Blimp (Clown Shoes Brewing Company)
Style: Imperial Red Ale aged in Chardonnay Barrels
From: Ipswich, MA
Brewery’s Note: “Look there, floating over idyllic Belmont, that’s a non-rigid airship. it’s got metric tons of helium packed in an inflatable envelope, it’s the Clown Shoes Blimp! This Imperial Red Ale was aged in CA Chardonnay barrels for two of the best human beings: Kate and Suzanne, of Craft Beer Cellars. Folks, step on up, have yourself a Blimp!”
The beer pours a rich, deep ruby; almost the color of cherry liquor. A small, sand-dune white head of tightly packed bubbles forms above the beer and quickly fizzles to leave a scrim. When twirled, the beer clings hopelessly to the sides of the glass, swiftly sliding back to the reformed head and leaving only dots of lacing behind. In body, the beer is a deep, dark color, yet is translucent with a lovely clarity. This beer looks gorgeous in the glass, despite its mild head. It’s a looker. On the nose, it’s a weird bird. There is that stale bread crust and brown sugar note that you get with a redder barleywine/strong ale, a touch of nettles and herbal hops, and a sweet, almost sickly tinge that bounces from metallic to citrus and briefly to tropical fruit. The odd smell must be the result of the Chardonnay barrels, but it really does not hit my nose like chardonnay… Smooth, oaky vanilla is also present on the nose. On the tongue, the beer tastes softly of bready sweets, slowly growing to incorporate light herbal hop bitters, layers of oak barrel tannic bitters, and then rich roasted malts that blend bitterness with more rich bready sweetness. Subtle acidity comes in with the hop bitters, and tangoes gently until the finish, where the beer falls apart with a rotted sweet tinge that must be related to that odd smell. The aftertaste is oxidized sweet, though it travels to slightly bitter paper as it sits. The rotted sweetness is briefly pleasant and fruity, somewhere on the tropical spectrum, but it builds to clash with the rest of the beer, becoming sickly sweet and not as appetizing. In flavor this beer begins delicious and complex, with even notes of stoutish roast, but then the rotted sweetness bulls in to ruin the finish. The beer pulls itself together in the aftertaste to offer taught, tannic herbs and hops. In the mouth, the beer feels on the heavier side in body, with a mild, silky mouthfeel and just a fizzle of carbonation, when the beer leaves the tongue is left tightly astringent, though the front and back feel differently. The front feels wet with spittle while the back of the tongue is dry and arid. Spittle puddles in gloops all along the mouth, harkening to the weird acidity in the beer. Overall, this beer doesn’t quite do it for me. It has some really nice aspects, but it falls apart with its rotted sweetness. Honestly, rotted sweetness isn’t quite the right descriptor for what it is, either. There is acidity at play, and there is a lot of clashing with the lush barrel and malt character of the beer. I like it more as it opens in the glass, actually, as the sweetness subsides lightly, but this one was still a miss from Clown Shoes by my measure. Too bad, too. The beer was brewed in honor of the Craft Beer Cellars, which are an awesome group of stores that are keeping the ‘home town bottle shop’ vibe while spreading across the US, and ensuring that every region has a carrier of good beer. The beer does not live up to the bottle shops. I’d chalk this up to a bad experiment, but I honestly only taste oakiness and no other hint of Chardonnay peeps through. The sickly sweetness is more in line with a bad Pinot Gris, but even that is not a perfect analogy.