Space Oddities, State and Federal
CASE #1: North Carolina
Our best selling beer is Space Cake Double IPA. The Federal Government approved this label.
We opened up distribution in North Carolina toward the end of 2016. While the local licensing folks are a pleasure to work with, we ran into a problem with the Space Cake label. They do not allow beer labels that are too “cartoonish”, and that might appeal to children. Flummoxed, we took another tack, and sent in the label below, which they approved.
While the text may suggest the censored label is salacious, we hope beer customers in NC will look up the real artwork and see Miracle Mike in all of his goofy, innocent, and inoffensive glory.
We are planning a canned project for this year, originally called Space Cookie. The beer is a hoppy pale ale with a similar hop profile to Space Cake and the label depicts a spaceship shaped like a clown shoe fighting its way through an asteroid field composed of giant, pink frosted space cookies.
The TTB, the branch of the government that examines labels, rejected Space Cookie because “it’s a reference to pot.” Apparently, Space Cookie is the name of a strain of marijuana. Who knew? We wrote to the TTB and explained to them that we had no idea about the marijuana reference, and that “Space Cookies” referred to an odd encounter we had with some dangerous pastries, once upon a time, while exploring deeply strange pockets of the galaxy.
They didn’t budge. Still rejected.
But the TTB approved the following label: Baked Goods.
We put a tremendous amount of time and energy into each concept. Michael Axt, our full time label designer, despite working at breakneck speeds like an artist version of Ricky Bobby at the end of Talladega Nights, can never get ahead of the work we keep throwing at him. When a project gets a rejection from a state or federal agency our whole team feels like we’ve taken, collectively, a punch to the stomach from a heavyweight. The extra delays cost us time, stress, and often force us to change our production calendar.
What can you do? We pivot. We try to use creativity and humor as a remedy. Amazingly, this usually works.
In the year ahead we will be designing more than a dozen new labels. Some are more on the edge than others. We need to consider if the names and imagery will receive Federal and State approvals. Such as, we are thinking of making a 20% Strong Ale featuring a yoga class filled with students wearing Clown Shoes while doing Irish Yoga called: Menace to Sobriety.
That last beer concept is a joke, but we really did want to make a high ABV beer a few years ago and name it Menace to Sobriety. The now retired director of the TTB, Mr. Battle Martin, personally responded to a preemptive email from us asking if the name stood a chance of being approved. His response? One word. No. We knew this would be the case because, “you cannot suggest in a fanciful name that a product will cause excess intoxication or harm,” but liked the name enough to give it a shot.
Stay posted. If a case #3 emerges we’ll fill you in.
Archdruid: The Magically (Delicious?) Sour Irish Red Ale Aged in Whiskey Barrels
Should we have known the Leprechauns would become irked because we created a flotilla out of ten of the tiny green clad troublemakers?
Barrel aging has been a large part of the focus at Clown Shoes for a number of years. Our team has been vigilant and fortunate regarding quality control, experiencing almost nothing in the way of contaminated product.
Despite testing the blended liquid in tank, with no positive results for any contaminants, a small amount of lactobacillus found its way into an unknown portion of the bottled product. We have now analyzed and seen varying degrees of souring of the product, ranging from slightly tart to medium sour. Fortunately, lactobacillus is the most common bug used to intentionally sour beers. While not what we intended, many people are enjoying Archdruid for what it has become.
The quality control processes we employ have worked to date, but we are aggressively looking into even more sophisticated ways to minimize issues in the future. It would be beyond fantastic if there was a failsafe to prevent contamination of barrel aged products. But there isn’t.
We think it’s pretty Clown Shoes to have been asked for years to make a sour beer, then to do it accidentally, most likely because we pissed off mischievous magical creatures. Hey, at least they only changed the beer into something unique and unexpected, rather than completely destroying the concept.
Anyone that has a poor experience with Archdruid, please mail a receipt or the label (which peels off easily) to:
Clown Shoes Beer
PO Box 1033
Burlington, MA 01803
Thank you for the understanding and support.
As a final thought, we recommend that you make double sure you treat the Leprechauns in your life with dignity.
Gregg Berman and The Clown Shoes Team
Third Party Candidate 2016: Phil (Filthy!) Thomas
Is anyone else tired of hearing people say they are thinking of moving to Canada or to Costa Rica? Not that we don’t get the reasoning…
Our political system terrifies people who aren’t insane, with real life comic book villains dueling it out to claim the role of The President of The United States of America.
During the last election cycle Clown Shoes released a beer called Third Party Candidate. Our friend, Geoff Dale from Three Heads Brewing, graced the label, displaying the Three heads hand signal which many people sadly mistook to be “the shocker.”
That beer was a joke, just a bit of fun the first time. No one expected or wanted Geoff to win, though he earned a few votes.
This time, Third Party Candidate 2016 features our California Clown Shoes representative: Phil (Filthy) Thomas.
Filthy is not a joke. While indeed a human version of a comic book character, he’s a hero, not a villain.
Ok, I can’t help myself: Phil owns a higher IQ than John Travolta in Phenomenon, has perfected more dance moves than Beyoncé, breaks more concrete slabs with his forehead than Chuck Norris in his prime, surfs ninety foot waves on a longboard, and he can sing with greater sweetness than angelic choir boys pouring their hearts out as they render Ave Maria.
But forget all of that for a moment. The forthcoming blunt fact will sway your vote: Filthy is not an asshole.
America, we need help. Tell your friends. Post on all branches of social media. Take megaphones and homemade posters to the streets.
Phil T. ! Phil T. ! Phil T. !
Keep America Clean: Vote Filthy!
(P.S Oh yeah, the beer itself! The 2016 Version of Third Part Candidate is an Imperial Pale Lager, dry hopped heavily with Idaho 7, Sterling, and Columbus.)
My Favorite Restaurant is a Food Hut
Recently, my favorite restaurant is JMP Food Hut, located in the food court of The Super 88 in Allston (Boston). The Biryani is the only credible Biryani my wife and I have found in the state. The Chicken Vindaloo is also extraordinary. Owned and operated by a hard working and incredibly nice family, if you like Indian/Pakistani food, JMP is a must try!
Josh The Revelator
Josh The Revelator double IPA was designed for our friends in TX, and for Josh Baggett, the top sales rep for Clown Shoes in the state. West coast in style, dry hopped with Mosaic, Galaxy, and Ella hops, Josh clocks in at 10.2% ABV. This hoppy beast will be available only in TX. Many folks have expressed disappointment when certain beers are not available in their market. For this we apologize. The single state only beer program came about by accident. We were unable to send Blaecorn Unidragon to Ohio, due to the local ABV limit placed on beer. Ohio Unidragon was created as a lower ABV version, allowing us to ship a modified rendition of one our favorite beers to one of our favorite states. The reaction, unexpectedly, was terrific. Since that first brew we have worked with a number of markets to make beers specific to their states. We enjoy the spirit of collaboration and the opportunity to experiment, even if designing the beers and the labels has created extra work. It’s been worth it! The willingness and ability of our wholesalers to spend time with us on these projects has been key to where the beers have gone. Expect to see a few more state specific beers this year and many more in 2016.
We put together the video below, with our Director of Operations Matt Smith and his long time friend A.J. Butler both playing guitar, because the name Josh the Revelator is a riff on the blues standard, John the Revelator. Also, we thought it’d be cool. A.J. is using a Bic lighter to do the slide guitar work. We hope you get a chance to enjoy the beer and the music. Check these guys out if you can as they play with the rest of their band during a Clown Shoes promotion at The Iron Monkey , October 3rd in NJ.
Josh The Revelator Double IPA will hit shelves in TX next week.
Focus On Quality and Experimentation
Almost six years in and we continue to receive venom and disrespect, mostly just for being Clown Shoes. As an example, yesterday this e-mail appeared:
It would be fiting for you to produce a high alcohol beer called “Small Mind, Smaller Dick” for men who drink Clown Shoe Beers. The drinking it offers an excuse for a small sexist minds. Best of all the beer will offer the benefit of a high that will let the drinker forget he has dick smaller than his mind… The neanderthal age ended about 200,000 or so years ago. guess you missed that email.
Well, thank goodness, hateful (and almost always ungrammatical and illogical) e-mails have become less and less frequent. Neanderthals became extinct 40 to 45 thousand years ago, by the way.
Mostly, however, an amazing thing has been happening in the craft beer world. Clown Shoes has been gaining respect. From men and from women.
Our products don’t please everybody. The beers are distinctive, generally high in alcohol, and many of them are barrel aged or include unusual ingredients. The marketing can be edgy and or goofy, though it has been roughly five years since we have released a beer label that can be viewed with intelligence as out of line. We won’t ever shy away from our roots, but perhaps we have been a bit stubborn. Accordingly, both Tramp Stamp and Brown Angel are going to be retired. Several months from now these brews will be replaced by The Barista Breakfast Brown and Comic Strip Belgian IPA, with new recipes as well as packaging. Because we want to. Not because of haters. The labels and beers were fun and relevant when they came out, but are less so now. For instance, who gets a lower back tattoo anymore? When we introduced the beer, tramp stamps were a cultural phenomenon.
Our primary focus since inception has been to achieve quality through experimentation. That, and trying to have a good time and an enjoyable work culture despite the enormous pressure of growing a craft beer brand from an $8000 investment.
Here are some ways we have improved and are working to improve:
– Head Brewer. We recently hired Dan Lipke in an amicable manner from Mercury Brewing. Dan was the head brewer at Mercury for eleven years, and has been at the heart of working with us on the recipes for all of our beers. Now he will focus only on Clown Shoes.
– Test batching. Even before Dan came on board, our test batching procedures were aggressive. We bought a professional grade test batch system late in 2014, and have been working the equipment constantly.
– Hops. As an extension of test batching, hops are a significant focal point. We try many hops from numerous sources and learn as much as possible about them, from actually procuring them to production to bittering to dry hopping. We want to keep cranking out unique, high quality hoppy beers.
-Barrel Aging. Expanding our barrel program, while being as adventurous as possible, is at the core of the Clown Shoes brand. We constantly look for new sources of high quality, freshly emptied barrels. We also work with River Drive, out of Maine, who have developed some fantastic cooperage procedures, and we have learned much about cooperage ourselves. All barrels are now being tested and tasted before blending and bottling. If any of you are distillers or work for artisanal distilleries, feel free to contact us about possible projects!
– Espresso and Coffee. Coffee has recently become a major focus in test batching and experimenting. Personally, I’m a coffee geek, having bought a fancy espresso machine years ago. Beans shipped from around the country, all rated highly on coffeereview.com, were what I used, until falling in love with some local roasters, such as Barrington Roasting Company, Atomic Café, and Barismo. Cold brew processes, as well as a few proprietary methods we have developed, have allowed us to finally feel comfortable with the coffee flavors we impart utilizing top quality, fair trade beans.
– Logistics. This is an area that requires an insane amount of work. Coordinating with the brewery, the wholesale beer managers, the sales forces, and our retail and end consumers around the country requires massive effort. Each year we have added at least one new employee, with much of the focus landing on covering the above issues. Our group takes great pride in organization skills, team work, communication, and customer service.
– Marketing. Michael Axt, our artist, is a full time, salaried employee, and we keep him hopping. The artwork we develop with him is a key to our identity, as was the artwork of Stacy George, who preceded him. Personally, my mind is always open to the entity that is Clown Shoes. The nature of the brand and how it can grow and improve through marketing is always in my thoughts. We work directly with some of our wholesalers to develop state specific beers which, although unusual and quite a bit of effort, has allowed us to be more relevant in those states. Additionally, we attend every tasting and event we possibly can. Lastly, we are looking toward music as a cross-pollinating area, as many of us here love music. Keep posted for the inception of The Clown Shoes Blues Band. There will be shows at bars with tap takeovers and a CD produced.
-Representation. We now have two full time sales representatives out of state and one in state. “Filthy” Philip Thomas covers CA and TX. “Cousin” Steven VonGrimm covers NJ, NY, PA, and CT. “Miracle” Mike Pettengill continues to do a fantastic job of developing the Clown Shoes brand in our home, Massachusetts, as well as making occasional visits to IL.
– Price. We are working to lower costs wherever possible and are developing six pack beers that should hit shelves by the second quarter of 2016, at a reasonable price.
Points have been missed, but hopefully the main ideas come through. Clown Shoes started as a joke, with almost zero expectations. Today, we enjoy distribution in 20 states and several countries. The entire team remains humble. We know who we are, we’re Clown Shoes. All of us are passionately driven to have the brand remain a unique piece of the American craft beer movement.
P.S. I couldn’t help but to have Michael do a quick drawing of a Neanderthal, pondering a Clown Shoe.
Billy, The Homeless Chess Master
William Collins has played chess with me for over twenty years. When the weather is warm, we meet at the stone chess tables in Harvard Square, shaded by the trees in front of Au Bon Pain. I’m pretty good, expert level. He’s way better.
Billy has been homeless since 1997. It never occurred to me to try to help any more than giving him an occasional ten or twenty dollar bill. Until recently. He always seemed so self-sufficient. What could I do?
This past fall I talked with Billy about why he was unable to get off the streets. I learned numerous attempts had met with failure, strangled by red tape and false promises. Most homeless people transition back to housing through a shelter, but Billy suffered a level of abuse while in shelters years ago that made him swear to never stay in one again. So now, when he can afford it, he shells out $10 a night to sleep on a porch (with no heat , electricity, nor access to a bathroom).
My wife, Sakina, and I offered to help Billy find housing. The goal was to do so by December 2014. We met several times with Housing First and Social Security, and they were able to get him to qualify for a $5000 emergency grant. Clown Shoes Beer was prepared to match the grant. Promising, right? All we needed was a room.
Billy had an opportunity to view a space that he would be able to move into twice. The first time he made it to the viewing early, but the landlord had a heart attack just before his arrival. No joke. He watched as the ambulance pulled out , flipped on the lights and hit the siren. The second time, about a month later, he got called two hours prior to a viewing. Billy was in Harvard Square, and the call came while a rally protesting Ferguson and police brutality was going down. The mass of humanity was so dense he couldn’t make his way through to the subway. Without money for a cab, there was no possible way to attend the showing.
Since these two unfortunate attempts, no more rooms have been offered for Billy to see. He survived the worst winter of his lifetime and is now in debt to the guy who lets him sleep on the porch.
Clown Shoes Beer still has five thousand dollars dedicated to pay rent for Billy, as well as to help get him get set up in a place. The plan, once that happens, is for Billy to take a job. He is willing to do anything from dish washing to janitorial work. Beyond that, we are going to build a website to promote Billy as a chess teacher and to help him find students. The barrier keeping him from these objectives is the homelessness. It’s nearly impossible to hold a menial job, let alone be a teacher, if you do not have a place to wash, receive mail, and to rest.
The people at Housing First are good people. They want to help, and maybe eventually things will come together if we wait. Unfortunately, given the brutality of the winter and the closing of the Long Island Shelter in Quincy, their work load has been epic. And Billy is outside of the shelter system, where first priority is focused.
Not to state the obvious, but most folks living on the streets are messed up every which way, in terms of their situation as well as their physical and mental well-being. Billy helps those less fortunate than himself. I’ve watched him share his food, money, and time, even though he has so little of each to spare. About a year ago, he told me helping these people was the main thing keeping him going.
William Collins has a great deal to offer the world. At 60, Billy is still strong physically, though his sciatic nerve flares up every now and then. Mentally, he is likely to be a genius (though I wouldn’t say that to him, as he already has a big enough head from kicking so much butt at chess!). Billy is a natural gentleman, he is very funny, and he possesses a depth of character you rarely see. This is not a man who should be left to die on the streets or on some guy’s porch.
Assisting Billy was meant to be private. We aren’t looking for publicity for Clown Shoes Beer and we aren’t looking to raise funds. We are looking for someone with a room who will give him a lease and a chance in life.
Does anyone have a suggestion or an idea that will help?
(To those who made it this far, thank you for taking the time to ready this heavy and very non beer related blog post.)
Musicality is not encoded in my genes, so it’s rare that I whistle.
But not last night. Last night tortured melodies and twisted harmonies were pushed through my teeth quite enjoyably. For me, at least. My wife looked a tiny bit horrified.
It got me to thinking about The Catcher in The Rye. I haven’t read the book in thirty years, but one scene still stands out in my memory. While at boarding school Holden had a real deadbeat of a roommate. The guy exhibited no signs of intelligence or humanity as far as Holden could tell, until one day he heard whistling. It was gorgeous whistling, with the splendor and complexity of the music astonishing Holden, who was even more astonished to find the source of the magical sounds to be his crappy roommate.
Holden was left with a wonderful thought. Does everybody, no matter how awful they appear, have a hidden talent, possibly akin to being a world class whistler? Does everybody possess something pure and redeeming within?
As I ran out of breath and the impulse to whistle another though hit me, far less profound: should we call a beer The Whistler, or Whistles, or just Whistle?
Then I thought: we could have a contest featuring beer and whistling. There would be three rounds of whistling with an applause-o-meter to dictate results. The winners would all get prizes and the best whistler would appear on the label, riding a unidragon, lips puckered.
Let me leave you with a video of the world Whistling Championship and a few questions. Should beer and whistling mix? Ever? Should we orchestrate some amped up whistling nonsense? Or is this one of those ideas I should have kept to myself?
Unexpected Good News ? Always The Best!
When I wrote a blog on Monday, it was without hope of quick resolution.
Surprisingly, the owners and management of Quality Wine & Spirits took to heart our plight and have worked with us aggressively this week to resolve the conflict. We no longer have any hard feelings toward Quality and ask that our customers follow suit. They are real people over there. They had other real problems to deal with that were unavoidable over the last two weeks, but once they understood how much this was hurting us it became a top priority to help us find a new home. They have now done so in a reasonable and decent manner.
Thank you very much to the whole team at Quality Wine and Spirits.
General Wholesale will be distributing Clown Shoes Beer as soon as we can complete the licensing work, with product planned to ship later this month. This isn’t a one hundred percent certainty, but I’d say we are at the 1 yard line and about to break into the end zone, in terms of having a finalized agreement.
General Wholesale is a large beer wholesaler (they sell Heineken, Corona, etc.) that has been making strides in developing a craft portfolio, as well as a team to promote craft beer.
The team at General (and yeah this may sound corny) was like the cavalry arriving during a dark hour. They not only have managed to keep all parties whole in this transaction, they have also laid out a road map to develop our brand that we find reasonable. We are growing. They are growing , and more importantly they are improving. Everyone is willing to be flexible and all of us know business needs to be earned, not taken for granted.
Georgia, we love you and, quite unexpectedly, it appears we will be shipping beer to you again as early as next week.
To all who have offered their support and assistance this week, we want you to know that at Clown Shoes we could not be more grateful.