Sometimes, a Pipe is Just a Pipe

Meeting on the Mound
Meeting on the Mound

Last night, my friend, Cathie, invited me and my son to join her and her daughter for the Sox vs. Jays game at Fenway. We had amazing seats, first base line, 7th row, you could almost touch the players, it was too much fun.

About halfway through the 4th inning my phone started buzzing with Facebook posts and text messages all related to this article on The post was referring to a kerfluffle on Beer Advocate in which a contributor to the site launched a full out rant aimed at my client, Clown Shoes Beer, and their sexist, racist labels. The diatribe resulted in a 350 comment thread in which people both agreed with the original post or defended Clown Shoes’ right to be, well, clownshoes. It also included a comment in which the original poster quoted me out of context and made it seem like I agree with her. The thread was locked before I got home from the game, leaving me with no opportunity to defend myself.

So, this is my response to the question, “Are Clown Shoes’ labels offensive?” Sure. Why not? Offensive is a subjective term. If you look at the labels and find yourself offended, there you go. Do you have the right to say so? Abso-friggin-lutely! Shout it from the highest mountain, or your Twitter account, or your brothers’ website, whatever your bullhorn is, use it, loud and proud. Here, let me loan you a sandwich board and a bell, you can be offended Town-Crier style, I got your back.

I get it. There are things that offend me. For instance, due to an unfortunate misunderstanding of lyrics, I cannot listen to Sublime’s Wrong Way without getting offended. Politicians who proudly misunderstand the basic facts of American History offend me—mostly because they’re too lazy or stubborn to find out the right answers and correct themselves. Those ASPCA commercials with Sarah McLaughlin offend me because they always run them in the middle of South Park, or Tosh.O and then I feel guilty for laughing when we come back from commercial. So, if someone looks at the illustrations I’ve done for Clown Shoes and finds them somewhat distasteful, then you go on with your bad self and be put out. It’s your right.


My labels for Clown Shoes—which were named Best Craft Beer Art of 2011 by—are not illustrated with a sexist intent. For instance, a Tramp Stamp is a tattoo placed on the lower back of a woman to emphasize her sexuality. In Germany, they call it, Arschgeweih, meaning, “Ass Antlers.” Can you imagine if we had named a beer Ass Antlers!? We have nicknames for these tattoos because they have a purpose. The woman who has one is confident in her sexuality and she is enticing the viewer to appreciate her. A woman who is comfortable in her own skin and likes how she looks is a sexy woman. Sexy is not sexist. In fact, sexist is rarely sexy.

Brown Angel is a mix between pin-up girl, Blaxploitation goddess, and hip-hop diva. She was inspired by Pam Grier in Coffy, and Rosie Perez dancing to Fight The Power in the opening of Do The Right Thing. These are powerful women, not victims, and just because they have ethnicity, doesn’t mean the label is racist any more than appreciating a Bettie Page pin-up makes one a white supremacist. As a woman, and an artist, I have a hard time with either of these images being labeled chauvinistic. Chauvinism is an attitude of superiority over the opposite sex. I’m not designing woman who are inferior, I’m designing women who celebrate who they are. So, who is bringing the inferiority? The viewer? The offended? It’s a complicated question.

Finally, and this one made me guffaw, I mean seriously spit take—Clown Shoes Lubrication. Why is Lubrication offensive? Well, first, we’ve got the name. It’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s having some fun, but the label copy pulls it all together, “Lube? Hey, get your mind out of the gutter. Social lubrication, people coming together to unwind, is what we’re talking about.” This is not a dirty joke for the sake of being dirty. Lubrication is an American Black Ale, dark as oil, but at only 6% ABV it’s one of Clown Shoes’ first sessionable beers. The social lubrication marketing gives you an idea what you’re getting in the bottle.

Lubrication illustration
Clown Shoes Lubrication, Full Illustration

Second, the illustration is apparently offensive because of the placement of the gas nozzle. Next time you fill your tank, take note of how high you hold the nozzle, I’m guessing it’s not up by your belly button unless you drive a Hummer. Apparently, our critics saw not a dispenser of fuel, but a “dong.” Yes, their words, not mine. I went to art school. I was taught to say, “phallic symbol.”

Now, let me tell you, when I designed this I was inspired by Ed Ruscha’s gas station paintings, 1950’s sci-fi robots, and by those old Texaco commercials with the jaunty hats and ties. That’s it. You get your car lubed at the service station and a tin-man requires lubrication, it works both ways. The client actually wanted to go sans-illustration for this beer, but I convinced him that it would be inconsistent with the brand and that I had a great idea! Never in my wildest imagination did I think this label would inspire such vitriol! But when you have dong on the brain, you see dong wherever you go, I guess. Ironically, robots don’t even have sex that way, there’s a lot more welding and screaming of 0s and 1s.*

So, there you go. If you find your way to my website because I illustrated some beer labels that started a tiny tempest, you will see that I put a lot of thought and research into offending people and selling beer. I also design yearbooks for elementary schools and websites for stores your mom would probably like. I appreciate this opportunity to respond to my critics and I encourage you all to drink good beer with a sense of humor and an open mind.

46 thoughts on “Sometimes, a Pipe is Just a Pipe”

  1. You are completely awesome!! Love your artwork, and I plan to find this beer to support Clown Shoes. Good luck, and thanks for posting such a thoughtful response.

  2. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, Alcoholic beverage, in order to be approved, assigned and distributed in the State, but have the product’s label approved by a panel within the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. This is to ensure that the label is not offensive or inappropriate. All of Clown Shoes label have been approved. I should know since I stock all of Clown Shoes’ offerings in my gourmet shop. In fact, Tramp Stamp is among the most popular. I wonder what the sales would be like if it was called “Ass Antlers”?

    1. Off topic, where are you located in VA? I’ve been dying to try Clown Shoes and see Stacey’s artwork in person.

      Back on topic, whoever criticized the labels seems to have no understanding of what sexism truly is and has a poor (if any) sense of humor. As Stacey posted on FB earlier today, there are some truly tasteless (and possibly sexist) beer names and logos out there.

      Personally, I can’t wait to see what Clown Shoes comes out with next. 🙂

      1. It’s all over Northern VA – try Total Wine, Westover Market, Whole Foods, etc./

        Kudos to the Artist behind Clown Shoes labels. They’re great. the beer is pretty damn good, too.

  3. I never saw anything in your art but the whimsy you intended. I look forward to your next label.

  4. I support you 100%, and I will have to try the beer. I think the people who are offended have phallic symbols for brains, but as you say, it’s their right to be offended.

  5. As a craft beer lover, and one that focuses on New England craft beers in particular, I find this entire thing a bunch of nonsense. Moreover, there really is zero need for you to defend yourself. Quite frankly, if you were offended, you wouldn’t be drawing/painting such labels. In addition, I would imagine that you are approached by a client (in this case Clownshoes Brewing) with a certain idea. As an independent thinker and business person, you have the option to accept or decline an offer.

    I really hope that people aren’t attacking you directly. If so, they are completely ignorant to the world. Equally as important are those attacking Clownshoes as well. As I will point out on my website, most likely tomorrow, it is really less important what’s on the front of the bottle as is what is inside the bottle. To me, their beers are quite good and speak for themselves. The labels seem to be in fun spirit and without a mean spriti, but that is just my opinion.


  6. While you certainly don’t *need* to defend yourself, I understand the desire to speak your piece – and you’ve done so brilliantly. One of the things that often leads me to try a new brew is whether I find the label to be particularly fun, or beautiful, or creative. When the contents of the bottle are as delicious in my tummy as the corresponding label is to my eyes, it’s like a super-mega-bonus. Not only do these labels jump out at me from their shelves, the beers themselves make my tastebuds quite happy.

    You are so skilled and creative, and Clown Shoes is lucky to have you on board. I only hope that this silly little controversy introduces more people to the product and, of course, to your talent.

    Also, I don’t care what you say, that is one sexy robot.

  7. You go girl! Your labels are wonderful and go hand in hand with the innovative style of clownshoes beer. Keep designing those colorful labels and I will continue to keep drinking CLownshoes.

  8. honestly, i hadn’t heard that people were offended by your artwork. i do listen/observe as to what’s happening in the craft beer community, and am disappointed that some people have nothing better to do than criticize beer labels.

    this does remind me of an incident 5 or 6 years ago, where people became offended by an english beer company who had names/artwork such as “naughty st. nick”, “wicked santa’s helper”, etc. time moves on, and so do people’s priorities.

    i hope you continue to pursue ideas that aren’t necessarily “mainstream”, and that entertain/amuse those of us with open minds. it’s sad but true: the masses are asses!!!!

  9. I saw this link on FB and just love it! Love the article. Love Clown shoes’ response and love your post.

    When I was 14, I had a CCD teacher that railed about subliminal advertising and she showed so many ads that had “dong” in them…and that is when I realized 2 things: 1) she has some problem because she saw every ad as phallic and 2) I really want to go into advertising.

    And I learned that no one is sitting behind a drawing table trying to put a nozzle in a crotch to make it look phallic…


    And you’re artwork is great!

  10. Some people just don’t like art and will find offense in whatever they want. Your artwork is just fine. Screw those you don’t like it. I say create what you want and keep up the good work.

  11. I don’t honestly see why Candice Alstrom got so bent out of shape- the Brown Angel label doesn’t offend me one bit. It’s a work of art, and far better than some of the other labels I’ve seen. But then I’m a bit artsy myself, so I’m more likely to judge a label by its quality than content (unless its full on gross). It seems to me that Candice has a personal grudge against Clown Shoes & Berman, by her reaction to the Lubrication label- totally blown out of proportion & ridiculous, IMO.

    Candice said “I felt like the label was tacky and borderline sexist or racist” and my first thought was does she not want to see people of color on anything? Maybe she’s sexist or racist? I don’t know, but that’s how it came across to me.

  12. As far as I can tell, it’s precisely one person that takes great offense to the labels. I don’t know why, but that person seems to have a vendetta against Clown Shoes as she (repeatedly) blindly singles out Clown Shoes for offensive labels despite a sea of comparables. At this point I think she’s just upset that the world disagrees with her and she stubbornly refuses to admit she might be looking at things the wrong way.

    Beyond her, there are a small handful of people that think the labels are a little sophomoric, but it doesn’t exactly bother that group very much.

    The vast majority of people have no problem with the Clown Shoes labels, and many think they’re well done.

    Personally I think Lubrication is one of the best looking labels I’ve seen in a long time.

    As long as the beer tastes great inside, that’s what matters most.

  13. I found nothing sexist, racist or offensive in your art. Keep up the great work!

    I believe Candice just always has “dong” on the brain, since Todd has a thimble for one and balls the size of peas.

  14. Nice response. I think your artwork is beautiful. I don’t understand Candice’s over-reaction to the labels. Sounded like she has something against Gregg in the first place and she wrongly mixed her own opinion of the labels (which is perfectly to have on its own) with a personal issue she has with him, and used some poor statements.

    I look forward to your future work.

  15. Thanks for defending yourself. I tried defending Clown Shoes on BA, but the Bros and Candice seem to have something against them. I was one who thought Tramp Stamp is a little sophomoric, but far away from offensive. It would not stop me from trying that beer (if it was available in my area). I also thought the Lubrication was sophomoric, but I think that was because I was tainted with the idea of finding the “dong” and thinking it was intentional. I liked everything else about that label. Now that I know that was not the intention, and have learned about “phallic symbols”, I have no issue with it at all, and actually love the label.

    I also have no issue with Brown Angel. Sure it might make some uncomfortable, but no way it was sexist or racist. From Candice’s description I was thinking it was something more along the lines of this:

  16. Stacey,

    Nicely done in the response and equally nicely done on the art work. Some people really need to relax and not look for the racism, sexism, and any other “ism” that is neither intended nor present. Perhaps the detractor(s) need to have a beer and relax. May I suggest a Tramp Stamp? I leave you with the immortal words of Ben Franklin. “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” Keep up the good work Stacey.

  17. Stacey:
    Very few people had any problems with your art. Its basically one crazy moderator on the website Beeradvocate. She whines and cries about anything she doesn’t like. Unfortunately she’s married to the site’s owners so her lunatic rants aren’t immediately deleted.

    1. ^This a thousands times

      Her rant was utterly pointless and would have been deleted if not for her position there.

  18. It really is too bad that this blew up the way it did and there was even a need for you to come on here and defend yourself. Sadly, the staff member over at Beeradvocate who ranted about you and these labels tends to use her role at beeradvocate to slam people she has a problem with while selectively deleting posts (she is a moderator there also) that are not favorable towards her “friends” bars and breweries. It is the reason I stopped going to that joke of a site over a year ago. She runs her mouth and twists peoples words into making herself some kind of victim in every situation. If you read the whole thread you will see a common “I cant even have an opinion about anything” response from her when no one ever told her that….not one person. She is married to one of the people who runs the site so she is allowed to do whatever she wants to over there. I know I am going on and on here but you know what, its cause “I am done” with her (to quote how she started off her own rant). She can slam someone like yourself and you don;t ever have a chance to defend yourself on the thread becasue it gets locked down. Honestly, I am surprised the thread is even still up with her history of deleting (or badly pruning) threads that don’t make her look good. Sorry for the rant here but this kills me, keep up the good work!!!!

    1. Sorry it took you so long to be done with that site.

      It’s not that she’s sexist or racist, it’s that she’s an idiot know-nothing. She doesn’t care about beer, she cares about trying to be “edgy”, running her mouth non-stop on a variety of topics, always incoherently and always without anything to back it up. If she’s called out she gets vicious (and more incoherent) until she calls for her husband or his brother, who in theory run the site, to bail her out and lock things down. Those two consistently let her say whatever she wants on the site, but when she puts her foot in her mouth (which seems to be at least daily) they back away and swear she’s just another person blah blah blah it’s not us it’s her. Spineless cowards who have once again been exposed as hypocrites. They’re a detriment to craft beer, and should simply be ignored. With the constant deleting of content deemed “inappropriate” or, typically, critical of the site and the feebleminded staff of three, the site is almost exclusively devoted to beer traders now and isn’t worth dealing with, largely thanks to her inability to keep her mouth shut until she has something of value to add — probably because it’s unlikely that day would ever come.

      1. As someone who never posted to that site I have to ask, isn’t there another site that where people can gather that offers nearly the same service? Stacey if you feel this is too off topic go right ahead and delete this post – no worries. I just keep hearing comments like this and it confuses me since I assume there are other options out there. But maybe I’m wrong.

        1. There are plenty of sites, each with their own pluses and minuses. The issue, I gather, is that one gets “used” to a site, knows some of the other people posting, develops a sense of community (all good things for the site owner and his ad revenue), and then they’re happy to let one rogue admin ruin that sense of community. The wisest have decamped to greener pastures.

  19. After reading the patently absurd ramblings of one Candace Alstrom, I know that I’m not alone in my utter amazement at her choice of jumping off points to display her barely-concealed, faux-paternalistic brand of racism via projection. “Offensive” is indeed in the eye of the beholder, but after juxtaposing her description of Brown Angel with the reality of the image, it’s hard to find any excuses for the language and manner that she chose to spout her bile-filled “opinions.” But hey, everyone is entitled to their “opinion,” no matter how hate-filled or off base they are, and I’d rather know what a person is really thinking, so I guess I have to say “cheers” to Candace for showing us who she really is.

  20. The style of artwork is fine… unfortunately it is on a lackluster set of beers. Hoppy Feet was worth a 22oz bottle… Eagle Claw Fist was a one pint’r (but not another)… Pecan Porter was a sample (and decided on something else)… haven’t tried anything else from Clown Shoes because there are so many other beers out there to try… regardless of labels.

  21. Stacey is an intelligent and dynamic person. Her response to this situation is direct, honest and filled with humor. Love the creative and intellectual gifts that she has!

  22. Thank you for responding to this beeradvocate cluster with a clear, eloquent rebuttal. Those responsible parties at beeradvocate should be ashamed of themselves for having the audacity to think they have the right to pass judgment on how breweries label and package their products. Anyone who is offended by your wonderful designs clearly doesn’t get it, and should perhaps have a few more beers before launching such a tirade.

  23. Stacey – You might be interested to know that Candice is still taking your words out of context. She repeated the same thing in her recent blog ( and even went so far to insist that she has it correct after someone tried to correct her. Her response was

    As far as the artist weighing in, I was not making it out to be like she was on my side. She said these things in a thread on BA (not the current thread) and I didn’t have it in front of me to quote her verbatim. Either way she still says she had reservations about doing it which I said, and ultimately did do the label because she believed in Gregg and the beer. How is that making it out to be on my side?

    From what you’ve stated I don’t think you had reservations. Did you? I did try to submit a response to that blog and quote your response but I don’t see my comment. Either it’s waiting approval or was deemed inappropriate (I do think I was civil).

    I can see some issues with Tramp Stamp but Brown Angel really throws me. I keep staring at the image and try to find how it can be racist. I just can’t see it. Nothing is exaggerated in my mind. I’m almost looking for something like the baby got back video from Sir Mixalot. I just don’t see it. I keep imagining changing the color to a Caucasian blonde and only being able to find offense in having a bikini girl on the label. It really scares me how someone could find that racist.

    1. Matt, my impression is that Candace is very confident in her opinions. Trying to convince her that she misunderstood me is an exercise in futility and in no one’s best interest. I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts and influences and I leave it to the universe to sort things out. Thanks again!

      1. You are very wise Stacey. For some reason I still think everyone can be reasoned with. I really wish I could stop myself.

        Regarding your work I should say that even though I read I should not like Brown Angel I find myself admiring the work. Maybe it’s because someone says I should be offended that I’ve examined it so closely but the more I do the more I walk away with feeling like it is an artistic expression of a strong powerful female. It’s odd because at face value I feel like I’m supposed to just admire the physical beauty but on closer look I find it to reflect more power and confidence. To be honest I’m more of a computer geek so the artistic stuff is really difficult for me so please forgive me if the words are clumsy.

        Regarding the Lubrication label, I’m intrigued by it’s retro appeal. For some reason it reminds me of the show American Restoration where old things like Coke machines from the 1930s are restored. Part of me enjoys seeing those items restored to how they looked in their prime. Your work on that label strikes a chord in me. It’s like it pays respect to a time of the past … just with robots … which also appeals to the geek in me.

        I haven’t had the chance to even sample the products from CS but now I am kind of eager to seem them roll out a new brew just to see what you can do on the label.

  24. Hey Stacey. I for one love the artwork. I also, can’t stand it when people just shoot from the hip on the faceless impersonal online forum. It must have been frustrating to hear her comments.

    I just wanted to say keep on fightin’ the good fight. I also love art and work with a friend who is an artist to design my beer labels. We also collaborate on concepts. We both like to push things a bit. Check out the Drop Dead Red at

  25. I wonder why Candice doesn’t seem to have a problem with Foothills Brewery’s Sexual Chocolate. I mean clearly that label is sexist, chauvinistic, and blaxplotation! (that’s sarcasm by the way)

    Its been my experience that Candice is almost solely responsible for numerous, long time BA’s for leaving the site because she is constantly doing this exact same thing.

    If she had designed a label like this and somebody else had shared their similar opinion, they would quickly find themselves kick off of BA.

    Beside the fact that they supposedly support all beer. This seemed like nothing more than a petty and personal attack.

  26. Wonderful insight Stacy, you appear to be the polar opposite of Candace. Intelligent, humble, straightforward, logical, polite etc. . .

    Candace is back on beeradvocate. . . after two years, she came back, and banned a user with the combined beer karma of her and Todd combined! All for the audacity to challenge her comment that people should stop being so negative to Sam & Dogfish Head because they are one of us.

    When the user asked why that line of thought didn’t apply to Gregg and Clown Shoes, she told him to hit the road and banned him.

    I guess they’re trying to get a new start in Denver, they burned too many bridges in MA over this Clown Shoes thing and their general attitude.

Comments are closed.