One of the first things Skipknot’s Clown #6 mentions is he is no longer in a band, he is in a culture.
“I’m a leader of a culture, and alcohol has a responsibility behind it,” he states. This is in reference to his recently launched No. 9 Whiskey, one of the many projects he currently has on the horizon.
Despite the bands rambunctious nature and stage antics, Michael Shawn “Clown” Crahan is easy to chat with and quite open to discussing his ways of thinking. Born, raised, and currently residing in Des Moines, Iowa, it was only natural that when the idea came to him to launch a whiskey, he’d look locally for a partnership. That partnership was eventually formed with Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery.
The owner wasn’t initially interested in a partnership, until Clown began talking about his love of art and his admiration of whiskey as a consumer. “I came up with idea of making a bourbon or whiskey so that I could dedicate something timeless and rich to my grandfather, who was from Belgium. I was not directly involved in distilling, but more a taster along the way of different recipes and proofs. I then made decisions based on my experience, and knowledge I gained from others.”
In 2005, Cedar Ridge became the first licensed distillery in the state of Iowa since Prohibition, when owners Jeff and Laurie Quint aimed to follow a long family tradition of Iowa farmers and distillers, including Jeff’s father and grandfather, who produced locally made brandies. It was only natural to use corn as the key ingredient given that Iowa is the corn capital of the world. They tend to focus on whiskeys, more specifically bourbons, and also produce wines from their estate-grown grapes.
In addition to corn from the distillery’s farm in Winthrop, the whiskey gets some extra spice from its rye and barley content (56% corn, 36% rye, and 8% malted barley). The result is a smooth bold flavour that’s achieved by finishing these expressions at higher 90 standard/99 reserve proofs, leading to a more robust, complex sipping whiskey. The standard is barrel-aged a minimum three years, and the reserve a minimum of four.
Technically, these whiskies fall into the “straight-blended” category, according to Jamie Siefken, General Manager/Executive Vice President. “This is actually a rising category right now, which I believe is because of the extra creativity it allows. Given the extreme fluctuations in weather we have here in Iowa, we age all of our whiskey barrels in sheds that are non-temperature controlled. Our climate causes the barrels to expand and contract at a faster rate than an environment with consistency, meaning the whiskey is very active inside the barrel. In my opinion, this is simply the best thing we do. Our whiskey drinks incredible at higher proofs without the normal alcohol perception.”
“Our challenge was to produce a whiskey that represents Slipknot’s style of music; something bold, something with distinguished character, something that you don’t exactly come across every day,” stated Cedar Ridge head distiller Murphy Quint.” This seems to have been achieved, as when the whiskey was officially launched on August 11th, 2019, it went on to sell 8,000 standard cases before year end, including an average of 100 + cases at each of 15 different bottle signing events.
Clown expressed how production goes beyond the whiskey itself, to include both the bottle and label design as well, which is all part of the art. “I designed the label with meticulous artwork. If you look closely you will see a single husk of corn with nine golden kernels (one for each clown in the band).”
Siefken added, “I truly believe the final product represents the band extremely well. The rye brings an aggressive spice and the higher proof adds an edge that’s simply metal!”
Although he’s a purist when it comes to drinking his whiskey, preferring it on the rocks, he does offer up a suggested recipe for those who might want to mix things up a bit. “I go out there a bit. I like to be weird. I like to hydrate while getting dehydrated, and invent crazy drinks. If you are going to mix, you might as well dilute it,” he proclaims.
Here is Clown’s suggested mix for those preferring not to drink No. 9 neat or on the rocks. “I’d add some simple syrup, Red Bull (or other energy drink), RC or Dr Pepper (or something similarly hardcore that has hints of vanilla and molasses), and top it up with ice cubes. It definitely gives you a forward motion,” he admits. Now that’s a drink that Slipknot followers would jump onboard with!
The band has been around in one incarnation or another since the mid-1990s, and have been nominated for 10 Grammy Awards, received 13 Platinum, and 44 Gold record certifications, and has had nearly two billion YouTube views to date. As of 2013, Crahan is the last remaining original member in the band. Their last album, We Are Not Your Kind, was released in August of 2019, with three singles, each accompanied by a video directed by Crahan himself.
It’s not the first time he’s put himself behind the camera, and has showcased his work as both a photographer and filmographer, having published a Slipknot photo album, The Apocalyptic Nightmare, in 2012. He then made his directing debut in 2016 with the film, Officer Downe, based on the graphic novel of the same title. In 2012, he also jumped in front of the camera and made his debut acting appearance in the film, The Devil’s Carnival. As well, outside Slipknot musically, he’s had two side project bands, To My Surprise, and Dirty Little Rabbits, and founded Big Orange Clown Records. In addition, in 2012 he was instrumental in launching Slipknot’s first annual music festival, Knotfest, which also debuted a Slipknot museum. Going back to his initial statement about being in a culture as opposed to a band makes perfect sense now.
So what else can fans expect on the horizon? The simple answer is, quite a lot. “I’m working on a sort of side project concept, Look Outside Your Window, that is neither a band or album name, but more of a mindset. It’s some previously unreleased material we recorded about 10 years ago, around the time of our fourth album release. Myself and three other members (Sid Wilson, Corey Taylor, Jim Taylor) spent time in a house together, and it was a really strange experience, where we envisioned things breaching our privacy and looking in at us from outside (hence the title),” he recalls. “All I can say is that it’s blooming right now. I want to say its close, but I can’t say too much.”
He also mentioned he’s working on a documentary based around their 2019 performance at the Iowa State Fair, where the band broke an attendance record held previously by Sonny and Cher, back in 1972. When asked about more booze collaborations, such as perhaps a beer, he divulged that it’s a good possibility. “Everyone has gone crazy with beer, but I’m going to elsewhere. I’ve always been fascinated by beer making. It’s an acquired taste, but what if it didn’t have to be an acquired taste,” he ponders. “My go-to beer is a good cold Budweiser. I find comfort in familiarity.”
Clown claims there are “other things stirring up in the atmosphere,” as he’s always “working toward the future that is unseen.” He loves interacting with his fans, and his hopes are to meet as many as possible in the future at events such as liquor store tastings, bar takeovers, and the band’s concerts and events. He mentioned recently he was in a local shop and was looking for No. 9 on the shelves, when another shopper pointed to it and said, “That stuff is so smooth.” Clown chuckled knowing that the shopper didn’t recognize who he was as he wasn’t wearing his mask. It just goes to prove, when it comes to good whiskey, there’s no clowning around.
No. 9 Iowa Whiskey (90 proof) retails for $39.99, and No. 9 Reserve Iowa Whiskey (99 proof) retails for $69.99. The product is currently available at select retailers in 20 states, and online at the majority of the others (RoselleParkWines.com). Future distribution networks currently being worked on include Canada, Australia, and South America.