As beer fans descended on the city of Chicago for the annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beers earlier this month, one brewery had something else to celebrate.
Chicago brewery, Off Color Brewing, opened their new Moustrap taproom just a few days before the festival kicked off, making it a destination for many local and visiting beer connoisseurs (myself included).
The resumes of the award-winning brewery’s owners list some heavy-hitting names in the Illinois brewing community. Co-owners John Laffler and Dave Bleitner met while studying at the Siebel Institute and both spent time working with Metropolitan. They went their separate ways, Laffler continuing on to Goose Island and Bleitner to Two Brothers, before joining back up to launch Off Color in 2013.
The demand for Off Color’s often historically inspired beers has been growing. According to the brewery’s social media and bottle shop manager, Ben Ustick, the demand for their popular Apex Predator farmhouse ale was an impetus for building a second facility. With nearly 80% of the original Dickens Ave facility’s 8,000 barrel capacity occupied by Apex Predator production, there was little space for the more experimental and wild fermented beers they wanted to explore.
The original production brewery will continue to operate concurrently with the Mousetrap location at 1460 N Kingsbury Street. However, the additional space will allow for more experimentation, something that is important to Laffler as the responsibilities of owning a brewery often distract from creating. As Ustick mentions, “An artist doesn’t stop painting.”
The highly anticipated second location, located not only serves as a gorgeous taproom and bottle shop, it also provides an additional 2,000 barrel capacity space to produce wild fermented projects without risking contamination of their other products. While the brewhouse in the new space is the same size as its predecessor, the slower turns of the wild fermented products will keep the system fairly occupied.
Built in a former train station and later paint-factory, the space itself is immaculate, complete with walls beautifully hand-tiled by the staff, exposed brick walls, and huge windows with views of the brewery. Off Color doesn’t have a kitchen but you can use their red phone to order pizza to the taproom. In addition to their own products, the taproom offers a variety of guest draughts and custom cocktails. If that’s not enough for you, grab some swag and a four-pack to go at their bottle shop on the way out.
Off Color Brewing does not follow trends, that has been made abundantly clear. While the demand for IPAs continues to grow, Off Color continues to exclusively brew what they are passionate about. They have now produced several collaborative beers with the Chicago Field Museum that highlight the brewery’s interest in historical brewing practices. Ustick offered me one such beer called Wari, inspired by the Peruvian drink chicha de molle. This pleasantly tart beer is a beautiful red color, which makes it that much cooler that Off Color can package it in clear bottles thanks to Tetra Hop, a resource acquired through another collaboration.
Last year Laffler visited Miller’s Milwaukee brewery to brew Miller High Life on their pilot system with the Miller gang reciprocating and brewing at Off Color’s original facility. The collaboration that was born from this union, Eeek! Used base Miller High Life ingredients and added an Off Color spin — a wild yeast strain.
It’s clear that Off Color isn’t a brewery that’s playing by anyone else’s rules. One glance at their very active Facebook page will show just how cheeky (and dare we say, cheesy?) their sense of humor is. Its refreshing to encounter a brewery that undoubtedly takes their craft seriously but doesn’t take themselves too seriously.
The Mousetrap Taproom is now open to the public and tours will soon be an option. Ustick is optimistic about the new space, located in the growing area of Lincoln Park, conveniently located right off the highway and red line. Visit Off Color on their social media pages or in person.