At Notch Brewing, owner Chris Lohring can be found brewing up a storm of low-ABV ambers, IPAs, and Czech-style lagers. But if you’ve stopped by lately, you might have noticed one beer that breaches his sessions-only mantra.
Currently on draft at Notch is a black currant saison by Dan Lipke, head brewer at Clown Shoes Beer. The 5.8 percent ABV beer was made in Salem in September, without any intervention from Lohring, to mark the beginning of Notch’s new guest brewer series.
“[It’s] simple—we allow our friends to brew any beer they desire in our brewery,” Notch shares on its website. “Their beer, their recipe, their labor, their name on the board. It’s not a collaboration, but an opportunity for our friends to try something new and explore new territory.”
The first guest beer is billed as a tart, pink saison brewed with black currant purée and hopped with Galaxy. Notch’s website says the decision to bring Lipke in as the inaugural guest was a no-brainer, since he’s been a longtime friend and adviser of Notch. Lohring expects kegs of the Clown Shoes saison to last for another week or two.
A contract brewery, Clown Shoes is by no means new to the area. Since 2009, it has built a reputation for out-there beers, like the Pecan Pie porter, the Space Cake IPA series (the newest iteration celebrates the company’s seventh anniversary), and blending projects like the Hammer of the Beast. It distributes primarily in bottles, but sends out some flagships, like the Whammy Bar IPA, in cans. Clown Shoes can also be found on tap in the Boston area with some frequency, and plans to make a beer exclusively for RFK Kitchen in Needham.
Clown Shoes, owned by Gregg Berman, currently brews the bulk of its beer at Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, which owns Ipswich Ale Brewing. Lipke was the head brewer there for 11 years before joining Clown Shoes full-time last year. To meet demand, Clown Shoes also makes beer at Stony Creek Brewing in Connecticut, and Schmaltz Brewing in New York.
But like many ambitious contract brewers, Clown Shoes is looking to open a full-scale taproom in the next few years. As brand manager Sam Geary recently told Paste magazine, it will be a reality soon enough.
“We’ve expanded our contract model but, for a long-term plan, we’re looking toward our own front door and having a taproom,” he said. “Our website and our email boxes are flooded every day: ‘Can I visit you?’ We’re working on it now.”
The Clown Shoes saison might not survive the hoards of Halloween revelers in Salem much longer, but there’s a lot coming down the pipeline in Notch’s guest series. In November, Chris Tkach of Idle Hands Craft Ales will offer a weizenbock, a strong wheat-based ale. Then in December, the Trillium team will pass through to brew a to-be-determined beer.
After you’ve downed a goblet of the saison, turn your gaze toward one of the many single-hop pale ales Notch has on draft, like the Plenty For All with Mosaic, and Dog and Pony Show with Citra. The brewery’s Czech-style black lager, Černé Pivo, also made its annual, fall debut on store shelves this month.
Notch Brewing, 283 Derby St., Salem, 978-238-9060, notchbrewing.com.
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