"Tattoo on the lower back? Might as well be a bullseye." - Jeremy Grey, Wedding Crashers
Another newbie to the Arizona desert, Clown Shoes is actually contract brewed through Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswich, Mass. They are their own separate brand, but have no capacity to brew beer yet. It's a funny way to start a brewery, but not unheard of.
Clown Shoes CEO Gregg Berman wrote that he decided to start brewing after entering a contest held by the beer review website beeradvocate.com to name a collaboration brew. His submission didn't even crack the top 5. Motivated by the small failure, Berman created the Clown Shoes brand with the mission to "produce beer without pretension while being free and a little crazy."
The inclination toward silliness has led Clown Shoes to take their beer label design in a direction some might find controversial (e.g. the dark-skinned, bikini-clad woman shaking her righteous ass on the Brown Angel label, or Lubrication, which features a metallic man holding the business end of a gas pump right about dong-level.) The labels started a bit of shenanigans online a few months ago after they raised the ire of some influential people in the beer community.
Like the tattoos it's named for, Tramp Stamp is oddly alluring -- pour it into a tulip and prepare to be not-so-subtly seduced by the slightly hazy, rusty honey-colored brew. Topped with a large head of khaki, the beer's a looker.
The aroma is equally captivating. Pungent American hops --Columbus, Amarillo, and Centennial in particular -- lend notes of pine and citrus that blend with bright orange peel. Belgian Chambly yeast adds a subtle fruity pear note that blends perfectly with the citrus and contrasts the background of lightly toasted biscuits glazed with honey. This is how a Belgian IPA should smell.
In the flavor, the substantial bitterness of pithy citrus peel gives way to crisp cracker malt. The Belgian yeast, fairly light in the aroma, lends an even softer touch here, but pops up a bit amidst the fumes that dance in the mouth between sips. Some floral, potpourri-like notes shake their hips in the background before the dry, clean finish turns off the music.
Clown Shoes did a great job parsing out the flavors in this Belgian-tinged IPA. It's easy to let a product's "controversial" branding affect your judgment, but clearer heads can look past the marketing. Immature names and labels should not offend; bad beer should. What's inside the bottle is much more important than what's on it -- and in that regard, Clown Shoes has nothing to worry about.
Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized expert in the world of beer.
Follow Chow Bella on Facebook and Twitter.