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Clown Shoes' Once Upon a Time in the Far East: A Coffee Stout Fit for Dessert

January 02, 2019

By Nathan Mattise, January 02, 2019

Clown Shoes isn’t a Texas brewery, but fans in the Lone Star state could easily make the mistake. In the last few years, these Massachusetts brewers have offered special, available-here-only bottles in some of its most popular markets. (Minnesotans enjoy this perk, too.)

Such state-specific beers tend to draw upon local flavors or lean heavily into regional branding. And for Clown Shoes in Texas, this has led to a series of stouts with some striking bottle art done in the style of vintage Westerns: The Good, The Bad, and The Unidragon or A Fistful of Unidragon, for example. One of the latest in this lineage is Once Upon a Time in the Far East, an imperial stout brewed with Vietnamese coffee.


The Western-themed label features label artist Michael Axt in an Eastwood-ian throw cape as brewer Dan Lipke kneels in the middle. Cracking open the bottle, Once Upon a Time almost looks like dessert at first sight. The beer has distinct chocolate tones (chocolate bars, not chocolate milk or some other derivative) and an appealing brown shine where liquid meets pint glass.


The beer's aroma keeps that theme going: While malt certainly makes its presence known, a pleasant combination of coffee and vanilla obviously won this scent shootout.  

Once Upon a Time offers a deceptively drinkable gateway into coffee stouts.”


Once Upon a Time certainly doesn’t qualify as a light beer—12% ABV and chocolate ain’t transparent—but using Vietnamese coffee clearly has an effect. This beer has a sweetness to it, reminiscent more of coffee ice cream than a typical morning brew. It feels slightly syrupy going down, but the familiar bitter aftertaste of coffee gets replaced by a pleasant creaminess from the Vietnamese coffee’s sweetened condensed milk. A hint of some dark fruit (fig? plum?) may surface as you sip and savor, but Once Upon a Time offers a deceptively drinkable gateway into coffee stouts.


Clown Shoes already has a stout brewed with Vietnamese coffee (Moon Bear), but that’s a milk stout and some drinkers find it too milky. Starting with a much stronger beer base in its imperial stout, Clown Shoes finds the middle ground—an excellent balance between creamy dessert and aggressively bitter post-meal espresso.

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