Dark Lord Day 2011 - The Beer Lover’s Woodstock
Chicagoist guest contributor Bridget Houlihan experienced the madness of Dark Lord Day and lived to tell about it.
Saturday was Dark Lord Day - the beer lover’s Woodstock - when thousands from near and far descended upon Three Floyds brewery in Munster, Indiana to buy the limited supply of “Dark Lord,” a Russian Imperial Stout considered to be one of the best beers in the world. You can only buy Dark Lord one day a year, and you need a ticket to get your share - four bottles at $15 each. Even at that price, it’s quite a deal considering (as we predicted) bottles of 2011 Dark Lord are already for sale on e-bay for as much as $100 a pop! The frenzy begins more than a month before the big day, when online tickets become available and sell out in a matter of minutes.
Ultimately, Dark Lord Day is as much about camaraderie as it is about sales, and Three Floyds has managed keep the party alive in its own back yard, even as Dark Lord’s notoriety grows. In fact, this year there was a marked improvement in crowd control. Attendance was limited to 6,000 ticket holders, and they were only allowed to purchase during one of three pre-determined time slots. The changes didn’t hamper the party, they made it more enjoyable.
Everyone I talked to - newbies and veterans alike - was thrilled to be a part of the madness. And it’s not a typical beer drinking crowd. This is a group that knows the value of what they’re getting. The sound of a precious four-pack crashing to the ground is greeted with stunned silence from everyone within earshot and then a wave of heartfelt condolences. Folks in line, sitting in lawn chairs and hauling their own coolers of rare and unusual beers, got the party started while they waited, sharing a bottle or two and making friends.
At first glance, the brewery doesn’t look like a place for a party - a smallish building in an industrial park surrounded by service docks and asphalt in the shadow of the Munster water tower. But a line of revelers stretching for blocks on Saturday was a sure sign that it was a day to celebrate. Some started checking in on Foursquare as early as 6:30 a.m. and by 9 a.m., it was obvious that this was going to be an all-day shin-dig, complete with outdoor tents, BBQ grills, and heavy metal bands.
I used my time in line to meet up with others from last year’s event, and to expand my own beer knowledge, sampling a variety of barrel aged and barley wine ales from craft breweries around the US. I jumped at the chance to try these beers alongside Three Floyds speciality drafts, including brandy barrel Dark Lord with vanilla beans, bourbon barrel Dark Lord, and the amazing barrel-aged Behemoth, which were all served in limited quantities only in the brewpub. The side-by-side comparisons showed the brewers at Three Floyds to be true artisans - their tasty work often overshadowing that of others. The wait staff shined too, taking time out to explain beers in detail and skillfully directing our group through the menu of specialty and guest drafts.
How’s the Dark Lord itself? The 2011 batch is a standout. I’ve tried every vintage of Dark Lord from 2007 on. This year’s is better right out of the tap and out of the bottle than 2010, and it already has a refined flavor. Tempting as it may be, don’t sip or barter it all away yet though. I'd wager it will age beautifully, with its heavy hints of espresso, and that it will maintain its structure and complexity over the next two years, giving the 2009 (my favorite Dark Lord vintage) a run for its money.
Hats off to Three Floyds for hosting a killer party and for staying true to your image - a love for graffiti art, metal music, tattoos, and most importantly for kick-ass beer. Thanks for masterfully brewing another round worth talking about!
By Bridget Houlihan