There has been a great influx of American breweries to our shores over the past few years and we welcome them with such esteem and excitement most of the time. Those that use Ratebeer or others similar often rush for the likes of Dogfish Head and Russian River with schoolboy glee, knowing their rarity in our isles. The rest of us are just happy to try something interesting and different and I, personally, don’t tend to look at other’s subjective views until trying a beer for myself.
It was with this attitude and whim that I first bought a beer from Clown Shoes Brewery of Ipswich, Massachusetts called Hoppy Feet 1.5. I wrote about the experience in a favourable blog post and quickly seeked out other brews that were available, though the choice was sadly limited. When a larger range from this brewery became available towards the end of last year, I couldn’t help but snap up as many different beers as possible, especially after another positive encounter with their Supa Hero IPA.
Now Clown Shoes have secretly become my favourite international brewery. But I hold the kind of regard for them that you are tempted to keep to yourself rather than share with others, knowing few in this country who seem to have tried them. However, after tasting my four remaining bottles over the last month, I thought I would selflessly share just so the rest of you in the UK, who might have wondered or simply might not have known, can understand why I love Clown Shoes.
It’s true that we don’t drink much “black ale” here, and any that is brewed is quickly distinguished as either Black IPA or Porter. But there is definitely a distinction here. Big, onyx and with a huge and delightful head, it is certainly comparable with a Black IPA on the nose with a fruity honeyed scent. I brace myself for a Black IPA. But this is a different beast altogether. It's a large piny, tangy, hoppy heaven and yes there's the roasted malt afterthought. But it's all a lot smoother. OK, the name and picture is making the idea of engine oil sliding down my throat impossible not to picture, yet there's much more complexity here. Struggling for comparisons, I want to name it, but it is an American Black Ale. Black beer that is fresh and drinkable. Brilliant.
The fear with imported American beers is always the hop freshness, but the Supa Hero IPA I tried, though bottled some nine months previous to tasting, was still as fresh and beautiful as intended. Muffin Top, bottled in 2011 may suffer slightly from a loss of hop zest, though I have no comparison. This is barley wine to me from the off. However, I love barley wine. This is caramel and cinder toffee with almost sickly sweet sticky hops that cling to your teeth. It’s heavy stuff, with my tongue licking half the beer away from my molars. Yes it is one to savour. It’s a two hour long slurp in front of a film epic. It's a sharing platter over Christmas dinner. It's the hardest day at the office when the rum just won't cut it. But it’s barley wine. All that time has only made it into pure nectar for me.
Originally packaged as “Smoked Imperial Stout,” hence why I was so eager to try it, this is, quite simply, beer. I don’t want to discuss it… It’s the greatest taste my mouth has had the pleasure of experiencing. If you could put me in a brewery and provide my hands with the necessary skill, they would craft this beer. I want a huge imperial stout with a sweet hoppy background, dominated by smoky malts. And they’ve made it. I’m not going to describe anymore to you. This beer was brewed for me.
There’s a blackcurrant juice tint to this thin-headed black mass. The nose is dominated by chocolate flavourings scarcely hiding a dark abyss backdrop of saccharine vanilla and salty molasses. The taste is a momentous concoction of charred wood and dry cocoa, mixing with a swimming pool of the more usual coffee, liquorice and lots and lots of chocolate. The burn certainly says its hello to begin with, but once it's made its entrance, settles into the corner to talk of counselling hops soothing those aggressive malts. It's my idea of an Imperial Stout. Bottled in January 2012, this has certainly had time to sit and age, but I want another to brave our terrain for longer. It is momentous.
It is rather sickening that some of these beers I fear I have tasted and reviewed for the last time, but I know I will purchase them wherever they are available. Beer was crafted for man to take pleasure from and Clown Shoes do it better than anyone I’ve come across. It’s sad that only seven of their beers have been available to me in this country, it’s enough to make me book a flight. I'm looking at the idea of a double brown stout, imperial amber ale, pecan pie porter, chocolate beer or even an English style ale with the same name as my favourite Pharoahe Monch song all in existence without me trying them and I am salivating. Please don’t buy their beers in this country; it only limits their availability to me. But if you do get chance, I guarantee you will not be disappointed.