Clown Shoes Offers Refunds for Infected Beer

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Clown Shoes Beer of Massachusetts is offering refunds for Archdruid, a Barrel-Aged Strong Ale the company says was contaminated by “a small amount of lactobacillus” that made its way into the bottled product. In detailing the refund program, co-owner Gregg Berman joked that it was “pretty Clown Shoes” of them to have fielded requests to make a sour beer for years, only to make their first completely by accident.

WHY IT MATTERS
Clown Shoes claims to have tested the blended product while still in the tank, finding no signs of contamination, but alas, these things happen. From Berman: “The quality control processes we employ have worked to date, but we are aggressively looking into even more sophisticated ways to minimize issues in the future. It would be beyond fantastic if there was a failsafe to prevent contamination of barrel aged products. But there isn’t.”
 
The news comes on the heels of Left Hand issuing a similar recall of 20,000 cases of its vaunted Nitro Milk Stout earlier this week, due to a “foreign yeast strain” that caused excess foaming. Earlier this summer, Goose Island recalled a number of beers from its highly sought after Bourbon County brand line, which were infected—much like with Clown Shoes—by lactobacillus.

Transparency in these moments is always key. By owning the mistake and offering refunds, Clown Shoes is doing the right thing. But being transparent isn’t the only way craft breweries work to ensure these types of quality issues don’t go unsolved. And as more and more breweries continue to experiment with wild beer and barrel aging, it’ll certainly be worth paying attention to what new things they come up with to ensure quality.
 
Out in Orange County, for instance, The Bruery straight up invented another brand. After releasing five beers that, in the company’s own words “didn’t go as planned,” they decided to separate the business into two divisions: The Bruery and Bruery Terreux. Before the distinction, it had produced all its beers under one moniker and one roof. By establishing Bruery Terreux, and shifting production of beers that use funky yeast strains to another facility, the company—literally—distanced itself from the original source of contamination.

In North Carolina, Wicked Weed, too, operates multiple brewing outposts, two of which, including one dubbed the Funkatorium, are dedicated solely to the production of sour beer. When they announced those new facilities, they didn’t mention contamination avoidance as a motivation, but quality control no doubt played a role.
 
Now, the average brewer’s desire to create and innovate in the kitchen far out reaches their financial resources. And getting into a second location is both expensive and time consuming. But as brewers continue to experiment, there will be hiccups like infections along the way. How they deal with them, and in what new ways, has potential to offer new roadmaps for the industry at large.

—Dave Eisenberg

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Clown Shoes Announces refund program for unintentionally soured Archdruid bottles [Beerpulse]