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North Shore Brewer Responds To Controversy Over "Sexist" & "Racist" Labels

BOSTON/IPSWICH (CBS) - An up-and-coming local craft beer maker is laughing off accusations that its labels are sexist, racist, and downright offensive.

The company is called Clown Shoes, so as you'd expect, they try not to take themselves too seriously.

The North Shore company's founder, Gregg Berman, says that easy-going philosophy can best be seen in the names the brewer chooses for its products.

"We try and find something that is entertaining and humorous," Berman says. "A little edgy and provocative, but we're really not looking to go extreme or insulting or offensive. We're looking to engage people with our sense of humor."

WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong reports.

Some of Clown Shoes' names and labels are certainly provocative: "Tramp Stamp", "Brown Angel", and "Lubrication" (and the artwork that accompanies them) are meant to catch the eye and entice a shopper to buy.

But, those names and pictures are getting the company some unwelcome attention.

This week, someone at the influential Cambridge-based took offense. The debate is brewing around a post on the Beer Advocate website by Candice Alström, the site's Director of Events and Promotions.

It read, "I took a lot of crap from people because I felt like the (brewer's first) label was tacky and borderline sexist or racist." It goes on to chastise the company over a number of "classless" labels that followed, saying if the beer was good, the company shouldn't need to resort to gimmicks to sell it.

That kicked off a furious debate with hundreds of postings, until the site shut it down. That debate continued on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites frequented by beer aficionados.

"It keeps reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously and have humility and continue to have respect for our craft," Berman said. "Honestly, our branding is silly. It's meant to be fun and engaging but it's silly."

The woman who designed the label, Stacey George, says there's absolutely nothing sexist about the images she created. She responded on her blog by acknowledging that some people were going to be offended, but pointing out that the urban dictionary defines clown shoes as "something that is ridiculous in its appearance or existence."

Matt Gamble, the company's Director of Operations, says he understands the labels get all the attention, but he'd rather Clown Shoes just be known for putting out a good product.

"The first impression you get is this is great beer, and then the labels are secondary. They're meant as lighthearted jokes about society or the industry," said Gamble.

No one at would go on camera to talk about this story. An initial e-mail from the site's founder suggested that the controversy stemmed from genuine consumer-based displeasure with the labels and names. But, when it was pointed out that the anti-Clown Shoes posting was in fact written by the site's Director of Events and Promotions (and wife of one of the founders), Founder Todd Alström responded "The only official BeerAdvocate posts on our website come from my brother and I. Anything else is simply ... not from us."

Clown Shoes also responded to the firestorm of sorts that Alstrom created; offering an over-the-top tongue-and-cheek response on its Facebook page. It reads in part:

Dear Beer Consumers,

We would like to take this opportunity to apologize to each and every one of you.

We are sorry for forcing everyone to have to endure the huge amounts of physical and psychological trauma we have caused by putting pictures of robots and cartoon women on our beer labels. God forbid you manage to actually open the bottle after seeing the horribly offensive labels because, as we all know, beers with an average rating of B+ are not even that good and shouldn't be drank by anyone...

...-Tramp Stamp will be renamed "Lower Back Tattoo" to avoid any conflicts with the NAWWRGTS (National Association of Women Who Regret Getting Tramp Stamps)

-Lubrication will be renamed "Slippery Petroleum Byproduct" so that no one will ever think of a dong when they see it

WBZ-TV's Jim Armstrong contributed to this report.

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