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.