Off Color co-founder John Laffler’s a brewing vet, formerly of Goose Island and Metropolitan Brewing (where he met Off Color’s other half, Dave Bleitner); he knows the mold of a solid brewing business. But for his own Chicago outfit? He decided to take some risks.
“We were pitching our beer to investors and no one knew what the hell [a gose] was, so we just called it a blended wheat beer,” Laffler recalls. That lemony-salty beer, called Troublesome, isn’t a one-off or a seasonal; it’s the flagship. The second mainstay is Scurry, an even lesser-known German-style, kottbusser, brewed with honey, molasses and oats. Special releases continue to fly in the face of the ubiquitous blonde/pale ale/IPA brewery portfolio: Biere De Garde Dog, a French-style farmhouse ale, arrives this winter, as will Dinosmores, an imperial stout with graham flour, marshmallow fluff, vanilla and cocoa nibs.
Troublesome’s not been troublesome at all; Off Color is growing quickly, and earning real clout. Fans are now gulping the beers in 23 states, and earlier this year, Off Color poured at the exclusive, taste-making Copenhagen Beer Celebration. The guys have also collaborated with luminaries like Prairie Artisan Ales and Three Floyds, and this winter, they’ll return to Denmark with a barrel-aged Swedish-style gotlandsdricka (a smoky, juniper-spiked farmhouse ale) to tap at Mikkeller Bar.
LAFFLER’S EVERYTHING-BUT-REGULAR REGULARS:
“For the gose, we do two fermentations: One is a super-sour, unpleasant acidic beer, and then we blend it with a really boring wheat beer. Salt adds more mouthfeel than flavor; if you know it’s there, you’ll get a touch of brine. Some people drink it and say, ‘This isn’t a gose,’ but that’s because Americans have decided you need to have enough salt in the style to go blind.”
“This is a German dunkel kottbusser. We use lots of dark Munich malts, so there’s dark chocolate, and a fair amount of oats for a silky mouthfeel. We brew it with honey and molasses to get a sweet aroma, but then it ferments bone-dry, creating the sensation of sweetness. When people say, ‘It’s so sweet,’ I think, ‘Yes, gotchya!’”
“It’s a dry-hopped farmhouse ale, and the hoppiest beer we make. The beer shows that, even with hops, fermentation can still be front and center. When it’s fresh, it’s a new approach to a saison. When it ages, white pepper and funkiness emerge. As the hops fade away, the phenols come out and it has a great mustiness.”