For a brief moment, Chicago, you were living in a wonderland of locally produced s'more-themed beers. Did you miss it?
The s'more party started when Pipeworks' S'more Money, S'more Problems came out mid-winter, and newcomer Cahoots Brewing followed up with their No S'more imperial stout last month. Then there's Off Color Brewing's Dino S'mores, which has been available for the last couple months, and I was just able to try it this week.
After starting off strong with under-represented styles like their Troublesome gose and Scurry kotbusser, a sweet and sticky Russian Imperial Stout seems somewhat mainstream for an Off Color release. Brewer John Laffler explained that it's a recipe that's been floating around since before Off Color even existed. Laffler originally made it with Danish brewery Amager as a collaboration with Kristina Bozic at West Lakeview Liquors.
"We made it and we released it and we looked around, and we're like, 'Well, shit. We're out alongside two other s'mores beers,'" Laffler says. "So this beer that I fuckin' brewed like a year ago and have had formula approval sitting out forever... Yeah, it's funny how the market works like that sometimes."
In my experience, not all beers deliver the the promise of the name on the label. But with this beer, while I can't claim I know what dinosaur tastes like, the s'mores part is spot on. All it's missing is the campfire.
More than anything, this beer is a testament to how sexy a beer can taste. Before we even get to the flavor, let's talk about how just the body of the beer alone is velvet-Elvis-smooth; black and syrupy and capital-R Rich. It's practically silken from, as Laffler puts it, the "fuck-ton of oats" in the grain bill along with a massive amount of hand-stripped vanilla beans—28 man hours worth of effort went into getting those in there—that adds "a lusciousness that's hard to get anywhere else." Pour this on the bar and you feel like you could smear it with a spatula.
Sweetly aromatic and candy-bar delicious, the vanilla matches with graham cracker from the flour and the malt, and then it's savory chocolate all the way down. It's not however, a beer that's chock full of actual s'more ingredients, even though there are marshmallow and graham cracker in there.
"Marshmallows are basically just... corn syrup, artificial vanilla extract and gelatin," Laffler says. "Is there some of that in there? Yes, because legally there has to be [to include it on the label]. But like 98% of the flavor comes from the vanilla beans themselves. Mostly it's just aromatics. So you give people the aroma, aroma is like 85% of taste. The mash is by no means half graham crackers or anything like that. We can create those flavors through malt selection."
Dino S'mores can be found on draft and a small release of bottles will follow as well. Plus, a small amount of barrel-aged beer will be ready when it's ready.