Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
Lately, I’ve been getting my beers from friends wanting me to try something for this on-going feature but this week’s beer doesn’t really have a fun backstory to it. A friend had been talking up Carton Brewing Company lately, so when I went to my favorite beer store, I got a single of this week’s beer, along with a couple of other fun goodies, which you might see in the upcoming weeks. It’s a bit of a departure from my more typical hazy efforts, as I wanted a dark beer perfect for the cold weather and Cosmonaut is certainly that, a highly rated behemoth Russian imperial stout.
Founded in 2011 in the New Jersey shore community of Atlantic Highlands, Carton was started by cousins Chris and Augie Carton who decided they had plenty to offer the local craft beer landscape. The two found a turn-of-the-century red brick warehouse and modernized it for their state-of-the-art 15-barrel system. Built on a passion for creating stimulating flavors from inspiration all around them, the cousins had one real goal: to make tasty beer in the place their tastes were formed.
Carton has brewed a lengthy list of releases, including a half-dozen more standard releases and dozens of specialty efforts, some a little more outside of the box than others, including an imperial cream ale made with coffee called Regular Coffee that features many variations, an orange zest session ale called Beach and then Cosmonaut.
Cosmonaut is a whopping 10% ABV and is inspired by one of the Jersey Shore’s favorite treats. Officially known as a Russian imperial stout with freeze dried ice cream and spices added, Cosmonaut features Super Galena hops, which help give it a strawberry flavor, and malt often used in bold stouts, the kind that can provide a strong chocolate presence and just a little bit of vanilla to the profile. Unlike the majority of Carton’s beers, this particular one, which is 65 IBUs, comes in a 12-ounce can, featuring the brewery’s easily recognizable orange theme. The label has their logo front and center, offering all of the information on Cosmonaut, except the malts, including a summary, and there’s sketches of a astronaut getting hit in the face with an ice cream cone, giving it a class trip vibe, because who didn’t want freeze dried ice cream during their trip to the science museum?
Let’s get right down to the beer here. Cosmonaut offers a sweet nose, providing hints of strawberry, dark chocolate and perhaps just a touch of cinnamon as well. The malt comes through too – and all of it is pretty pleasing and really left me wanting to see what the flavor profile was like.
As impressed as I was with the aroma, the pour was from another world, get it?
All Dad jokes aside, it came out very dark brown and featured three fingers worth of head, thanks to a heavy pour on my part. The head was chocolate colored, looking closer to some kind of root beer float foam than a beer. It looked quite nice in my tulip glass and is definitely a beer that deserves to shine on Instagram.
That first sip left me pondering and so I quickly went back for another one. What I noted was a strong presence of dark chocolate and that same sort of sweetness that came through the nose. I thought it did a good job of masking some of the roasted malt flavor, so it wasn’t too pungent. I am not a fan of stouts that have a strong coffee flavor but I didn’t get much of that with Cosmonaut. There was also just a hint of boozyness, though it just warmed me up on a cold winter afternoon – I don’t really feel like it hindered the flavor too much but I really wasn’t anticipating it. As for the mouth feel, it’s medium-bodied and smooth – smooth, smooth, smooth. It’s well-carbonated, with nice lacing as you go, and it’s crisp up front and fairly dry on the back-end.
I’m not too much of a stout drinker, I really have to be in the mood. So to say if this one is very drinkable would be a little out of my wheelhouse but I think it is just because I could have two in a row. Usually I’m reaching for something much lighter, a pilsner or IPA, after one massive stout. Overall, I’m very impressed with Cosmonaut. It checked off most of the boxes I wanted in a stout, with perhaps the only setback being that I didn’t notice the strawberry flavor from the hops. Other than that, oh and an unexpectedly potent boozyness, I can’t find much wrong with this beer.
When I went to BeerAdvocate, I found that the website itself gave Cosmonaut an outstanding 90 overall and the average score was 4.04 based on 197 ratings, which is quite good. I would actually go a little bit higher than that, giving this Carton stout a 8.5 out of 10. I’m pretty finicky about my stouts and if it’s something I would go back to, I know it’s well orchestrated. Is Carton the best kept secret in New Jersey? Well, I might need to try a few more efforts before saying that!
Stay tuned next week, because I might try something from your favorite brewery.