Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
As you might recall from last week’s column, I’ve been on a serious New England-style India Pale Ale kick these last several weeks. So, with nothing really new in the old refrigerator, I ventured to the beer store to see what I could find. In an effort to select something outside the Philadelphia region – because I know many of you are all over the country – I decided to find a beer that’s actually from New England because, well, that seems only fitting. What I ultimately chose after wandering the aisles was Zen Garden from Clown Shoes Beer.
Originally based just outside of Boston, Clown Shoes was founded in 2009 by Gregg Bartman and within just two years the company began distribution out of state, producing 1,500 barrels. In 2017, Clown Shoes, which is owned by the employees thanks to a stock ownership plan, joined Harpoon Brewing Company’s family and was on pace to produce about 13,000 barrels over the course of that year. Now, Clown Shoes has 10 year-round beers in it’s arsenal and over 25 limited releases, with sales in 28 states and several countries.
The reason I selected this week’s beer was kind of an eeny-meeny-miny-mo situation, though I’ve had two of Clown Shoes’ beers at my local watering hole and remembered they were solid. The design of the can itself is nothing really to write home about, featuring original art of a zen garden with a grim reaper-like skeleton in the middle holding a sickle. There’s no information about the beer listed which, as I often state, is a massive pet-peeve of mine – though it does say it’s 6.75 percent alcohol by volume. Honestly, finding information about this beer online or an official Clown Shoes website, was impossible.
I was pretty optimistic about this beer despite having never tasted it. When I cracked open the can, the smell wasn’t quite as strong as I hoped it would be, though it had a solid hop aroma with notes of pine and what I thought might be mango. It poured like a typical medium-bodied IPA, with a significant amount of carbonation, light head and a orange-red color. It looked like the prototypical NEIPA.
As far as the taste goes, Zen Garden has a nice underlying juiciness flavor with a stronger hoppy taste than some other NEIPAs and just a hint of bitterness on the back-end. I definitely taste those tropical fruits that I smelled. It’s good and easily drinkable, but I wouldn’t say there’s anything here that really makes it stand out in this particular category. Perhaps I’m asking for a little more than I should be.
A four-pack of the 16-ounce pounder cans was $12.50, which is a great price for the quality of this beer. Speaking of quality, the overall rating of Zen Garden on BeerAdvocate is 4.06 and I would probably score it just a little lower, at 7.2 out of 10. It’s good and has nice flavor, but it tastes like a bulk of the other New England IPAs I have had in the past, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – but I might not reach for this beer if there are many other options, even if I can easily drink two or three in one sitting and be content.
Stay tuned for next week, because I might just try something from your favorite brewery.