for its tasting room, special events and to sell at the Atlantic Highlands brewery, the rest – about 25 barrels – is sold to other establishments in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Carton beers are sold in about 200 bars in New Jersey, 30 to 40 in New York and about 20 in Philadelphia.
“We’re from here so we consider Philly and Manhattan as suburbs of Red Bank,” he said with a laugh.
When it comes to pairing beers with food, Carton said, “For me, it’s all about mouth feel … You’ve got your richer more voluminous beers that are great to standing up to your richer more voluminous foods.” Lighter beers go with lighter foods, he said.
A conversation with Carton about beer is tinged with a passion for food and beverage, laughter, an obvious love of what they are doing at their brewery and an overwhelming pride in the product.
“We are Jersey guys, we see this pretty simply,” Carton said. “This should just be fun to drink. It doesn’t need to be too serious and it doesn’t need to be $10 a glass. It should just be what it is and fun.”
The Carton brewers are “making the beers we like drinking in our neighborhood … It’s providing us with all the reward we want.”
Carton Brewing Company,
6 East Washington Ave., Atlantic Highlands,
(732-654-BEER) has a tasting room that is open 5 to 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The website is cartonbrewing.com.