Anyone who doesn’t have me on mute on Twitter knows how much I complain about not being able to get all the beer I want to drink down here at the tippy bottom of New Jersey. Even NJ breweries are hard to come by down here. Carton Brewing (Atlantic Highlands, NJ) makes some incredible beers and they are very often the brewery that I am trying to get my hands on. Lately, though, thanks in part to some local bars and liquor stores and the best ever beer boyfriend (thanks Nicky), I’ve been able to try a bunch lately. One of my favorite things about Carton is that it comes in a can and usually the tall cans. Again, if you haven’t muted me on twitter, you know how much of a fan I am of cans and am often using #ShowUsYourCans to highlight my love of these awesome beer vessels.
Their most well known and most Jersey beer is 07XXX or O-Dub as most call it. It’s an East Coast Double IPA coming in at 7.8% ABV and 80 IBU. It was actually made when the geniuses at Carton were experimenting with Boat beer and unlike most of their other beers, it is definitely true to style. When you first pop the top, you can immediately smell the dank hops as well as some citrus and other tropical fruit notes. These aromas follow through into the flavor. There’s a bit of malt flavor but what really gets you is the dankness of the hops. I am a hop fiend and I really love and appreciate that element of this beer. The fruity flavors balance it all out making this a beer that you can drink a few of and feel pretty good. This is my favorite beer from Carton and one of my all time favorite beers. 4.75/5 kegs
My first Carton (and first Untappd check in) is one of my favorite “every day” beers; Boat, which is a Session Ale coming in at 4.2% ABV and 35 IBU. Boat is made with Kolsch yeast and German malt and 8 kinds of hops that take you on a roller coaster ride of aroma and flavor. I find some session beers to be boring and this is not the case here. You are gently smacked in the face with the scent of grapefruit and hops which are definitely apparent in the taste as well. You also get some other fruity notes and a bit of pine. This beer is meant to sipped all day and you can do that because the flavors change enough to make it interesting and the flavors don’t fade away when the beer warms. This is the perfect beer for a warm summer day and as the name might imply, on a boat floating in the bay. You can drink it all day and you should. This beer is regularly on tap at the Mad Batter in Cape May, so if you’re down this way, you should stop in for a pint. 4/5 Kegs
Red Rye Returning is a Rye ale coming in at 6.5% ABV and 50 IBU. Carton used different hops than they usually do and as as result, you get more of the pine and spicy attributes rather than the fruitiness you might be used to. You can smell and later taste the rye and malt right away. You also get a bit of a biscuit and roasted, almost burnt caramel smell and taste as well. This is not what I have come to expect from Carton, but it is delicious. Unfortunately, it’s not currently being canned, so it’s only available on tap. I was lucky enough to find it at the Mad Batter and at Wingcraft in Atlantic City. 4/5 Kegs
On to the specialty beers..Epitome is an Imperial Black Ale with an impressive 10.3% ABV and 100 IBU. When Carton sets out to do something, they generally do it. They tried to make a big crazy black IPA and, oh boy, they did it well. Some may say you can’t really have a black India Pale Ale, but they’re wrong, especially when you use roasted malt extract like they did here. The intense smell of piney hops and roasty dark chocolate might make you want to splash some on as perfume/cologne, but you’re going to just want to take a nice big sip instead. With the smell of hops, you might expect this to be overwhelmingly hoppy, but it’s nice. It’s the perfect amount of bitterness mixed with the roasted flavors you smelled. There’s also some citrus flavor in there. I haven’t had a ton of black IPAs, but if they’re anything like this, it will be one of my new favorite styles. 4.5/5 Kegs
When I first heard of Gilded Lily, I knew I had to have it. Luckily the beer boyfriend was coming for a visit and he was bringing beer. This beer to be precise. I could hardly contain my excitement. Gilded Lily is a “Trufpel” (Cartons’ own name of a Belgian Tripel laced with truffles) coming in at a big 10.6% ABV and 30 IBU. Augie talks about this beer with words like “sex” and “dirt”, so you already know that you want one, don’t you? As much as I like to drink out of the can, this one is just too fancy and you really need to drink it from a fancy glass. The immediate smell is earthy dirt (I know, what other kind of dirt is there?). That may sound odd and it is, but it is a good odd, a really really good odd. You can also smell the typical Belgian smell and a little citrus. With that craziness in my nose, couldn’t wait to taste it. The aromas went through to the taste and it was fantastic. It tasted exactly like it smelled and it was a wonderful. Dirt and sex was exactly what this tasted like. You might not think truffles belong in beer or that this another crazy experiment gone overboard, but you would be wrong. If you can get your hands on this, you should do it. Don’t look at the price, it’s worth it every penny. 4.5/5 Kegs
The other beer brought by BBF is Decoy, a Winter Warmer with a 12% ABV and 26 IBU. This beer was inspired by a spiced roast duck dish made by Chef Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park. If you think that truffle beer is crazy, then you will definitely think that duck inspired beer is loony. You’re right, but again, it’s a good kind of loony. With the amount of alcohol in this beer, you would expect it to smell boozy, but instead it’s a nice spicy, malty smell that fills up your nose. There is a bit of alcohol taste, but it’s not overwhelming. It’s balanced out by the spices, malts and sweet honey. There’s a flavor and a smell that I couldn’t quite pin, but dark cherries is the closest I can come up with. This is a great beer to enjoy on a cool winter day, it will certainly warm you up. If Chef Humm’s duck dish is anywhere near as good as this beer, then I need to make a little road trip. 4.5/5 Kegs
In case you didn’t pick it up, I’m a big fan of Carton Brewing and would love to see them more available down in my area. O-Dub is one of the most requested beers when I tell people I live in NJ and want to trade. I’m glad to see more than just Boat on tap at my local bars and restaurants and look forward to trying more of their beers and hopefully making a trip up to the brewery. If you see Carton in a can or on tap near you, do yourself a favor and give one a try.
Visit Cartonbrewing.com and check out what else they have.