Before we dive in, some quick back story. Off Color Brewing opened in Chicago in March 2013, brought to life by two former brewers: John Laffler of Goose Island and Dave Bleitner of Two Brothers. At the brewery’s launch party, a local pastry chef cooked up a batch of dinosaur-shaped s’mores for munching; these treats provided the inspiration for an imperial stout Off Color would later brew in collaboration with Danish brewer Amager Bryghus and venerable Windy City bottle shop West Lakeview Liquors. The beer—flavored with marshmallow fluff, molasses, vanilla beans, graham flour and cocoa nibs—was named Dino S’mores and has been available on draft and in bottles since 2014.
The first iteration of Coffee Dino S’mores, brewed with Chicago-based roasters Quasar Coffee, was released March 2015; the most recent batch was made with Metric Coffee, another local roaster, and went out last month.
The standard Dino S’mores is already a special beer made with many specialty ingredients—can it be improved by adding another? We tried both versions of the brew side-by-side to find out.
No clear advantage here. Both brews are syrup-thick and black as coal, with cinnamon-colored caps that have the appearance of boiling sugar. No complaints with either brew.
The distinction between the two bottles is pronounced. The standard Dino S’mores is primarily sweet and sugary, swirling with a bouquet of blackstrap molasses, graham cracker and marshmallow fluff atop a layer of alcohol and milk chocolate. The coffee-laden version is, well, coffee-laden. Brewed with Sumatran Ibu Rumani beans, the nose exhibits a nutty, fruity blend of blueberries and oily walnut. Once you become acclimated to the coffee, some cocoa and vanilla are noticable below, though compared to the regular version of the beer, the marshmallow note is somewhat lost.
ADVANTAGE: Dino S’mores
Marshmallows and raisins lead the standard brew’s flavor, followed by honey-laden graham cracker. While sugars are certainly part of the flavor’s front, the finish isn’t too sweet, delivering bitterish roast and booze. Drink it warm to allow the marshmallow notes to reveal themselves, and each ingredient in the brew is apparent—which is more than we can say for Coffee Dino S’mores. Once again, beanlike bitterness covers up the other adjuncts and causes the finish to come across somewhat muddled. Restrained, nutty coffee arrives just before the swallow, but it doesn’t get along with the vanilla, oddly, and has completely shrouded the graham cracker.
ADVANTAGE: Dino S’mores
WINNER: Dino S’mores. While the caffeine-spiked version of this specialty stout makes for a lovely coffee beer, you lose what makes its base great: a surprisingly restrained and in-balance blend of adjuncts. Less, it turns out, actually can be s’more.