Clown Shoes brewery makes N.J. debut

Lenape grad 'connects to his roots' for Mohawk House event

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  • Photos by Scott Baker Bartender John Schlaffe filling a growler at the Mohawk House in Sparta.

  • Clown Shoes' launch party.

  • A growler of Clown Shoes.

Beer drinkers in New Jersey have a new reason to clown around.

Feb. 12’s Mohawk House tap takeover marked the Ipswich, Mass. brewery’s first event in the state. It was also a homecoming, of sorts, for Matt Smith, the brewery’s director of operations and former Andover resident.

Though the impending snow storm conflicted with plans for his actual presence, Smith said “it meant a lot” to have the official New Jersey release in Sparta, one of his old “stomping grounds.”

A 1999 graduate of Lenape Valley Regional High School, Smith earned a degree in marketing at Rutgers before moving to the Boston area in 2007 to pursue a career in the music industry. While the music career didn’t pan out, a passion for great beer and homebrewing eventually led Smith to Gregg Berman — the son of a local liquor store owner who hoped to start a microbrewery.

Four years later, with Clown Shoes already an international brand, the beer is now available in Smith’s home state.

Home is where the humor is
Smith promises that Clown Shoes is very serious about their beer, “but the branding and imagery were designed to make people laugh.”

Beer styles under the brand name include "Hoppy Feet," a black India pale ale (IPA); "Muffin Top," a Belgian tripel IPA; "Chocolate Sombrero," a Mexican-style chocolate stout; and "Undead Party Crasher," an American imperial stout — all of which have humorous bottle art to go along with the unorthodox name.

“It’s how we introduce people to our brand,” Smith said, putting his marketing degree to good use.

If two beers next to each other on the self are similar in flavor and price, he adds, the branding is going to steer the consumer to one over the other.

“Ratings darlings”
Part of the reason Clown Shoes finally made it to New Jersey was the brewery’s teaming up with Peerless Beverage Company, a local distributor.

The beers are a “ratings darling,” said Brian Quinn, director of brand development for craft and specialty imports for Peerless.

He chose the Mohawk House for the inaugural event for the bar’s reputation with beer aficionados.

“It’s one of the best craft beer bars in the state and we thought it would be a great place to kick it off,” he said.

It was all in a day’s work for Mohawk House owner Steve Scro.

“What I help do is spearhead the campaign for great beer in New Jersey,” he said. “When somebody new comes into New Jersey, they like to showcase their efforts at Mohawk House.”

The local connection makes it even sweeter for Scro and company, as the bar has a reputation for their ever-expanding “love your locals” selections.

Clown Shoes’ next event will be held Feb. 20 at the Morris Tap and Grill. For more information, visit

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