Sunday, September 30, 2012


Bees + Flowers = Honey
Honey + Water + Yeast = Yummy

I go by the name of the Beer Samurai. When I'm feeling full of myself I capitalize the T in "the". But today I won't as I do not write of beer...I write of mead. Yeah, that's not beer, but the concept is the same. Take some fermentable sugars, add some yeast, wait for the magic to happen and drink it up. 

We beer enthusiasts believe beer to be the first "cultured" or "civilized" alcoholic beverage, for that is what Michael Jackson taught us in his myriad of beer tomes. We discount wine in this regard as mankind were still hunter-gatherers when they stumbled upon alcoholic grape juice. To make beer you needed to settle and farm, thus civilization as we know it was born. 

But where does mead fit in? Many archaeologists believe that a fermented honey drink may have come into existence before beer. Yet hunter-gatherers could still have managed to make this stuff, collecting honey from wild hives at grave risk of rising the ire of the swarm. I wonder if any of them had an allergic reaction to bee stings or if that malady is a more recent development, kind of like how I cannot remember any of my classmates being allergic to peanuts, but now my daughter can't bring a PB+J to daycare for fear of committing homicide. But, as usual, I'm getting off topic.

Honey was used to make alcoholic beverages in ancient China and is mentioned in the texts of the Vedic period of India. A honey brew is mentioned by Aristotle, placing this type of beverage in Ancient Greece as well. Dogfish Head's Midas Touch was developed from pottery shard samples taken from a tomb in Turkey. Analysis showed a brew that contained honey. But it was in Europe that mead by that name, give or take a vowel or consonant, came to be much more prevalent. For many of us, we first encountered the word "mead" when we were forced to read Beowulf in high school or college. The Vikings (not those purple-clad monsters of the Midway from Minnesota) and the Celts (not the kelly-clad cagers from Boston who erroneously pronounce the word with a soft C) seem to have been the main imbibers of the stuff. It is from this heritage that the drink survives.

And now to expose myself for the true uber-geek that I am. I used to be a member of the SCA. That stands for the Society for Creative Anachronism. From my experience, it could have as easily stood for Sorry Confused Assholes. In concept, the SCA was created to keep alive Medieval skills and crafts, but in reality it's mostly a bunch of nerds (think Dungeons and Dragons...which I did play avidly) trying to feel power and get laid...but only mostly. There are some who honorably and nobly keep the old crafts alive and brewing is one of these myriad of crafts. 

It was while acting as security for a Renaissance fair that I had my first mead. It was a raspberry mead brewed by Baron Sean DeLandress (I think) and it was really wonderful. But eventually I left the SCA and my supply of home-brewed mead ran dry. I turned to commercial sources and was sorely disappointed since the only one I could find was Bunratty Mead. I don't like to talk bad about anything, but Bunratty Mead tastes like turpentine that has had honey poured into it to make it palatable. I completely gave up on commercial mead.

A pyment from B. Nektar 
But as I started to develop this alter-ego that is the Beer Samurai I started to research breweries. In my internet search sessions I invariably turned up a meadery here and there. Eventually I became intrigued and my first step into the craft mead world was through B. Nektar Meadery out of Michigan. It was their mead flavored with cinnamon and vanilla. Although it was bracingly sweet and pretty thick in body, it was leaps and bounds above anything else produced to be stocked on a liquor store's shelf. The next meadery to find its way onto one of my liquor store sales receipt was from Redstone Meadery out of Colorado. It was made with black raspberries and I figured it would closely approximate those that I fell in love with whilst participating in the sham that is the SCA. It exceeded that! Holy crap was this stuff good! As I perused the bottle's label I saw that it stated that it was a melomel. Hmm, I had bought a few other meads and one was called a cyser and another had the word pyment on the label. What the hell do these words mean? Well, as I am wont to do, I researched this and found that there are different styles of mead. Those who know me well are now letting out a groan as they know they will be regaled by the knowledge that I will quickly consume and regurgitate to them ad nauseum. I'd apologize to them ahead of time, but it's far too late for that.
A melomel from Redstone

Just like craft beer, mead does have different styles. I will now draw heavily from a website called to outline the different styles of meads.

Traditional Mead - Simply put, it's mead and water with yeast to provide the fermentation. This is your basic "honey wine". 

Cyser - This is a mead brewed with apple juice or cider. This is easy enough to remember as "cyser" and "cider" are close enough to make a connection in even the most beer-addled brain.

Pyment - This is a mead brewed with grape juice. So, in my thinking, the style that most closely earns the name "honey wine". This has also been called a "clarre" which is very close to the wine style "claret". 

Melomel - Any mead that has fruit other than grape or apple added. Raspberries and cherries would fit this, but I've found that if the mead contains apples AND cherries, then it's still considered a cyser. I wonder what they'd call a mead with apples AND grapes. Hmm...I think I'd call it an apple pyment.

Those appear to be the most common mead styles, but the website above gives other styles that are not as common.

Metheglin - A mead flavored with gruit. Since the recipe for gruit was a strict Catholic Church secret and the precursor to hops, I doubt that this style is easy to find. However, there are meads out there flavored with hops. Since hops replaced gruit, would those fit under this style? 

Braggot - This is also listed as a beer style so I'm conflicted here. The way I see it, if it's a beer brewed with honey, then it's a beer style. If it's brewed with honey and some grains, then it's a mead style. Either way, this is a hybrid beer-mead.

Rhodomel - A mead flavored with roses. If I could find it, I'd try it...I probably wouldn't like it and , if I did, I probably wouldn't admit it.

Mead Brandy - They take mead and then distill it. Since mead usually comes in at 8% ABV at a minimum, this stuff must kick the crap out of you. I wish I could find some. 

After grabbing a few of these and tasting them, I exalted. This is what I was waiting for and now I am eagerly looking for more meaderies to sample. I would try to numerate the meaderies in the US, but they're ever-growing, as are craft breweries. The last count I saw said "over a hundred". Close enough. 

A quick side note here: the words "mead" and "meadery" aren't even recognized by spellcheck, then again "spellcheck: isn't recognized by spellcheck. But that speaks to how unrecognized the craft mead movement is. Think back to when the craft beer movement started and how you now wish you had got in on the ground floor and stuck with it. Now is your chance with mead. Will it be as explosive as the craft beer industry or will it go unnoticed? The same question was posed in 1984 when Sam Adams hit the liquor stores of New Jersey. 

One thing I can parlay as a word of caution is, as mentioned above, meads come in at a minimum of 8% ABV and, due to their sweet and fruit flavor profile, can sneak up on you and bring you to the point of not being able to type without the Delete key being a good friend. This is truly the case of this entry as I have emptied two bottles of mead: one at 8% and the other at 14%. But, as Ernest Hemingway said, "Write drunk; edit sober". So we'll see how much of what I've written here will survive the scrutiny of 2:00PM tomorrow. I'll let you know.

Update: Other than a few typos and grammatical errors, this post is pretty much unchanged from when it was written by some fool who was mead-evilly drunk.

Here's a great article on the rise of mead.

The author is a bit harsh on the future of mead, but raises a good point on its ability to pair with food. For me, it's strictly for dessert.

Join the revolution and keep the mead buzz going. Sorry, couldn't help myself. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012


Once before I felt that the blog had completely lost focus and had to be reined in...and here we are again. This time it was a conscious decision that waylaid my best intentions and brought my entries into a realm that I wasn't really comfortable with.

Are we still attempting to visit every New Jersey brewery and brewpub and as many restaurants and bars as we possibly can? Hell yeah!

Are the crucial tenants of brewshido still in place? Absolutely! I still preach "Don't be a douche!"

Are the kohai still intact and working at this together? We had a couple fall out of the group and we're looking to add to it with some great beer people who I hope won't mind being part of this merry band of recreants. They'll need nicknames though.

Are we still reviewing the places we visit? NO!

And that is the big change. Really, who are we to judge these places? Sometimes the reviews were based on one visit and that isn't fair. I even explain that concept in the Cloverleaf review. So the review sheets we'd hand out at the beginning of each visit are now scrapped (although the ones we already filled out are being preserved for posterity and a reminder of what not to do).

Another reason behind this change is based on the entries for the road trips the Control and I took. Since these places weren't in New Jersey we didn't bother to go about the usual chore (and I mean "chore") of answering the questions on the review sheets. We just went where we wanted to go, drank, ate and enjoyed the fuck out of ourselves. I wanted to make our excursions within the state just as laid back, non-stressful and enjoyable.

Coincidentally, this is the same reason I barely review beers on BeerAdvocate anymore. It's too laborious and I found myself "saving" special beers for when I felt like reviewing them. No longer! When I want to drink that beer, I'll bloody well drink that beer!

So if you go back to some of the entries for New Jersey destinations you'll find that the score card placards are gone and most of the negative comments have been edited out. I don't want to jade anyone from visiting ANY place in the Garden State with something that may have been a one-time deal or something that we may have inadvertently caused ourselves.

Psst, I also corrected a few grammar and spelling if there were any in the first place.

This also comes at a time which the whole gang has been anxiously awaiting. The Senpai has just completed his last round of chemo and should have his sense of taste and ability to withstand cold back by the holidays. We are all overjoyed by the fact that he's been declared cancer-free and 2013 will see his attendance on the road trips and, hopefully, an increase in visits to New Jersey locales. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012


A Chat With Ty Armstrong, Founder of TNA Candy Beer

Although the Beer Samurai blog chronicles the travels, traditions and travails of my group of kohai and me, most of my internet interaction with the beer-loving public occurs on Facebook. Through the years I have built a base of acquaintances from all over the world, encompassing 43 nations and 45 states. I have been amazed at how the craft beer movement is spreading and thriving in all hemispheres.

As you explore the world of beer, you will see many of the same styles replicated from one corner of the globe to other. Let's face it, stouts and IPAs are currently the most popular styles and almost every brewery attempts to brew the next, best version, regardless of the country. The various flavor profiles for these beers is vast and will even border on the strange from time to time. I've seen stouts with fruit, smoke, whiskey, peanut butter, chocolate, oysters, vanilla and coffee introduced to the brewing process. IPAs vary mostly by the hops profile, but I've also seen fruits, whiskey and flower buds used to add a layered flavor profile. 

But you also see attempts at truly unique brews. For instance, I've even seen a beer brewed with guarana and tagged as an "Energy Beer". Everyone seems to be looking for the next big thing that will blow everyone's socks off. During a recent expansion of the Facebook friend list I came across TNA Candy Beer and the founder/owner/ brewmaster quickly engaged me in a chat session. Ty Armstrong is one of those brewers who has attempted to go beyond the typical range for a beer style and claims to have discovered "the next big thing" by fusing beer with candy. Of course, I was intrigued, so I had a few questions for him...well, a lot actually, but this is a blog, not a magazine article, so I tried to keep it brief.

Here's a sampling of what we discussed: 

BEER SAMURAI (BS): First, let's discuss the name of your company. What does the  TNA stand for? 
TY ARMSTRONG (TA):  Actually it's my full name: Tyrone Neal Armstrong. A lot of people think the opposite (Tits 'N' Ass) LOL, just kinda fell in place.

BS:  The innuendo certainly makes people wonder and can draw interest. So it's a happy coincidence from a marketing perspective. But how about the second half of the name: Candy Beer. What exactly is a "candy beer"? 
TA: CandyBeers are beers infused with our "in-house" homemade candy recipes tailored to every beer we make.

BS: I know you won't share your brewing methods, and I wouldn't ask that here since this isn't a brewing blog, but I want to understand a little more about the end product. Do you base your recipes off of certain styles? What flavorings are added and do they pair better with one style over another?
TA: Well, all of our beers are from beer recipes that I have developed myself over the last 4 1/2 years, brewed with the basic four ingredients (water, specialty malts, hops and yeast). We don't duplicate anyone. All of our beers are brewed with fresh exotic fruits, teas & our homemade candy recipes.

BS: You're in California, the state that boasts the most breweries in the United States. There aren't that many in the San Luis Obispo area, with the only one that my readers might know being Firestone-Walker. Do you feel your geographic location gives you a leg up? Are you planning on collaborating with any of the local microbrews?
TA: We love the area, and hope to be the first beer of its kind out of San Luis Obispo, CA. We have reached out to local breweries for collaboration brewing, but no one really can grasp the idea here. In my honest opinion, beer brewing is more traditional here, not "out the box" extreme such as what I do.

BS: You've been at this for over ten years and you say you now have 165 different recipes. What was your first and what was the inspiration to even start brewing in the first place?
TA: Well, I love beer, always have, and really didn't know you could brew beer legally in Cali till a friend of mine who was a homebrewer himself told me it is legal to brew with a 100 gallon a year limit. So I started brewing the basics (Summer Ales, IPA's, Stouts, Porters) and became very good at it, according to family & friends. My first beer was a "Dark Jamaican" CandyAle, and when I tasted it, I knew I had something special.

BS: "Dark Jamaican" CandyAle? One would believe that it was brewed with rum, with a name like that.
TA: Well, not Rum, "better"! LOL The "Dark Jamaican" CandyBeer consists of Guava, Black Cherries, Mangos, Grapefruit, Plum, Lime, Malay Apple, Blood Orange, Passion Fruit, Papaya, Pineapple, Chinese Apple, Tangerine, & Watermelon. This "unique & delicious" beer recipe put us on the map, literally.

BS: Tell us a little about yourself. With your ability to successfully fuse the flavors you do, do you have a culinary background?
TA: Nope I don't, not at all. My mother was a good cook, and my grandmother was a great cook, so it's must be the "DNA"...LOL...! I can just envision and see the color, and actually taste the ingredients in every beer I brew.

BS: Currently you don't have a license to distribute and are in the process of raising funds to purchase the brewery equipment, find a place to set up that equipment and then market your product. On your website you list a business plan to help attract investors. Once up and running, what is your distribution strategy? Since the majority of my readers are in New Jersey I have to ask if you plan to go national and is the Garden State in those plans? How long should we expect to wait to be able to sample your creations?
TA: This has been a hard uphill battle for myself and my partner (Judy Shapazian)...frustration, ups & downs. We hope that there is someone or somebody that can see the long-range vision of this type of beverage, and be willing to invest in the next potential "Big Thing". This is for you. We plan to not just go national, we plan to go global, we have more international fans on Facebook than the U.S., so we know when the products hits the shelves it's going to literally "explode". We will start small and local, and gradually expand our market as popularity and sales increase. Hopefully we will have something out "God Willing" in a year or so.

BS: You've been gaining exposure through social media, beer and wine expos, and charity events. In fact, on the TNA Candy Beer website, you mention the founding of a homeless teen shelter, linking it to your fundraising activities. Tell me why you find this cause so important?
TA: Well we have been on Facebook about two years and it has been a great vehicle for us, as well as Twitter. We have participated in various charity fundraisers in the past two years. I have been working with "At - Risk" Teens in the local area for 30 + years. Mostly non-profit organizations, and it's always been close to my heart to help others in need, so my way of giving back would be to open a non-profit homeless Teen Shelter in my area. I have seen a need for this for years in my field of Teen Human Services, which I feel doesn't really get talked about enough in our society today. We are seeking serious investors & we have a page set-up on our website with our vision, biz plan, etc @

BS: I've always found that an amazing aspect of the brewing community; every brewery that I know works closely in their community with local charities. It's good to see you've already identified where your efforts will be spent. What is your Twitter tag, so people can follow your progress?

BS: Although brewing beer is a labor of love, you can't be working all the time. When Ty Armstrong isn't creating new recipes or bringing them to life, what is he doing? What are some of your other passions?
TA: Working with people, whether it be "Disabled Adults, At-Risk Teens," or watching sports. Yes, I am a sports relaxes me. And spending time with my girlfriend "Judy", who is my true inspiration.

BS: Being about halfway between LA and the Bay Area, where do your team loyalties lie?
TA: Both, I'm originally from L.A. but I love the Bay Area as well. That's why we are called "The Central Coast". LOL

BS: Very politic of you. LOL Thanks for your time and your candor. Hopefully we've inspired some of my readers to help out with your cause or, at the very least, follow your progress and see if candy beers are truly the next big thing.
TA: We feel it is, no one has "ever" tasted anything like this beer. It's been proven "time after time" again at all of the Beer Shows we have attended in the last two years, we know we have something very very "special" here.."It's Just A Matter Of Time"..!

Check out TNA Candy Beer's website at:

If you'd like to see their investor business plan go to:

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


A Massive Mug Club, Atypical Pub Grub and a Glassware Snub

It was time to leave Kane Brewing, but it was obvious it was the highlight for all of us when we started to snap photos by the brewery logo in the hallway after we all took a pee break. No! Not together! Why would you even ask that? May I continue? Thanks.

So it was time to move on but we had to figure out if we were going to backtrack to Basil T's or not. The Duck didn't care one way or the other since, with family in the area, he's been there a few times. The Senpai had never been and figured we should stop in for at least one beer. And that's what it turned out to be.

The bar area is very nice, if not a little crowded, and the brewing equipment is visible in the bar as well as from the parking lot. Once we found bar stools the first thing that struck me was all of the numbered mugs. I've seen plenty of mug clubs, but not to this level of extreme. I found out later that they claim to have the largest mug club in the country, and I find no reason to argue the point. If you live close enough to go even once a month, the fee will be paid back very quickly.

The benefits were explained to us as I drank my Maxwell's Dry Stout, which I found a little on the thin side, even for an Irish-style stout, but still pretty tasty. I find this an issue at so many of the brewpubs (see the Long Valley Brewpub entry) and I have to wonder why. Is it a matter of unsuccessfully scaling up a small batch? Is it due to an unfavorable extract-to-whole grain ratio? Is the beer somehow watered down? I don't have an answer and I think it would be rude to ask. This is not true of all of the brewpubs, but I have run across it quite a few times and not just in this state. But back to Bail T's...

The Duck tells us that the food there is actually pretty good, but we were still pretty full from lunch and all the samples from the breweries, so we decided to pass and build our appetites for dinner since we had already decided we would be having dinner at Harvest Moon in New Brunswick. From what I could tell from the beer we had and the food coming out of the kitchen, a return trip is warranted. 

We finished our beers and hit the road, drove through some downpours, hit some traffic and finally pulled into the Hub City. Not quite sure how it got this nickname...maybe because it was halfway between New York and Philadelphia on the King's Highway. But that's a history lesson for another time...or no time in the near future.

So we parked and walked through some light rain to the brewpub. When we arrived we thought we had made a mistake for our dinner plans since the place was packed and the wait to be seated was calculated in hours. But we employed a trick every bar-dweller knows: see if they serve food at the high tables in the bar and if those tables are subject to the waiting list. They did and they weren't, so we waited for one of them to clear, claimed it for ourselves and ordered our food at the bar.

The Senpai and I had the standard fare of wings and a burger, which was…well, standard. Don't get me wrong, it was still good, but nothing really special, just good pub grub. However, the Duck ordered the Pad Thai and I have to say that they do a stellar job with that Thai noodle dish. Despite having to order at the bar, service was pretty good. Yes, they confused our order a little, but they handled the mix-up with class and the proper amount of apologies. What impressed me was that the huge bartender who took the order came out from behind the bar to apologize, taking the blame on himself. That DID impress us.

Although we were hungry, we were all pretty tired, almost too tired to eat. But we finished up, washing dinner down with a few beers each. Nothing really stood out with their brews, but that may not have been their fault. The Duck mistakenly ordered an IPA, even though his palate was exhausted. I stuck to lighter-bodied, lower-ABV offerings, but I prefer the darker heavier stuff. Being the driver, I had to steer clear of what I usually prefer. The Senpai barely took a few sips of his beer since he was fading faster than the rest of us. A return trip will be needed to fully assess the quality of their brews, but it will be done when the college aren't in school and not on a weekend. 

It was time to go home, but not until we made one more stop. I've written before about Oak Tree Liquors in South Plainfield and I believe I went on to rave about their selection. So I was eager to be back and I eagerly and optimistically grabbed a shopping cart to assist in spending every remaining cent of my budget for this trip. However, I'd return home with a bunch of cash left in my pocket. For some reason I just couldn't find anything that made me go "ooh" and "aah". So I asked the Duck if their selection had dropped or had I just become that hard to impress now? He opted for the latter and I think he's right. The happy problem is that my local place (Liquor Outlet Wine Cellars in Boonton) has really stepped up their game and now rivals Oak Tree for selection.

The Duck however, had no issues filling his shopping cart and joyfully maneuvered to the front counter. They've spoiled us here in the past, offering up glassware from the stash closet because of the amount spent in the one trip. The Duck was expecting the same this trip (he did purchase quite a bit) and was sorely disappointed when the transaction completed without anything extra proffered. It may have been because we were there pretty late and the guy in charge may not have had the authority. Maybe it had something to do with the icy response when I asked about an ex-employee of theirs. Maybe the guy just didn't like the looks us. It wouldn't be the first time. Who knows? But at least the Duck didn't dwell on it for too long.

We returned home and split up the booty which consisted of bottles, cans and growlers of beer. The swag was represented in the form of shirts, hats and glasses purchased at the breweries. It was a tiring trip, but a fulfilling and rewarding one. We now have to get a more fuel-efficient and reliable vehicle to do the same in South Jersey where Cape May Brewing opened last year and will see Tuckahoe and Turtle Rock go on-line this year. And then there are the brewpubs: Tun Tavern in Atlantic City and Iron Hill in Maple Shade. Perhaps in the Fall when all the summer tourists have gone and the Jersey shore once again becomes peaceful and beautiful.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


More Rye, a Fly-By and a Regular Guy

Let's face it; New Jersey is rarely mentioned when discussions of the best beer states come up. Our breweries and brewpubs don't show up in beer tourism itineraries. The beers brewed in this state rarely appear on anyone's wish lists. No "whales" are brewed in this state. In fact, it's not all that often that you'll find a bottle of beer brewed in the Garden State taking up room in my beer fridge. Like most other beer geeks in this area, it's dominated by offerings from Pennsylvania, New York, California, Colorado and even Delaware. The fact that the three states that border New Jersey produce highly-desired beers and spark pilgrimages to their brewing facilities should really irk New Jerseyans, but most take little notice of this.

This is a function of two things: 1) our breweries never really created anything really special, and 2) our brewpubs aren't allowed to distribute. That second one might change soon if A1277 gets passed through the New Jersey Assembly. The NJ Senate already passed their version of the bill (S641) and Governor Christie has promised to sign it into law if it reaches his desk. Yay! But that does nothing to fix that first thing, the quality of the beer coming out of New Jersey.

Maybe using the term "quality" isn't fair. As far as the quality of the process and the end product, our brewmasters know what they're doing. But many of the breweries were producing the same-old, same-old. It's been changing, slowly and surely. The Flying Fish Exit Series has been highly experimental and very rewarding for those snatching up the likes of Scarlet Hoppy Ale, Chestnut Brown and Chocolate Stout. Cricket Hill has taken up the clarion call of bourbon barrel-aging with some impressive results, especially their BBA Barleywine. River Horse continues to tinker with their recipes with improvement in balance seen every year. But the beer geeks in this state crave more. The fact that New Jersey has the highest distribution of beer labels in the country is a testament to our thirst for new and different beers to try. That was noticed and the cry for MORE was answered from within.

2011 may go down in New Jersey beer history as the year the Garden State put their stamp on the craft beer world. That was the year that Kane Brewing, Carton Brewing and Cape May Brewing started to distribute their beer. Cape May Brewing is a nano-brewery and have no plans to bottle (that I know of), but the other two are being urged from all directions to get on with it! All were founded by homebrewers, as is usually the case, and they have managed to translate their homebrew recipes into larger batches that currently enjoy tap space throughout the state. The larger two of these breweries were the primary targets of this beer excursion and Carton Brewing was up next!

Carton Brewing is located in Atlantic Highlands and first hit the NJ craft beer scene with Boat Beer. Boat Beer was designed to be an easy drinking beer with a low ABV and a light body, but one that could still deliver a buttload of flavor. Think of it as a heavily hopped kolsch and you get the idea. So were excited to visit to see what else they had to offer.

The Senpai and the Duck outside Carton Brewing
The building is pretty unassuming and you walk in on the ground floor where they do the brewing. But, if you read the signs, you're directed to go upstairs where the tasting bar is. If you read the blog entry on Cricket Hill, you'll remember that NJ has some laws about tours and tastings. Part of that law is that a brewery must conduct a tour before offering a tasting…well, that's how some interpret the law. Carton adheres to this portion of it, so when we appeared at the top of the steps one of the guys behind the tasting bar came out to conduct the tour. We were to be given the tour by Auggie…Auggie Carton…with his cousin, he's one of the founders and owners. He explained that, like so many NJ shore towns, Atlantic Highlands was originally a religious retreat and the front portion of the building was where the tents for the retreat were stored during the off-season. The expansion of the building is not as well-documented, but he knew that it was once a candy store. At the time, the building across the street was a high school, so it was well-located. Now, the school is an elementary school and the candy store is a brewery. Auggie quipped that this was a "natural progression". 

Carton Brewing's "Tippy"
As we approached the brewing equipment he asked we knew of the process. We (us and Auggie) were grateful for this because it saved us all a lot of time covering stuff we already knew, but he did point out a fluid delivery system that you have to see to fully understand. I can't really do it justice, but let's just say that they can move liquids from any piece of equipment to another with one simple mechanical change at the manifold. From there he pointed out the Tippy. This is their 20-gallon, gravity-driven, experimental small batch brewing system. They start the base beer here and then Chris, the brewmaster, carboys smaller batches of it with different yeast strains to determine which works best. From there, it goes up to the tasting room and feedback from their patrons helps determine if it gets into the regular brewing rotation.

Another fixture in the brewing area is their beer fridge. This is a full-sized fridge stocked to the gills with craft brew from around the world. As Auggie explained, "They love beer!" And that was also evident when we went to the tasting room and watched as some of their neighbors shared bottles of Surly Wet and Surly 4. The empties lining the top of the bar paid testament to how often this occurs and the rarity of the bottles that they bring. It definitely made for a jealous Beer Samurai.

Carton's tasting room
So we started our tastings and Auggie regaled us with the story of the brewing of SOH Rye. If you visit, ask him about it; it's a pretty funny story. They didn't have SOH Rye on tap, but they did have what eventually became Red Rye Returning. They also served Boat Beer, Carton of Milk Stout, BDG (Brunch.Dinner.Grub.), 077XX and 077XX Double. A funny thing about 077XX is that I never really understood why someone would name a beer with an alphanumeric designation like that. Sure, test batches may get something like that attached to them, but then they usually get a real name when they go to production. But when we walked in and saw the staff wearing 077XX shirts with something that resembled the US Post Office Eagle logo I finally understood. All of the zip codes in that area start with 077. Since the Senpai grew up in that area, he was rather embarrassed that it took that visual clue to turn on the light bulb. 

The owners, brewers and the rest of the staff are the kind of people you want to sit down and drink with. They are very friendly, quite chatty and willing to share beer and brewing knowledge (to a point). They love having people visit and are eager to show off their operation. If you go, I recommend giving the visit more than the half hour we allotted. We actually stayed 45 minutes and would have stayed longer had we not had more stops on the itinerary. 

The next stop on the trip was supposed to be The Original Basil T's, but we spent more time than planned at Uno and Carton so we decided to run straight to Kane Brewing so that we could arrive well before closing time. The shortest route was right past Basil T's, so we did our fly-by and pressed on south through Red Bank, Shrewsbury and Eatontown on our way into Ocean Township.

Kane Brewing is another one of those breweries housed in a non-descript building in a business complex, but we did take note of how much space they have there. We entered the tasting room, at the end of the entry hallway (where the bathroom is strategically located) to see two guys behind the taps and the room nearly half full. We were told that they were short-staffed so the tours were self-guided, but we should grab a sample of beer to aid us through. Good advice! So I asked for and received a sample of Afterglow which was yet another rye beer. Four stops for drinking and three rye beers, but this would be the last, and the best, rye of the day.

The Senpai and barrel-aging stout @ Kane
The Senpai and I headed into the brewery as the Duck was still debating where to begin with the taps. The brewing equipment was against the left wall, but what caught our attention was what was tucked into a corner on the right side, a large rack full of barrels! Upon further inspection we saw that they were all labeled, "Imperial Stout - Bourbon Barrel-Aged". We contemplated sneaking a barrel out, but decided our backs probably couldn't handle it and joined the Duck over by one of the fermenters that was creating a lot of blow-off. We also noted that they had a nice spot for a bottling line and then started to head inside when the Duck noticed that they had a surf board hung over the door between the brewery and the tasting room. Having been a surfer back when he lived in California, he explained what kind of board it was and something about the fins, the wood and the finish. I was intent on getting the next sample and didn't pay much attention, much like the Control does to me when I talk about beer.

Kane's tasting room taps
Drift Line and Head High were also on tap and we tried both. We had all had Head High before and I remember my first pint. It was at the Cloverleaf Tavern and the guy who runs the place, Ryan, recommended it, claiming it was the "best beer on the East Coast". Since this was a seriously bold statement I was dubious and approached the glass with skepticism. But the first whiff of it told me that this was a special beer. That impression was reinforced by the first sip which quickly turned into gulps. This was an IPA of epic proportions and I conceded to Ryan that it was definitely the best beer brewed in New Jersey and I might be convinced to say it was the best IPA on the East Coast. Best beer on the East Coast? That's a tall order, but it's up there.

We talked with Mike a little bit as he filled our growlers with Head High…Mike? Mike Kane, the founder and owner of Kane Brewing. That's the beauty of visiting the small, young breweries; you usually get to meet the owners. Mike is a very tall red-head with a really unassuming air to him...a regular guy. Like the people up in Carton, it's easy to picture yourself plopping down at a bar with him and drinking the whole day away. I asked him how he managed to hit home runs as a rookie. What was his background in the business? That's when we learned that he decided to open a brewery while he was in college, working on a degree in finance. When he graduated he got a job learning how to run a business, but did homebrewing on the side in order to learn that side of the business. Armed with his business experience a repertoire of successful homebrews, he hired a brewer from Victory who took his recipes and scaled them up. The results have been quite astonishing and my infatuation with this brewery's output and success only grew.

In fact, I returned a few weeks later on the way home after participating in the Polar Beer Plunge in Seaside Heights. I wanted to secure another growler of Head High to send off in a trade and also one for myself. But then another revelation presented itself! In honor of the upcoming Saint Patrick's Day celebration Mike explained that  he wanted to brew a stout and he came up with Port Omna. Named after the town in County Galway in Ireland from which his family hails, this was one delicious stout and I got a growler of that instead. I eagerly opened it when I got home to further explore its depth of flavors. It sat somewhere between an Imperial Stout and a Milk Stout. Sweet, yet bitter and roasty with coffee and chocolate overtones, the mouthfeel of this beer is spot on. You can read my review of it here:

So we managed to visit both breweries back-to-back, and met the owners of both. Oh, I forgot to mention that Chris Carton was also serving in the tasting room. He was on the far side of the bar from where we were though. We grabbed some swag at both breweries and I'm really itching for a return to Kane Brewing to see what else Mike has on tap (literally and figuratively). Both breweries have tap presence up in Northern Jersey, but you can't beat visiting the brewery and bringing home a growler.

Next time will cover off on the last two brewpubs we visited and an underwhelming visit to one of our favorite beer stores.