Carton Brewing - Atlantic Highlands, NJ
To say that Carton Brewing holds a special place in my heart is an understatement. The brain-child of Augie and Chris Carton, Carton Brewing is now synonymous with "Great New Jersey beer". I had the privilege of living in Atlantic Highlands for three years and to this day, it is still one of my favorite towns, so to see the growth of Carton throughout the years within this quaint little town has been fascinating. The evolution of the brewery and its styles has been quite the sight to behold, much like the evolution of craft beer. There was a time when Carton's BOAT was a hard sell for some people, in a time where higher ABV's and "let's make the hoppiest beer ever" sentiment started to reign supreme. To see that BOAT is now consistently within the top "whatever" beers in America is something to be proud of. But there's more to Carton than just BOAT, and no matter who you ask, everyone will have their favorite Carton beer and for different reasons.
I could easily say that I have Carton favorites for each occasion. I like BOAT for crushable summer drinking. I like 077XX when I want something a little juicier and stronger. I love January because it usually means Regular Coffee is around the corner. I absolutely love B.D.G in a growler for BYO's at restaurants. I could go all day with all of the different beers and their profiles, but I'll just say this - for someone who resides within the proximity of ten miles to Carton Brewing, it's easy sometimes to take for granted how close I live to it and how good their beers are.
As the New Jersey craft beer scene continues to shift and find a firm footing, Carton's firehouse has always been one of the pillars of the New Jersey beer world. Say what you will about some of their unconventional beers, you know this brewery will always deliver on some front with their brews. Ask anyone within their fan base about their delicious nectars and you'll get animated responses full of enthusiasm and excitement. I should know, I'm one of them.
With recent talk of expansion, Carton fanatics have more than enough reason to be more excited than ever. But for those who don't know yet, and I can't imagine why... Carton Brewing is located in the small coastal town of Atlantic Highlands. It's a small town that actually has a movie theater, a marina with a ferry to New York, quaint little shops, and residents that are happy to live there. When you have Carton's beer and you meet their staff, you can't help but think that this brewery embodies everything that is right about Atlantic Highlands. When you meet the patrons who come to the taproom all the time, you can't help but think that they embody everything that is right about the ever-evolving New Jersey craft beer scene.
If you've yet to visit the brewery, your GPS isn't lying, it's that building without any signs. The building is two floors and if you've never been before, please enter the door and immediately head left for a guided tour... because New Jersey. But trust me, it's worth the tour. I've taken the tour at least a dozen times, simply because it seems like every time I've gone, there's a new story, a new tidbit, a new anecdote about Carton or about a particular beer that was made. And if you're lucky like I was once, you might even get a tour led by Augie himself.
All of the beer-making magic happens on the first floor and at this point, it's easy to see why Carton Brewing would want to expand. What was once seen as enough to meet demand, now seems to be barely keeping up, just because Carton's beer is in such high demand. The cans that I can get on a regular basis are the same cans that other states and even counties within New Jersey are highly sought out. Case in point: 077XX cans and IDIPA cans were released on April 7th. I'm sure within the next few days, they'll both be gone and asked about on social media and forums alike. I get to have this pleasure and honor simply by driving 10 minutes.
After taking the quick tour in the first floor, come by the second floor. The atmosphere is unlike any other brewery I've been to. It's small, cozy, and comfortable. Sure, during some releases or days of bad weather, it gets crowded and a little stuffy, but if you make it there at noon on a Saturday or 5 PM on a Wednesday, you'll be able to stretch out your legs a little and engage the people you are with. The good thing about the setup in this taproom is that it invites people to engage each other even if you have no idea who the person is next to you. There's been many times where I've interjected into someone else's conversation about either Carton's beer or other beers and the time just flew by.
And everyone on the staff knows good beer as well. Just ask any of them and they'll light up in conversation about it. But make sure that you grab some chips for a flight first or even a glass of whatever is on cask!
The flight has always been six poker chips for $5, a great value for what is potentially six great beers or six of your favorite beer... the possibilities are endless. The flight will start out with their flagship BOAT, and it's worth it. There are no regular pours of their regular beers, but there is always a beer on cask ($5) and sometimes one of their special releases will have a $5 pour. Overall, just being at the taproom is a great value for the amount of money you will be spending.
Overall, to say that I love Carton Brewing is a massive understatement. Sure, not all of their beers resonate with me, but that's all a part of this industry. What does resonate with me is the company and everyone within the company from the very top to the very bottom. The crowds that assemble there are crowds of good people in search of one of New Jersey's most sought out beer or just people who want to revisit and merge their good times with fantastic beer. Either way, Carton Brewing is a must visit in New Jersey, whether it's for the atmosphere, the town, the people, but most definitely for the beer. Cheers!