Dec 31, 2012

A Stop At New Jersey's Own Carton Brewing

It was a bitterly cold Sunday morning when Rob and I, with little planning, jumped in his truck and decided to hit a few craft beer spots that have been at the top of our list.  Today, Carton Brewing located at 6 E.Washington Ave. in Atlantic Highlands, NJ was on that list.

We followed the GPS right to their front door, but we weren't sure we had actually arrived.  The building has zero public signage, I assume because it's located directly across the street from the Atlantic Highlands Elementary School.  It wasn't until we saw someone walking out of the front door with two freshly filled growlers that we knew we had arrived.

We headed into the unassuming building, a "turn-of-the-century red brick warehouse", and headed upstairs where we could hear the hustle & bustle of a good-sized gathering of tasters.  We were met at the top of the stairs by Doug who took us on a brief but very informative tour of the Newlands System 15 barrel brew house on the first floor below.  It was immediately clear that Doug loves beer as much as we do and knows his stuff about the brewing process at Carton.

I immediately noticed stacks of personalized Carton sixtels and my mind began racing.  Doug confirmed for me that Carton Brewing can now sell sixtels to the public.  Amen!  Though they have yet to begin bottling or canning their beer, Carton is well known throughout the state at better craft beer bars for their draft beer selection, and now you can take some home too.

During the tour we were shown the tricked-out homebrewing rig used by Augie Carton and head brewer Jesse Ferguson to brew test batches and otherwise experiment with ingredients and styles.  Sometimes these "experiments" are available to sample in the tasting room ("What's on the tippy?").  The setup would make any  homebrewer drool...and so we did.  Drool that is.

After the tour, Doug guided us upstairs, we thanked him and were met by the tasting room bartender already pouring our first beer.  The tasting room is a cozy feeling loft with exposed brick walls and exposed beam ceilings.  A couple leather couches with a coffee table sat in the center of the room for those who prefer to enjoy their samples sitting and chatting.

Rob & I bellied up to the bar and tasted all six available samples that day, including their  new seasonal, "Decoy".  A high ABV (12%) winter warmer-style ale that hides that alcohol extremely well.  An exceptionally smooth beer for the style.

The building is charming.  The staff is outstanding.  The beer even more so.

It's one of the newest craft breweries in New Jersey to find traction with the state's fervent beer lovers.  I'll skip the hyperbole and only state fact here.  Carton is brewing my favorite home state beers right now and some of my favorite beers period.  

So next time you're out and see that Carton tap handle don't hesitate to tip back a pint...and wherever you are in NJ, a trip to Carton Brewing should be on your to-do list for 2013.

- Zach

Dec 24, 2012

A Hearty Merry Christmas... all my craft beer brethren and sistren.  The time is upon us!  May you find comfort and warmth in your choice of company and beer this holiday.

With the annually exploding list of available holiday themed ales I'm sure you've chosen wisely.  Be safe.  Make merry.

Happy holidays!

- Zach

Sep 18, 2012

It's Time for More Pumpkins! Round 1 - cont'd

So you say you couldn't get enough of the pumpkin beer talk, eh? (No.  I'm not Canadian.  New Jerseyan by birth.)  Well it's your lucky day.  We hope you enjoyed Rob's ("Bear") thoughts on Round 1 of The Great Pumpkin Debate last week because I'm about to unleash my keyboard on the same brews.

Unlike Rob, I do consider myself your typical "beer guy".  I like MOST beers.  I can find something to like in just about any craft beer.  I'm even beginning to really appreciate a good sour...and that is momentous for me.  Hmmm...that's got me thinking.  Perhaps our next tasting should be of sours...Rob's a fan and me not so much, but I digress.

Also unlike Rob, I like hops.  Nay.  I LOVE hops.  I would sleep on a bed of Centennial or Simcoe hops if Hammacher Schlemmer came to its senses and saw fit to sell one.  Considering that you should also know that I love pumpkins and all manner of pumpkin flavored treats come this time of year.  In fact, I could probably subsist on pumpkin flavored food items for the entirety of Q4 every year.

It was long, hard and unpleasant work but I tasted those same beers and had some differing thoughts.  Care to read on?  Great!  Here's my angle on the 14 pumpkin craft beers that made up this first round of two.  Cheers!
Pro tip:  Those shiny domes aren't stemless pumpkins.

Sep 15, 2012

It's The Great Pumpkin Debate, Charlie Brown!

No.  Not THAT debate.  Is July/August too early to brew, release, buy and drink pumpkin beer?  I don't know and I'm not sure I care.  Nor do I plan to debate that here.  What we WILL do here is taste a few pumpkin beers.  Ok...more than a few, and give you our thoughts on some of the more commonly found of these seasonal beers found on shelves today.

My good friend Rob (you can call him "Bear") from K.O. Picture Show and I thought it was high time that these tasty (and some not so much) beers get put through their paces and into our mouths.  Due to the sheer volume of pumpkin beer now being produced I decided to break this up into a few different posts. This first post is Rob's take on this first round. Next week, when I make the time to do it, I'll post my feelings on the same 14 beers.

Ultimately we will try more than 25 different brews.  For this first round we sampled 14 different pumpkin beers in a single sitting.  Don't try this at home.  We're professionals.  Closer to Halloween we'll sample the remaining beers, because...well, somebody's got to do it.  All sampling was done blindly 2oz. at a time.  We were given a numbered, clean, unmarked sampling glass and got to work, doing what we do best.  We drank beer.

So without further ado, I give you Rob's thoughts on round 1 of "The Great Pumpkin Debate"! Enjoy responsibly.


Let me begin by saying that I am not your typical “beer guy”. And let me amend that by saying physically… I am your typical “beer guy”, in that I have a beer gut. But in terms of taste, I have to say that many (if not MOST) beers don’t appeal to me. I’ve never been a fan of hops, which clears out a huge swath of beer selection (so long all you IPA’s! May your endless hop-based beer name puns continue to hoppertunistically prey on all those hopheads’ hopes and dreams…). I tend to skew towards the maltier, sweeter side of things. Belgians and strong ales. Stuff with higher alcohol content. Hell, you can even get me to try a sour or a lambic on occasion. But over the years, I’ve come to find that my favorite beers, the ones I search out most in the store, are flavored beers. I love when a brewer can find a distinct non-alcohol flavor (like, for instance, pumpkins ) and meld it with their combination of malt, yeast, and, yes, even hops to create something wholly unique, alcoholic, and ingestible.



And that brings us to the today’s task: tasting and ranking pumpkin beers. I’m always a bit reticent to start ranking anything according to taste, as taste is such a subjective thing. One man’s blood sausage is another man’s…<herp!>...<gag!>… just a second… I can’t stop thinking about blood sausage… okay… I’m okay… gulp… I’m alright….

At any rate, with the subjectivity that taste brings, I’d like to set a very specific parameter for the taste that I look for in a pumpkin beer: pumpkin pie. And, honestly, I’m not sure what the heck others could be looking for in a pumpkin beer. Are there people out there just cutting the tops off of pumpkins, grabbing a spoon, and hunkering down for a meal of stringy pumpkin guts and seeds? If so, remind me not to have you over this Halloween. But to return to the point, when someone says “pumpkin flavor” to me, I think of the sweet, meaty taste of pumpkin pie along with the traditional pumpkin pie spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, maybe a bit of cloves, and the omnipresent, all encompassing, mysterious ‘allspice’…). So keep in mind that when I tasted the 14 pumpkin beers in our first (but mind you, not last!) tasting, I’m a guy who was looking for pumpkin pie flavor up front who also happens to prefer the sweeter side of things when it comes to beer as a whole. With that said, here’s how we ran this circus:

Three flights of beers (5 beers in the first two flights, 4 in the last flight, for a total of 14 beers), all tasted blindly, noted, and then tasted again to help round out and rank the good, the bad, and the just plain ol’ nasty. In order of worst to best, here’s my rankings and notes:

The worst of the lot…

Fegley’s Brew Works Devious Imperial Pumpkin –VERY distinct flavor, just not pumpkin, in any way, shape, or form. A strong taste of figs, heavy alcohol (which usually I don’t mind, but not so much here), a very dark color, and a lot of pinched faces and squinting afterwards. I’m sorry to say, a complete misfire for me.

Cisco Pumple Drumpkin – An amber color and good sniff potential gave way to a distinctly bitter (not hoppy, but bitter) taste and almost no pumpkin taste. I’m a sucker for the bottle art and cute name, but the pumpkin seemed like an afterthought on this one.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale by Brooklyn Brewery – Many of the same criticisms that I had for the Cisco Pumple Drumpkin beer. Bitter, light in color and in pumpkin flavor. I’ve been a champion of Brooklyn’s other flavored offerings (I can remember being one of the few who’ve gone back for seconds on their “The Concoction” when it’s been available at my favorite craft beer bar), but no such luck with their pumpkin offering.

Samuel Adams Fat Jack Double Pumpkin – I had heard a lot of hype about this one at my local beer store, and I even gave it a second chance at this tasting (having had it at my leisure earlier in the week). At the very least I can say it was instantly recognizable, even in a blind taste test. Just not for any good reasons. A reddish hue and a healthy aroma give way to high alcohol (again, normally something I kind of like, but not in this case), slight bitterness, and straight up smoke. They describe it as “an undercurrent of roasty smoked malts” (and I’m calling shenanigans on the word “roasty”), but there was nothing under about it. Smokey and roasty all out front, very little pumpkin.

Not bad, just not pumpkin-y enough…

Dogfish Head Punkin Ale – I know, I know! Stone the heathen! What can I say? Even as someone who truly appreciates what Dogfish Head has done in the name of flavored, dare I say, off-centered (eh? Right?!) beers, this one didn’t thrill me. A lot of what I’m going to say is clover up front (but correct me if I’m wrong), the wrong side of hoppy bitterness for my taste, and not nearly enough pumpkin in this very light colored offering. I’m still a fan, just not of Punkin.

Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale – By far the hoppiest, IPA-like of the bunch. And if you like that sort of thing, this might be the pumpkin beer for you. Just not for me. Light in color with some good pie spice on the finish. Just too much hop pucker up front for me to partake in regularly.

River Horse Hipp-o-Lantern Imperial Pumpkin Ale – I’ve had this one a couple of times and I wasn’t able to draw a bead on it until this blind taste test. In my flavored beer searches, I’ve had many beers suggested to me, many by my fellow taste tester, Zach. He directed me towards one of 21st Amendment Brewing’s offerings more than once (I’m a steadfast fan of their Hell or High Watermelon). This one from River Horse most reminded of 21st’s Allies Win the War, a California date-flavored strong ale. It didn’t really ring my bell then, and it certainly didn’t get it done when it was supposed to be part of a pumpkin beer tasting. So, in a word, dates. Not pumpkin.

Creeping around the top spots, but not getting there…

Saranac Pumpkin Ale – A faint whiff of pie spices upfront, but not enough on the finish. A very nicely

balanced beer in terms of hops and malt, but not enough pumpkin oomph to make this amiable amber-tinted beer a favorite.

Blue Moon Harvest Moon Pumpkin Ale – “Dirty Pool!” you yell! How did this mass-produced stuff get into this craft beer tasting? Well, you have to be inclusive in these types of endeavors, and the bottom line is they’ve made a balanced, brown ale-like beer with some good pumpkin flavor up front. Very drinkable and, dammit, I liked it!

Terrapin Pumpkinfest – Rose in color, a nice balance between spice and alcohol (6.1% ABV, which, in truth, is on the low side for many of the pumpkin beers we tried in this tasting), and the pumpkin shows up more in the finish, rather than all upfront like so many of the lesser performers in this taste test. A fine effort, just outside of the best in my opinion.


The best of ‘em…

Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale – Sometime the masses are right! I’ve heard plenty about this beer’s popularity in the past, but I’d never tried it. It’s extremely light coloring (lightest by far in this taste test filled with ambers and reddish hues) is betraying a depth of pumpkin pie taste that the others hadn’t accomplished to this point. Good malt/hops balance. And at 5.1% ABV, maybe the most sessionable of the pumpkin beers I tasted. Excellent!

Weyerbacher Imperial Pumpkin Ale – THIS is how pumpkin pie and up-front alcohol flavor should be handled, folks! Immediately distinguishable from the others in the taste test (and, after the unblinding, I’m glad to see a significant upgrade to their bottle art this year). A dark, amber winner!

Schlafly Pumpkin Ale – Another high-touted pick that lived up to the hype. Plenty of pumpkin pie flavor throughout that warmed up as you sipped. I, like most others, wish this one was easier to find. Luckily Zach is a beer hawk and was able to swoop in and get some of this for the tasting here in New Jersey. Everything that I look for in a pumpkin beer. But not the best. The best of the best is….

Southern Tier Pumking – The first pumpkin beer I ever tried, and even in a blind taste test, I could pick it out in a crowd. Call me nuts, but along with the pumpkin pie I could even detect a hint of whipped cream. Meaty, sweet, warming, and endlessly sippable. It might sound like hyperbole, but there’s nothing else out there quite like it. It was and is my favorite.


Jul 20, 2012

How #CraftBeer Saved Me From Becoming An Alcoholic


I've toyed with the idea of writing this post for many, many months.  What it reveals is personal, but ultimately freeing and hopefully helpful.  Alcoholism runs in my family, as it does in millions of other families in America.  It's a terrible thing.  It's a disease.  It ruins lives.  It tears families apart.  It can kill and it had its sights set on me. 

I'm not hear to say I beat alcoholism.  I don't believe I was an alcoholic...yet, but I was showing all the classic signs.  I was drinking to excess, and unaware of my limits.  I was missing events in my life because of hangovers.  I embarrassed myself and my family on occasion.  I had what's called a "drinking problem" or was a "binge drinker".  Regardless, I was headed down an rocky path.

When socializing in large groups or in party situations I'd grab the macro beer that "tasted great" or was "less filling"; the one everyone else was drinking.  Then I'd grab another.  And another, and another.  Soon, I had consumed enough of the yellow fizzy stuff to drown a brown bear.  Don't ask me why I drank so much.  I couldn't tell you.  I don't know why I blew right past my limit without so much as a hesitation.  It never even occurred to me to slow down or stop.  

The stuff tasted damn nearly like water.  I wasn't appreciating the beer at all.  I was enjoying how fourteen or more light beers made me feel, and I'm ashamed to admit that I did this much more often than any adult should.  It seems that alcohol has a way of altering your decision making skills.

Then about four years ago, give or take, I really started delving into and exploring craft beer.  I went back to picking up a six pack of anything I hadn't tasted before to share with family and friends.  I began to appreciate what I was drinking.  I began to really TASTE it.  Think about it.  Talk about it.  Read about it.  ENJOY it.  I slowed down to smell the roses (or hops in this case).

In craft beer I found a sort of salvation, both literally and figuratively.  Now I drink beer in moderation.  I appreciate it.  I don't swill it.  I sip it.  I don't punch holes in cans.  I collect fine, tuliped glassware.  

Craft beer taught me to appreciate the science and art of brewing beer.  Craft beer taught me to enjoy the little things like differences in hops, malts and yeasts.  More importantly, craft beer taught me some things in life are worth slowing down for and how to take the time to appreciate those things.  My drinking and my life are in check now, and I credit craft beer with that.

I urge you to not waste another day of your life or a dollar of your paycheck on bad beer.  Find craft beer.  Embrace craft beer.  Enjoy craft beer.  In moderation, of course.  

It's time to take control.  You can do it, but if you think you may have a problem there are lots of places to turn.  Life is simply too precious not to seek the help you need...whatever form it may take.

Alcoholics Anonymous

The Mayo Clinic




Jun 27, 2012

Dogfish Head (@dogfishbeer) Positive Contact

"Imperial" #Beer & #StarWars. It's Like...Perfect.

For the beer and Star Wars lovers in your life (essentially every guy...and lots of gals I know)!

Both still available @ Seventh

Discount code BUYTEES worked for me!

I am NOT associated with this website in anyway, other than I love, and now own, these two t-shirts!



- Zach

Apr 4, 2012

Long Valley Pub's @BrewPubNJ Inaugural Beer Dinner

Let me start by saying that the Long Valley Pub, in scenic Long Valley, NJ, is my local brew pub.  They're small; producing not much more than 800 bbl a year, but they're not more than a few miles from my home so I find myself there, often with my wife and daughter, regularly enjoying their in-house crafted beer and tasty food menu.  With that out of the way, I can tell you that what you're about to read was not tainted by their "home field advantage".

Having frequented the Pub since moving to the area in 2005, I wondered why they hadn't held a dinner to showcase their beers.  That all changed on March 29, 2012 when they hosted their first-ever beer dinner!
The menu was cooperatively developed in-house by Andrea Maletta and chef Juan Mujica.  That menu was then reviewed with head brewer Joe Saia who provided beer pairing suggestions before the menu was tweaked with its final touches.


Before the first course, we were treated to pizza topped with East Kent Golding hops. Yes. Hops!  As you know, hops can easily be overpowering, but the culinary crew paid special attention to creating a unique but balanced flavor.  It was paired with their American Pale Ale.  The beer and pizza played off each other in total harmony.  The subdued hop flavors in each made for a very pleasant effect when combined.  What a great start!


The American Pale Ale kept on flowing with the first course which was a pistachio crusted scallop expertly prepared and served with grilled bok choy, roasted red pepper and a Pale Ale whole grain mustard.  Again, the pairing was spot on.  The freshness of the scallop was the perfect mate for the APA's clean, mildly hop-forward flavors.  I've always thought of this beer as a great "gateway" beer to get your macro-drinking friends to make the switch to craft beer.


As the second course arrived my wife turned to me and said, "I don't want this meal to end".  It had only just begun!  The salad was served with peaches poached and paired with their Hookerman's Light, an extremely crisp and light American wheat ale, baby arugula, toasted pecans and gorgonzola dressing.  Wow.  The second course was an even more perfect pairing of food and beer than the refreshing and a great way to clean our palates in preparation for the third course!


In short, the third course stole the show.  I should probably note that the menu was completely new and consisted of items not normally found on their regular menu.   That should change.  This third course should become a part of their everyday menu.  The short rib tomato ragout was roasted with roma tomatoes, caramelized onions, wilted spinach and rested in a Lazy Jake Porter demi glaze topped with parmesan.  It was an amazing sparring match between sweetness and tang that I didn't want to end.


It was paired with the Lazy Jake Porter; a well regarded craft beer with five varieties of malted barley, having captured Bronze, Silver & Gold at the Great American Beer Festival throughout the years.  So now you know what you're dealing with.  Oddly enough, this was probably the weakest food/beer pairing.  The flavors of each were so unique and so bold that they were competing for my taste buds' attention.  With each bite and sip, Lazy Jake jumped out ahead of the amazing short rib tomato ragout.  
Separately, these were the two best things on the menu that night.  Together, they both fought for the lead role during that third course.  We remedied that by saving our Lazy Jake for when we finished the ribs.


Next came the German Valley Amber with its Willamette hops and malt varieties.  This deep red ale was paired with a cedar plank game hen with venison loin served with truffle oil green beans and amber mashed potatoes.  This beer's friendliness and very well balanced flavors were very well matched by the sweet and tender meats.  I kept finding myself reaching for the amber to wash down each bite.  It just seemed right.


Fifth, and finally, came dessert!  The course my wife had been waiting for, and luckily she's got that "extra little compartment" in her stomach which always seems to have room for dessert!  We were presented with a straightforward "Irish brownie" served ala mode with vanilla ice cream.

Paired with the seasonal Dry Irish Stout, it was exactly how we hoped to end the meal.  A deliciously sweet dessert with an equally dark and malty stout; a pairing dreampt up on Mt. Olympus by the gods.

All in all it was a great first showing for this small craft beer brew pub at the base of Schooley's Mountain.  They've certainly put local restaurants on notice that they've got something extra to offer...a talented culinary team and a stable of great craft beers that are unique to them.  The good news for you is that I've gotten word that they're planning another dinner in late August which will feature one of their seasonal brews.  So stay tuned for more!

With Spring now in full swing and Summer just around the corner, it's a great time to visit the Pub and enjoy their 30-seat outdoor bar and patio dining area.  Food and local craft beer al fresco!  Need I say more?  I think not.  Next time you're in the area, be sure to drop by for a pint, and if you're not in the area make a point to make the trip.  You can thank me later.


Mar 26, 2012

Hey @Sixpoint, I've Been Meaning To Tell You...

Sixpoint-bengali-tiger-can            Sixpoint-autumnation
You owe a debt of gratitude if not a healthy raise, promotion, contract renewal (whatever arrangement it is that you have) to your advertising, marketing, packaging gurus.  It recently became VERY clear to me that your packaging is iconic.  Immediately recognizable for what it is...a Sixpoint beer.

Sixpoint-diesel-575            Sixpoint-resin-label

So many craft beers have labels that are so busy, so crowded, so convoluted, so unrelated-to-beer that I'm not sure if I'm buying a beer or a Jackson Pollock in a bottle.
So kudos to you and your cans/labels.  Simple.  Clean.  Beautiful.  Tasteful.  Immediately identifiable.  Iconic.  That goes for your beer too.

Keep 'em coming...the beers and the branding.

- Zach

Mar 18, 2012

St. Pat's Recap...In Short, Lots of #Beer!

It started with some harmless sampling. Tasty enough. We then moved onto our second and third flights...this time blind. So many good beers!

Soon enough it was time for food! Homemade corned beef and cabbage with red potatoes! Nice!! Pizza for the kids...of course.

Our guests, KO Picture Show Rob and his lovely wife & son, came with a bag full o' the finest cupcakes from @CrumbsBakeShop. The Bababooey, the Artie Lange and many, many more of some of the best cupcakes you'll ever taste!

Back to beer! Stouts, porters and more stouts!  We sampled the beers below with these chocolaty delights...and more, if you can imagine.

We both puffed on a couple of Nicaragua's finest tobacco blends and smoked/drank the night away.  Finally, the kids let us know it was getting late (thank goodness for them).  So we shook hands, parted ways and now we look forward to April 20th.  We'll be heading down to Milton & Rehoboth, DE.  Look out we come!

Here's to good friends & good beer!  Cheers!

- Zach