Skip to main content

Compurgating Clown Shoes

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.



Anonymous said…
Blimey, that lot sounds amazing. Go on then, where are you sourcing these from? Or is that staying a closely-guarded secret?
Mark Johnson said…
OK, i apologise for my tardy comment, I was being too mean... I bought mine from but I've since seen them at The Bottle Shop and Cotteridge Wines in limited supply. Still difficult to get hold of as far as I can see - don't take them all!!!
Anonymous said…
Cheers! I'll have a look for those. And I'll have a word with the chaps at The Beermoth and see if they've got a line on a source.

Popular posts from this blog

Children and Dogs in Pubs and Bars

  I once took my niece to the pub. She was either 1 or 2 years of age. I often looked after her on Saturdays and on one of our weekly walks, for the first time, I stopped by the local pub, mainly because my friend was there with his daughter of similar age. The two kids got on well together and it was a lovely couple of hours; a perfect showcase of adult friends and their children existing in public houses. But my sister was furious. She didn’t rant or rave but her lips were purser than a 90s children’s show teacher. It was here that I learned of the effect that our childhood had had upon her. She recalls many an afternoon being bored in the corner of pubs that our Dad had dragged us to, arms folded in the corner with nothing to do, and she doesn’t want the same for her children. The idea of her first born being taken to pubs infuriates her; fearful that they would be subjected to the same unhappy experiences that she was.  I don’t recall those times in the same way as my s

"They Had Their Issues, So..."

      There’s a set of garages to rent as storage units near my workplace. One of them is taken by a local florist that uses it to store flower arrangements for various events, that are more often than not funerals.   As such, at least once a week at 8am I will pass a car being loaded up with flowers arranged into heart shaped patterns or the letters M U M. It is a grounding reminder that, as I mentally grumble my way through the upcoming arbitrary grievances of my ordinary working day, a group of family and friends locally is going through the hardest time. It provides much needed perspective on days when I could do with being reminded of all that I have to be thankful for.   These little moments explain to me why it is possible for us to share a communal loss when a celebrity passes away. Grief is often a personal and lonely experience, shared between a minority of people in your life. When a co-worker loses a relative or friend, it has little affect on me, bar signing of

The Ten Pubs That Made Me - Part 3: Dr Okell's / My Foley's Tap House and Leeds

A pint in Mr Foley's Tap House from December 2022     This is Part 3 (the fourth post) of an ongoing project. Please see the beginning of Part 0 for details.    Come the end of this journey, there may be a lesson in procrastination that I am unlikely to heed. These posts stem from a list that I made three years ago and a series that I embarked on 18 months ago. We’ve only now reached a 30% completion rate and with this post we are back to fail for the second time.   This odyssey began with a trip to Mr Foley’s Tap House in February 2022 – named Dr Okell’s bar on my first visits in 2005 – only to discover that it was closed. It did reopen by the time that the post was coming out and I managed a brief visit in December 2022. However, my July 1 st 2023 trip to Leeds, on which this post is based, is met with this sign at the door of the bar:      A quick check of social media shows an Instagram post from the day before (June 30 th ) announcing the closure of the