A brewery’s tap handles are its mark. They make a statement about the brewery’s identity. The row of handles is often the first thing a beer drinker looks at when walking into a bar. A distinctive handle instantly alerts consumers to the brewery’s presence in the lineup and draws them in to purchase a pint.
And so it was curious when I walked into the recently opened Clockwerks Brewing and saw a row of handles appropriated from other breweries. Rather than expressing the steampunk aesthetic of Clockwerks, there they were, boldly declaring the brand identities of Abita, Alaskan, Goose Island, Tallgrass, Odell and Sam Adams, but painted gold as though an attempt had been made to hide the fact.
What does it say about a brewery that gives so little thought to such an important brand identifier? The appropriation of other’s branding certainly raises questions about the owners’ ethics – not to mention the potential legal issues involved. Tap handles are the property of the brewery that produced them – reuse is theft. Tap handle design is protectable under trademark law, raising the ugly specter of infringement lawsuits.
But to me this omission sends a more important and disturbing message. By neglecting this important detail of identity, the proprietors are signaling, “We don’t care.”
The space at Clockwerks has a similarly appropriated feel. It’s not an unpleasant space – although the combination of dim, yellow-tinged lighting and copper/gold, metallic paint did make it somehow difficult on my eyes. But it feels unfinished. It’s as though the steampunk vision has been vaguely superimposed onto a room intended for another use. The look is there in the color scheme and clockwork wall sculpture. But touches like exposed mechanicals, Edison lightbulbs and fixtures made of plumbing pipe are so commonplace now that they don’t really take it where I, at least, want it to go. Steampunk is a busy aesthetic filled with anachronistic excess. Missing are the gaudy Victorian era gewgaws and shining brass Rube Goldberg contraptions. Just a few small touches of this type would complete the theme. It’s like the tap handles. If steampunk is your identity, do it all the way. Detail. Identity. But maybe that’s just me.
Clockwerks’ website is another piece that suggests a lack of attention to detail and concern. Unless there is some secret navigation that I can’t find, it consists of just a cover page with the logo, address and open hours. There is no information about the beers, events, menus, history, or anything else. The Facebook page reveals more, but even there the information is limited.
What about the beer? The focus at Clockwerks is lower-alcohol, sessionable ales and lagers. I was there on two consecutive nights and drank a number of the available beers. Once common theme tied them all together – fermentation issues.
Any brewer worth their salt will tell you that fermentation is the most important step in brewing. The entire process of brewing is all about creating the best environment for yeast to do its thing. Fermentation effects every aspect of beer character from color and body to malt character, sweetness and the expression of hop flavor and bitterness. Proper attention to fermentation is critical.
Attenuation is the term that refers to the amount of sugar that yeast consumes during fermentation. Under-attenuation – or incomplete fermentation – leaves behind a high level of residual sugar, resulting in a sticky-sweet beer that tastes like wort. It is the most common flaw that I find among “craft” brewers. Without exception under-attenuation was the signature character of the beers I tasted at Clockwerks. Other fermentation related issues can included excessive fruity esters and buttery diacetyl. These were also present.
I wasn’t actually there as a writer, so I didn’t take detailed notes. That’s also why I regrettably don’t have any pictures. But here are my quick recollections of a few of the beers I tried.
Kölsch – Three shades too dark for the style, under attenuated, overly fruity, diacetyl, too much toasted grain character, not enough bitterness or hop character.
ESB – Under attenuated, overly fruity, diacetyl, not enough hop bitterness or flavor.
Rye Pilsner – Under attenuated, diacetyl
Alt – Under attenuated, diacetyl, not enough hop bitterness of flavor.
Witbier – Under attenuated, overly fruity, heavy for the style
25 North 4th Street
Minneapolis, MN 55401