Augie Carton is the sixth generation of Carton’s from the Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. Augie along with his cousin Chris Carton and his buddy Jesse Ferguson opened Carton Brewing with a fiscally responsible plan. On the commuter ferry home Augie fought cold winds as his voice competed with a blaring foghorn to tell me about getting into the brewing industry, the importance of a name, and the significance of the cartoon character tattooed on his arm.
The Brewery: It seems pretty cut and dry Mr. Carton, but was there ever any question on the name of Carton Brewing?
Augie Carton: Obviously we discussed other options, but I was pretty adamant it would be Carton Brewing. We wanted to associate ourselves with the beer, it’s our name, it’s who we are, it’s what we really wanted to do in the long term. My partner and cousin Chris is also a Carton. So, 2 out of the 3 of us are Carton’s. It’s in our hometown. It’s obviously born of us. It seemed right to take ownership of the ideas. When you’re making beer off the beaten craft it’s ideally different from everything else it made sense to show we were proud of it.
So it was always going to be Carton Brewing from day one?
We talked about other things. You know, Twin Light Brewing because that’s the big landmark in our area. The Atlantic Highlands/Highlands is also where Henry Hudson first made land and loaded water onto his boat the Half Moon to explore the Hudson River. We talked about somehow associating it with that. But in the long run we decided, Chris and I have been in that town, I think our kids are the 7th Generation. It just seemed as associative as not to name it after us.
Your logo must have been pretty easy from there.
You know it’s funny; it’s the same thing. To me it seemed obvious. When your name means ‘box’, you either embrace that or try to ignore it and wait to see if it comes up. Keep in mind, my name’s “Augie” right? So when your name’s Augie, I don’t think I’ve ever heard my name not associated with Doggie. You take ownership of it. I have a tattoo of Augie Doggie from Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy the 1960’s Hanna-Barbera cartoon on my arm. It’s kind of the same thing. Your name means ‘box’, own that, rather than ignore it.
If you weren’t in the beer industry, where would find Augie Carton?
Well, to be fair, I still have my day job. You’re talking to me while I commute from my job to the brewery. The thinking behind that was, Chris and I decided one of the pitfalls of really committing to building a brewery in a town rather than doing the kind of contract brewing method to starting a business is that, when your kid needs braces, if you have cashed in your 401K and mortgaged your house to build a brewery you kind of have to save money making beer, which leads to bad beer. Our decision was Chris and I could keep our real jobs if Jesse quit his. Jesse was a music producer running a small label. So if Jesse quit his job and ran the brewery day to day Chris and I could keep our jobs during the week. Then if Jesse’s kid needs braces we’ll be able to afford it from our day jobs without needing to save money on beer production. Chris is still a full time lawyer. I’m still a full time broker.
How do the responsibilities split out in the brewery?
Basically it boils down to Chris’s responsibility is solving for what’s next and making sure the T’s are crossed and I’s dotted. We’ve already had to expand once in the two years we’ve been in business. We’re looking to figure out how to expand again. And that’s where Chris’s time is dedicated. Solving the problems of “what’s next?” I handle the marketing, basically the correspondence with customers, media, sales and all that. I conceive with what the next beer will be and Jesse and I sort that out in the tippy. Jesse and I brew every Sunday at noon in the tippy. And then once the three of us like the beer Jesse grows it in the big system with the brew team Monday thru Friday and runs the staff and the day to day while Chris and I do our other jobs.
Tell us about the decision to throw your hat into the ring of brewing.
In a nutshell, I used to write a food blog called “AugieLand”. I am a basically a flavors geek. I’m as interested in what’s the World’s Greatest Hotdog as I am the World’s Greatest Restaurant, and what’s the World’s Greatest Wine as what’s the World’s Greatest Beer? I’ve been interested and kind of obsessive about it all of my life. 9 years ago I quit being an assistant director in the movie business and before I found my job in finance, I spent a year tending bar on the day shift at Mario Batali’s Pizza place, because I wanted to learn about the thousands of Italian wines they had on the list. Basically about 6 years ago a couple of things were going on. Jesse my brewer is my wife’s best friend’s husband. As a thank you gift for pitching in so much at our wedding 9 years ago I gave him a homebrew kit. So he started home brewing and when they would come visit us he’d bring beer along. So he and I were talking about beers and how they are made and what he was doing and what flavors were good and bad. And it was those conversations when I started reading all these books about brewing so I’d be more informed on the discussion. The same time my cousin Chris and I were still neighbors. We grew up together. We’ve lived within a mile of each other for 42 years, our dads are brothers. We’d be hanging on Friday night’s drinking beer from a keg at his place. Mostly double IPAs. But, all kinds of dopplebocks or whatever we could get our hands on. Back then it was easier to get cool stuff. Basically my drinking with Chris lead to my discussion with Jesse of “why isn’t there a beer with all the flavor potential, complexity, and profile of a double IPA down around 4%?” Jesse and I set about solving that problem and Boat Beer was born. Chris and I were very interested. So once Boat Beer was figured out through home brewing Chris and I decided it was a business worth backing.
If you can’t back yourself, who can you back?
It’s like any business, you start a business when you are a market participant and you see a big hole in the market. You think you solve that. We thought we solved it with Boat Beer. That’s when you go into the business. You try to plug that hole with your invention or solution. What’s exciting about that is, 3 years ago when we starting this business there was no such thing as a “session IPA.” I am very adamant that Boat Beer is not a session IPA, but a sessionable beer for Double IPA drinkers. But 3 years ago when we started a brewery based around a 4.2 way over hopped beer it wasn’t a conception. And now 3 years later it’s a very heavily entered category at the GABF (Great American Beer Festival) and people are actually confusing what Boat Beer is because a whole bunch of the bigger companies have tried to kind of extend their IPA brands to the lower alcohol world. It’s what we built our whole company around. We in fact proudly don’t have a Pale Ale or an IPA, because truthfully the market wasn’t and isn’t lacking those, we want to work where people aren’t. That being said as the general craft beer conversation moves to hop forward smaller beers we are very interested to see how people are playing it versus the decisions we made with boat in Chris’s back yard years ago.
Please join us for part 2 of our interview with Augie Carton of Carton Brewing in next week!