Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A taste of serendipity for Carton Brewing

Carton Brewing, the Garden State's newest craft brewery, plans to turn out another batch of the session-strength golden ale that the draft-only production brewery teamed with a double IPA when it entered New Jersey's craft beer market back in August.

Launch (4.6% ABV) was a brew Carton made to break the seal their 15-barrel brewhouse in Atlantic Highlands in mid-July, a 30-barrel batch produced over a two-day trial run to put the newly installed Newlands Systems brewing set-up through the paces and ensure everything functioned properly.

The ale was intended to be a one-off brew and a placeholder beer on taps until Carton's flagship brew Boat, a hoppy session beer, was ready. Serendipitously, Launch found favor among craft beer bars that are inclined to steer patrons more accustomed to drinking pedestrian macro light brews toward better beer.

"The first beer we ever made is winning over the Miller Lite crowd. We haven't been able to stop making that beer," founder/co-owner Augie Carton (pictured above) said Saturday during an open house/brewery tour. "It's definitely become its own thing, and we will make it again, even though we thought we'd only ever make it that one time.

"There are those bars in New Jersey that are craft and want to cure people of Miller Lite, and they find they are having enormous success with Launch, where I thought they would have an enormous amount of success with Boat."

Boat was the catalyst for Augie and his cousin, Chris Carton, to start the brewery with their homebrewer friend Jesse Ferguson, (who is now the brewer for Carton Brewing). They wanted a beer that was as full-flavored as a double IPA from start to finish, yet session strength to be enjoyed over a few pints without ending up incoherent and on the floor.

"Boat is playing more to the craft beer crowd as a quaffable IPA," Augie says. "We thought it would play better to the wings community. What we've found is, it's killing in places of IPA drinkers who were having the same troubles we were having ... places like Cloverleaf (in Caldwell), which is a robust beer drinkers bar. They've got a collection of IPA-drinking regulars. Those guys wanted a beer they could have multiples of."

Three months in the New Jersey beer scene, Carton's lineup also features the double IPA 077XX, which with Launch, kicked off the brand, and a table beer BDG, a riff on biere de garde (the beer is actually more of a brown ale), or you can think of it this way: brunch, dinner, grub.

"It's doing well, better than expected, and for people who don't like hops – the rest of our beers tend toward hops so much – that's working for the brown ale/malt crowd," Augie says. "And now we're working on our milk stout because we're Carton, and you can't not have a carton of milk."

The stout, dosed with a mid-kettle addition of Bullion hops, is now in a second generation of pilot brewing, with another test batch or two to be done before a final version will be brewed in time to hit the market in late December or the start of next year. The goal now is to dial back some of the customary sweetness found in milk stouts.

"We don't really like sweet beers. The problem is, milk stout is inherently a sweet beer. I think the guys like Keegan (Mother's Milk) really nail it. It's just not too sweet," Augie says. "We're big into the session beer idea, and I don't find any beer as sessionable as a good low-alcohol stout. So that's what we want our milk stout to be.

"It's going to come in around 4 (percent ABV), and what we're doing is taking a super-roasty, just a ridiculously acrid over-roasted, malt bill and mashing it up against the sweetness of milk, and try to find the complexity to get you through a fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th pint."

Meanwhile, Augie says the fledgling brewery is already discovering the byproduct of their beers being well-received in the marketplace: the matter of keeping pace with demand. Carton Brewing is already talking about adding more capacity, unless their production schedule can be tweaked without compromising quality of the beer.

"We're in 40 places in New Jersey. We hit that right around eight weeks; we've been open 10 or eleven," he says. "We kind of had to stop. If people come to us and ask for our beer, we'll sell it to them, but we're not really pushing to get into new places because the last thing we want to do is let down those (initial) places."

To keep pace, though, new tank space could come online by next year's boating season.

"I think we're going to order it at the beginning of 2012. I think we're going to need it come summer," Augie says. "We've got an account right down the street that's selling six sixtels a week of Boat. By our business plan, they were only supposed to be selling one sixtel a week of Boat. They're selling six sixtels a week of Boat in November; it's going to be a dozen in June, so by June, we have to be able to make more Boat.

"Part of that is figuring out the true capacity of this brewery," he says.

1 comment:

JessKidden said...

I really wish Carton would label their beers with style names, and not just “Boat” or “Launch”, etc. At least “Boat IPA” or “Launch Session IPA” or similar. I see that in the photo they have individual tap handles, but I haven’t seen them at the places I’ve found the Carton beers- so I never quite know what I’m getting. Since they are draught-only and self-distributed, it might help to have some promotional material that could be handed out over the bar, describing their beers, since the bars and retailers I’ve been to haven’t been much help.

I suppose it’s inevitable that Carton and Kane are going to often be discussed together (draught only, self-distributed, started up the same time, both in Monmouth County) and probably it’s annoying to both, but they both seem to suffer from this. The Kane tap handles, I’ve read, where purposely designed to not have the type of beer listed to look “clean”, so even if a bartender knows/remembers that the Kane tap is “Head High” – what does that mean to the average beer drinker?

The other day, I order a growler of the “Head High” and was cautioned it wasn’t the “regular” Head High but a different version. Huh? Give it a different name, then – one that tells me what it is, because as a draught beer I have no label to guide me.

Both brewers websites also are little help, even after the fact. Kane’s seems to be a placeholder and the Carton site doesn’t load correctly on either Firefox (missing the top portion) or at all on an older version of Explorer. “Cool” graphics and moving websites might be impressive to some, but I’m just looking for factual information… not entertainment and don’t want to be constantly downloading browsers just to find out about a beer.