Holly Kay and I got a very rare two days off together this past week, so we decided to take a little mini-vacation to tide us over until our BIG Vacation in November to celebrate a (belated) 5 Year Anniversary! (5 years is the Shillelagh Anniversary, right? No? It’s Wooden? That’s fine, I’m pretty sure there’s wood somewhere in Ireland…)
We booked a room on AirB&B in Highlands, NJ. I figured it was just far enough away from the city to be a getaway, but close enough that we wouldn’t have to stress about traveling. (It took about an hour and 40 minutes to get there in rush hour traffic, which wasn’t terrible.). Holly and I read nearly all of the 93 five-star reviews on the app, so we figured the place was a safe bet.
We arrived at our AirB&B, a charming, 100-or-so-year-old house about a half mile from the water, with views of Sandy Hook Bay from the window in our room.
The room was prettier than most hotel rooms we’ve stayed in. It was impeccably clean, bright, cozy and beachy. We had access to the common areas of the house as well, including a balcony down the hall from our room which offered peaceful seclusion and gorgeous views of NYC and Long Island.
If that’s not impetus enough for you to book this room right now, our hosts, Robin and Robert, were lovely, gracious, and attentive. They treat their home like a true B&B, offering us a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and fresh fruit upon arrival, and the most delicious breakfasts each morning. For under $100 a night, and the way that R & R cater to their guests, we plan on making annual trips back here. We loved every second.
Our first meal of the trip was at Yumi in Sea Bright, a 5 minute drive from the AirB&B. (Apparently most of the restaurants in Sea Bright are BYOB, and we didn’t B any B, sad face emoji) The food was amazing. We shared a fried soft-shell crab (because when you dine 40 feet from the Atlantic Ocean, you eat crab, for crying out loud), a spicy white tuna roll (with tempura flakes, of course), two unbelievable pork buns, and a gosh darn extra side of spicy aioli that you bet your behind we smothered on our crispy fried soft shell crab, because we’re grown adults.
In the Uber on the way back from the restaurant, we chatted with our driver, who had lived in the area for many years. We told him our plans to visit Carton Brewing the next evening, and he said, “Oh yeah, I know the whole family!”
I wasn’t surprised. One of my favorite things about craft beer is the focus on community. Small breweries form relationships with the people around them (local businesses, restaurants and bars) so it’s not surprising that owner Augie Carton is so well known around town.
We went to sleep early that night, after a little singalong (Holly Kay brought her ukulele) and some wine on the balcony!
After breakfast the next morning (vegetable quiche and fresh fruit!!) we took our coffee onto the front porch to plan out our day.
It was a little chilly, and we were going to go to the beach, but it was cloudy, and that crisp, fall breeze was a’peckin’ and a’pricklin’ the little red hairs on my sexy legs, so we both decided to change into pants and forego the beach for some apple picking (AUTUMN THINGS!).
We first drove down the stunning, mansion-lined coast to Asbury Park, where we walked around the shops on the Boardwalk.
By the time we got to the Eastmont Orchards, it was over 80 degrees and summery again! But we’re stubborn… We committed to picking apples, and pick apples we did! We got all up in those trees bizness, (neither of us are the tallest of humans, so we had to get creative) and filled up a bag o’ apples, and also bought a jar of blackberry peach jam, which is delicious.
We still had some time to kill before Carton opened, and Holly Kay found some outlets (she has a sort of Spidey-sense when we’re nearby outlet malls and was mapping out our route from the orchard even before we began our apple picking excursion).
After a few hours (new sneakers for me, new leggings for Holly Kay, and two orders of Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Nugs with cheese dip and a large Diet Coke) we were on our way to Carton!
This is a blog about beer, remember?? Sometimes I forget…
Carton Brewing is located in Atlantic Highlands, NJ. They’re just a few miles (UPDATE FROM THE CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT: AUGIE CARTON READ THE BLOG AND THEY ARE ACTUALLY ONLY 6 BLOCKS AWAY) from Sandy Hook Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Their beer is everywhere in Atlantic Highlands, Highlands, and Sea Bright (from what I saw). They have a huge presence in that area. The brewery, on the other hand, if you’re not looking for it, you may just drive right on by. They took up space in an old abandoned warehouse that was used by Methodists (who came into town only for summer) to store their tents (Praise the Lord!).
I’ve been a fan of Carton since my first taste of Boat Beer (their flagship, low ABV session ale/session double ipa/whatever). I listen to Augie’s podcast, Steal This Beer, on the regular (or, as the kids say, “on the regz”… Right, kids?), and seek out Carton beer on tap around NYC (their distribution of cans doesn’t go outside of New Jersey, so they’re hard to come by). Most recently, Holly Kay and I fell in love with Sakura (on tap at Barcade NYC), a sour ale made with sushi rice and cherry blossom, which, in concept, is so weird but worked so well. It was tart, refreshing, salty, low ABV, a perfect beer to drink on a hot day in summer with a good book (preferably in a hammock, but those are hard to come by in NYC, which is poopy. Maybe I’ll open a bar that has hammocks. I come up with so many good ideas writing this blog!!)
We step inside the brewery, and I’d heard that tours of the brew house were mandatory, which I think is a cool concept, to see where and how your beer is made before drinking it, to get a glimpse of the hard work and love that goes into beer. However, it was just Holly Kay and I, and the young lady who facilitated the (less than two minute) tour, talked so fast when describing all the different iterations of the building, and how beer is made, we barely understood a word she said. I was genuinely excited to spend time in the brew house, having listened to Augie talk about it on his podcast, and to learn about the Tippy (the small experimental brew system they keep to test out new flavors and ideas), and how they go about brewing beer. It seemed like, once she had finished her speech, and had walked us from the front of the building to the rear, she was done. No question and answer session, just an explanation of how the tasting room works, and pointed us up the stairs. I was a bit disappointed, to be honest. I was hoping to be able to snap a few pictures of the brew house, but was ushered up the stairs before I had a chance to.
Holly and I were chatting about it later in the evening, that perhaps, they get a lot of people who want nothing to do with a tour of the brew house and just want to get upstairs and start drinking beer. I don’t think it was the young lady’s fault, I just had an expectation of what the tour was going to look like, and it didn’t turn out that way. But lets move on to the beer!
The way the tasting room works is, you can pay $5 for a flight of 6 4oz tasters. Everyone starts off with Boat Beer, a hoppy session ale, with aromas and flavors of grapefruit citrus, orange rind, and pine, balanced with a crisp, bready malt sweetness. Again, this beer is the reason I fell in love with Carton, and it didn’t disappoint.
The next beer we tried was the B.D.G. (Brunch, Dinner, Grub). Augie wanted to make a Table Beer, meaning this would be a beer that will play well with any food you make (or order). This was a brown ale with flavors of toast, roasted coffee, a little spice, and lemon peel citrus from the Aramis hops. I like this beer a lot, Holly Kay thought it was more bitter than she likes in a brown ale (it’s sitting at 45 IBUs), and we both wished we had some food to go alongside it (no food at Carton, so make sure to eat something before, or, like we did, go out for dinner afterwards!). Next time I see a draught pop up in NYC, I’ll pick up a growler of this stuff and drink it alongside dinner.
Next in our flight was the Carton Canyon, their take on an American Adjunct Lager (UGH GROSS BUD BUD LIGHT MILLER LIGHT COORS LIGHT DAMN THE MAN), brewed with blue agave, to accompany the food at the nearby Southwestern-style restaurant Copper Canyon. An adjunct is anything put in beer in addition to the malt bill, most of the time used for cutting costs, but in this case, to alter the flavor profile of a style all beer drinkers are familiar with. It was bready sweet, with some floral, fruity, herbal sweetness (I tasted eucalyptus). I would definitely go for this if I saw it on tap ‘round these parts.
I had checked out Carton’s Facebook page earlier in the day (because I’m a stalker) and saw they had their HopPun, a hoppy pale ale, that they were Randalling (infusing) through candy fruit slices… The device they use to infuse the beer is called a Randall and was invented by Dogfish Head’s insane CEO Sam Calagione (check out the link for more info!).
I was told that the Hop Pun was not part of the flight (I misread the Facebook page and thought it was), so I ordered Holly Kay and I the Wit Whale, which I’ll go into in Part II of this post (oh yeah, Part II…), but the amazing bartender (I wasn’t able to get his name) brought over a shareable pour for Holly and I to taste… AND IT WAS AMAZING!! Infusing the beer with candy fruit slices is nothing short of crazy, but it added a really nice candy sweetness to the citrusy hops in the beer. The flavor was new, fresh, and bright, but invoked nostalgia, as only artificially flavored chewy fruit candy can do. I’m pretty sure I have one more cavity than I had before I got there, but I ain’t mad…
We forewent our last two tastes in the flight, as we were absolutely starving, because the aforementioned two orders of Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Nugs had long since worn off, and we were ready for dinner.
I picked up way too many cans, thanked our awesome bartenders for their hospitality, and we headed off to eat!
NEXT TIME, ON BENEDICT BEER BLOG…
Tommy’s Tavern + Tap, Twin Lights, Sea Bright Beach, Tommy’s Tavern + Tap, and Bahr’s (OMG BAHR’S…) Just you wait….