THE EDITOR’S DESK :: Adventuring with Deschutes, Clown Shoes, & Hoppin’ Frog

by Harvey Gold on July 2, 2014

unnamedI was having some friends over, which always gives me, still a cheap date, the opportunity to buy interesting new offerings in 22s and 750mls and share, sometimes getting interesting takes from my friends, sometimes ignoring them, but being able to try a couple or three without getting hammered.

On this occasion, of my three pals, none of them were IPA aficionados, one a fan, almost exclusively , of big dark malty ales and stouts, the second happy with quality “whatever,” the third a drinker of almost anything, period, with the exception of IPAs. So I picked up, as the baseline beverage of the evening, a six of Rail Dawg smoked black lager, a tasty treat I discovered from Thirsty Dog Brewing when it was released in a bottling alongside their Citra Dawg, both having been reviewed here, both very much liked. So everyone was happy.

But the two bottles that piqued my curiosity for tasting were IPAs…sort of. The first was Muffin Top from Clown Shoes in Ipswich, Massachusetts. A few years ago the name Clown Shoes was submitted to a Beer Advocate contest by Ringmaster Gregg Berman…and lost. Undaunted, one day while driving around, Greg decided he would brew his own (funny?) beer, hoping it would be tasty, but KNOWING it would be called Clown Shoes. Fortunately, his was a proper Clown Car, as the beer was, indeed, tasty, so he packed a bunch of his pals in to help and started spewing out a lot of beer, all crafted with a sense of whimsy, a quality that floats nicely in the world of craft brewing.

2012-05-28-clown-shoes-intNow the label alone, a sure Hall of Famer, would have been enough for me! I would have been happy just knowing Greg created a Clown Alley for the purpose of brewing! But, in Muffin Top he created a Belgian-Style Tripel IPA that is delicious. As noted here more than a few times in the past, I have become a real fan of Belgian beers, and the IPA is what originally sucked me into the world of craft beer, so this combo is always intriguing. This one poured with a nice IPA nose, and a solid creamy head. The flavor is wonderful. Big at 10% ABV, this has a balance that belies the big alcohol. While the name presumably speaks to the calories, the meatiness and the yeast, the flavor is one of citrus. As a tripel, not so much the coriander and cloves we associate with such beers, but enough spice and orange intertwined with the big hop floral citrus that it presents far far more than what I view as the pretty pedestrian orange Belgian-esque Blue Moon and Shock Top. They don’t publish an IBU number, but it is surprisingly smooth on the end with less bitterness than one might expect, leading us to think of it first, less as an IPA and very much as a super hoppy tripel, and fondly so.

Next up was a “new” brew from Deschutes Brewery in Bend, Oregon—Hop in the Dark C.D.A. at 6.8% ABV, described as follows:

“From the Nothing’s Sacred Pacific Northwest comes a whole new beer style: Cascadian Dark Ale. Welcome to the curious place where the velvet dark of roasted malt meets the hop snap of IPA.”

indexAnother cool label, The nose, for me was hoppy but with a hint of malt. One pal immediately sniffed, sipped, and chirped “IPA!” While this is true, for the most part, I found the malt influence going beyond just darkening the brew as is often the case of dark lagers and IPAs. The mouthfeel was relatively light, very much in the area of a staunch IPA or heavier dark lager, and the nature of the sweetness certainly spoke some to the malts. There was a moment, however, when the bitter (75 IBU) hit on the back, particularly following the low bitter Muffin Top, presenting as an IPA with dark black coffeee coming up from underneath. Whether this was a correct read or not, I found it made this an interesting and recommended offering. I don’t know that this establishes American Black Ale as a new genus, but Hop in the Dark is definitely one such ale worth drinking.

One final Belgian IPA experience came at the very nice brewpub of the highly awarded Hoppin’ Frog Brewery. A couple years ago we reviewed The Art of Ale, a tasting at The Akron Art Museum. On that night there were two brews sampled from Hoppin’ Frog that knocked me out, and these I wanted to revisit. So while waiting for one pal to arrive, I had a little 5 ouncer of their Barrel Aged Outta Kilter Scotch Red. I’ve always been a Wee Heavy fan and recalled my delight in seeing the fresh version of this at the tasting, later coming to appreciate it more when I discovered, while touring Scotland, that this designation of beer has become old school rare.

Jerk Chicken Tacos

Jerk Chicken Tacos

This iteration was unusual in that they took this Wee Heavy and aged it in Kentucky Bourbon barrels, but barrels that had already been used to age their (again, award winning) big bad stout, Boris the Destroyer. This produced a really unique flavor, the barrels offering that bourbon harmonic, but only a harmonic, the big bourbon sweetness modified by the dryer stout that had been in residence in these barrels prior to the Wee Heavy. Delightful and not heavy handed at all, coming from a brewer that typically offers BIG beers in BIG bottles. An excellent beverage.

When all had arrived I ordered wonderful, filling, jerk chicken tacos with a mango salsa, served with homemade chips (much tastier than the pic I took here). To accompany it, after working their brains around my request, the bartenders found the beer I was looking for, again originally tasted at the Art of Ale. This was my first Belgian IPA, and it was in the brew pub’s lovely “Vintage” section, Hop Master’s Abbey Belgian style Double IPA. I offered tastes to my mates, but THIS was one 22 I was going to drink! I remembered it as a pretty spicy Belgian with the lovely cut of hops, the wonderful mix of the spice, the citrus, and the floral. Interestingly, on this night, aged as it was (5 years), it had changed.

unnamedA quick digression. This brew pub is great. Music is played, people are happy and responsibly respectful of the remarkable quality of these high alcohol beverages. A true craft brew pub. Chef Shawn Sweeney, a very nice guy, came out and we talked about the tacos.The dark meat chicken had been prepared in such a way that, amazing flavor aside, there was a dry, meaty texture to it, more like duck than what can be, for me, a little too wet and slippery of a texture in dark meat chicken. Then master brewer and owner of Hoppin’ Frog, Fred Karm also came by and sat with us as we dug into this Double IPA. We all (Scott, our bartender had a taste as well) agreed the ale had changed over the years, traveling from having been a very spiced Belgian to more of an Abbey style, the yeast playing a bigger part, the hops dropping back in the mix as well. At this point I really didn’t think in terms of it being better or worse for the wear, but wondered over how greatly the ale evolved based on it’s components. Delicious, refreshing, and most of all… really interesting.

So from dancing with Clown Shoes in the dark, from IPAs to CDAs, Clown Cars to vintage beer “cellars,” these were some successful, fun, and colorful drinking adventures.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carol, the beer doctor July 22, 2014 at 10:26 pm

Thanks, Harvey. This is the most esoteric lineup I have ever seen! I will keep on the lookout for these rare brews. You make them all sound so delightful I gotta taste.

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