Redux Review 0014: Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer Imperial Stout (2012)

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A couple weeks ago, I asked you to select the next beer for a redux review, where I take a second look at a beer that I’ve previously reviewed, usually produced in the same year but with age. In another close vote, Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer won out, a beer that was brewed to celebrate the second anniversary of the young Clown Shoes, contract brewed by Mercury Brewing Company in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

After shying away from Clown Shoes beers at first, I began to review them with some regularity last year — don’t let your like or dislike for label artwork influence your decision about a beer. Several of the Clown Shoes offerings, including Vampire Sayer, have rated very highly. Vampire Slayer features smoked malts; hickory and ash are used in the smoking process, and it’s also brewed with holy water, which is more of a gimmick than a serious ingredient. The beer clocks in at 10% ABV (alcohol by volume), and was bottled in February 2012, making it 22 months old.

In my initial review, which was conducted when the beer was four months old (my 171st review), I gave the beer 94 points. Here’s a snapshot:

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Appearance: 13 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 33 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 33 of 35 points

Final Score: 94 points, or outstanding on my rating scale.

Clown Shoes still produces this beer; however, let me reiterate that the bottle I’m reviewing today is from the original first-run batch. Let’s get to it and see how it has transformed.

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The pour delivered up a small, tan head that quickly diminished. It was soapy in texture atop a pitch black beer; Imperial Stout, indeed. Held in bright light, there are some lighter chocolate brown tints to be found, especially around the edges. The body appeared clear as I poured, and there were no particles or sediment. Lacing seems different on this second take, only forming a couple of isolated pods of foam, whereas the initial tasting laced up the glass with much thicker, consistent suds.

The nose continues to be a notable exhibit of dark chocolate; thick, creamy notes of layered and luscious dark chocolate mix with lighter tones of sweet caramel with hints of black coffee. The smoke level seems to have increased but when added with the chocolate and coffee, you’ve got a winning, inviting combination. There’s no attempt at balance here, but that’s okay given the style; this is a robust beer that completely hides the 10% alcohol.

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On the taste, multiple layers of dark chocolate hit followed by a grapey/raisin dark fruit that is jammy and starts to bring out complex notes of berry from the dark chocolate. It’s really nice and then changes up with the large presence of smoke hits; initially, it dominates, woodsy campfire that subsides into burnt coffee sweetened with caramel. The smoke ramps back up again toward the finish but it’s pleasant this time, issuing forth a nice bittersweet finish that rests on dark chocolate, coffee, and woodsy smoke. While full-bodied, Vampire Slayer is a medium (and on the low end) in mouthfeel, with a foamy texture when swirled in the mouth.

Quick checklist: easily drinkable, hides the alcohol, nice flavors. Digging deeper: the smoke level on the flavor has doubled since the initial tasting, and that has caused the bitterness on the finish to rise. Also, the dark fruits have increased, taming down the heavy-hitter that made this beer so great initially, the dark chocolate. Honestly, I’m splitting hairs. I think this brew is a little better fresh, but I enjoyed both versions and would certainly recommend you buy this either fresh or covered in cobwebs.

In redux:

Appearance: 13 of 15 points
Aroma: 15 of 15 points
Flavor and Palate: 32 of 35 points
Drinkability and Overall Experience: 32 of 35 points

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer Imperial Stout (2012), 92 points. Price: $7.99 US for one 22 oz. bomber size bottle.

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