Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Managing Partner Brandon Proff and Head Brewer Jan Chodkowski enliven the RiNo Art District with experimental beers and a social taproom.
Our Mutual Friend (OMF) recently released a giveaway beer glass which reads, "Better with friends." The brewery's logo incorporates two hands shaking.
Proff began the brewery with two pals and a mere $20,000 in funding. "It's unthinkable now," he says of that dollar amount.
The three founders had bonded over homebrewing. "We realized that we were friends because of beer," Proff says -- hence, the brewery's name.
As the brewery launched, Chodkowski leapt at the chance to help out. Now, the onetime project manager for a paint company is the head brewer.
The longtime friends bonded over a shared love of music. Proff, 34, used to play drums for Fear Before, an experimental Colorado band, prior to working as a graphic designer for his onetime group's label, Equal Vision Records, in Albany, New York. It's also where Chodkowski's wife once worked, and Proff and the Chodkowskis finally met in 2011 in Colorado.
"We go to concerts [together] all the time," says Chodkowski, 33.
"We're a family to a fault, honestly," Proff says of he and his crew at the brewery.
Of course, Proff is happy to welcome others to OMF -- whether they're locals, gallery-goers, or beer geeks fresh off the A Line train from the airport.
The brewery is hard to miss. "Our whole building looks crazy," says Proff. "It's a giant, screaming, colorful mural of a building."
In other words, it fits in perfectly on Larimer Street. OMF has proven to be a vibrant component of the RiNo Art District, and the dedicated, separate entity, Drink RiNo, to which the brewery belongs.
While there's arts and culture in the River North neighborhood, there's craft beer culture, too. Referring to OMF's mixed culture program -- which utilizes different combinations of brettanomyces and other yeast strains -- Chodkowski emphatically says, "That's a big passion of mine."
Chodkowski's passion translated into a silver medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and a gold at the 2018 World Beer Cup for its "Brett Beer," Saison Trystero. That marked the third straight GABF where OMF took home a silver.
"It gives me a lot of confidence," Chodowski says of the awards. "I was a mediocre home brewer," he happily admits." [I'm a] much better pro brewer!"
Chodkowski cracks opens a bomber of one of his brett beers, Weirding Way, and pours three glasses. The beer is related to the brewery's heralded Saison Trystero, but Weirding Way is foeder-aged. "Trystero's suppposed to be a light, concise beer," says Proff. "[Weirding Way's] all over the place." Chodkowski calls it "complex by design." It's got a rocky head; an effervescent nose; stronger brett notes than Trystero, in Chodkowski's estimation; and an American oak character with hints of coconut and candied ginger.
Of course, Chodkowski brews more than just brett beers within OMF's eight-barrel brewhouse (which houses 60 wooden barrels and three foeders), and some of the others incorporate all-Colorado ingredients. For instance, there's Colorado Pale Ale, Love Is Helles, cult favorite Novo Coffee Stout, and Dad's Brown Ale.
For its darker beers, the brewery roasts the malt itself. "It does give us some unique characteristics to our beer that you can't get anywhere else," says Chodkowski. "A lot of freshness."
OMF has found kindred spirits over at TRVE Brewing Co., which has added OMF selections to the portfolio of beers which TRVE distributes, and OMF is on tap at a handful of local accounts. Chodkowski says TRVE's distributorship generates "a lot of exposure that we never had in the past."
The friends at OMF and TRVE have also collaborated on two versions of a beer: Esprit de Corpse I and II. They didn't brew the beer together. Rather, each brewery blended beers from the other brewery together with its own beers, resulting in a bottling from each. Chodkowski says the two bottlings are a combination of "beer from wooden casks, wine casks, stainless, foeders, brett beer, spontaneous beer, mixed-culture, inoculated beer."
Despite the medals OMF has received for its beers, Proff acknowledges the brewery is still somewhat under the radar. "We don't have lines around the block when we [release a] brett saison," he says. Production was 860 barrels in 2017, and Proff forecasts 1,200 barrels for 2018.
Rather than growing through distribution, Proff says OMF aims to differentiate itself as a welcoming neighborhood locale. "We don't know where the industry is going to go," he says. "But we do know that people really enjoy this [place]. So, I really like that we can continue to just be this little cool spot. It's like a little hidden gem."
Best enjoyed -- as Proff and Chodkowski have discovered -- with friends.
Favorite beers: Chodkowki calls Fantôme saison "a huge inspiration for Saison Trystero. For brett saisons, I don't think it gets any better than that in the world."
Challenges: Keeping up with demand at the brewery's taproom. "We run through beer really fast here," says Chodowski. "We can keg an eight-barrel batch and sell it in two weeks out of our own taps here. We're so busy here, it never stops -- which is [how] most breweries like to operate."
For Proff it's balancing the quest for both quantity and quality: "Do we invest our money in growing the capacity of the brewery or do we invest the money in improving quality? Usually, the two kind of go a little bit hand in hand. Yesterday, we got a mill. It was pretty expensive, and it doesn't increase our capacity whatsoever. But it was something that we've just known for a very long time that we needed."
Opportunities: For Proff, it's simply "staying power" in the face of increasing competition -- which has caused even longstanding regional breweries to rein in their production. "People are always talking about the bubble -- or what's going on [in the beer business]. So, as weird as it sounds, we have an opportunity to sneak through it without it being a casualty, and coming out the other end being dependable."
Needs: "A new brewhouse," says Proff.
"Floor drains," says Chodkowski. "We don't even have proper floor drains."
"Plumbing," they add, practically in unison.