April 30, I attended Three Floyds Dark Lord Day for the first time, after spending a few years missing out on tickets to the Midwest’s most sought-after beer release party.
I assume that because you’re here at Aleheads, you probably know what I’m talking about, but in the off-chance that you don’t, I’ll provide the Idiot’s Cliffs Notes Guide for Dummies on the day:
1. It is the once-a-year, one-day release of Three Floyd’s most prestigious and rare beer, Dark Lord Imperial Russian Stout.
2. One needs a ticket to buy the beer, and for the first time this year, tickets were also required to attend, due to the incredible flocks of people who have descended on the Three Floyds brewpub in recent years for the event.
3. The day has become a huge beer festival where people from around the country bring brews to sample and trade with other beer fans.
Up to speed? Then read on…
This year, Dark Lord tickets went faster than ever, as happens each year when more and more beer fans try to get ahold of them. Just how fast did they go? Try 6,000 tickets in four minutes.
I was one of those lucky few, however, who honestly had no trouble getting his ticket. Each person is allowed to buy two, and I didn’t even select the second ticket. I personally refuse to be the sort of scalping SOB who tries to sell tickets to the event, and believe that anybody and everybody should have the same equal chance to get tickets through the official purchasing system. That’s just what I think. Naturally, right after the ticket sales ended, they started appearing on Ebay for exorbitant sums in the hundreds of dollars, while those who were shut out of the online ticket sale bitched about it incessantly.
Thankfully, being one of the ticket-holding elite, I didn’t have to bother with those unwashed masses. I rolled into the festival around noon, unsure of what I was going to see. This is the sight that greeted me, walking up to the entrance of the brewery grounds.
Folks attending the fest were camping outside the grounds, reclining in lawn chairs. Everywhere, there were coolers. No one was to be found without a beer in his or her hand. As seen in the photo, people were creating a line of rare beer bottles for spectators to marvel at as they walked by. Small when I first saw it, this line stretched for what must have been 50 yards by the end of the day–and there may very well not have been any duplicate bottles in it.
Now, Three Floyds has a pretty decently sized parking lot and outdoor space to hold a festival, but there honestly aren’t many spaces that exist anywhere that would have been adequate to hold this sort of crowd:
And that’s what it was like looking in any direction, so imagine standing in front of that image, and then turning your head 90 degree to the left and then to the right and seeing the same number of people. By which I mean–it was a large crowd. Big. And thirsty. My god, so thirsty.
There are a number of ways to spend your time at Dark Lord Day, the best of which is to park yourself at whichever picnic table has the most beer bottles on it and start sampling things. There’s etiquette of sorts–you don’t just start grabbing stuff without trying to figure out if the bottle’s owner is there and if he’s sampling it out. You don’t open unopened bottles belonging to someone else. It’s fairly common sense. As my contribution to the beer-sampling warchest I had brought three bombers–two of homebrew (one American brown ale, one DIPA), and one of Half Acre Brewing’s Marty Stouffer’s Wild America barleywine. These all seemed to go over well–especially the homebrew DIPA, which I had the incredible honor to have tasted by my personal favorite beer author, Randy Mosher.
This is the typical tasting table–a semi-controlled free-for-all presided over by common sense and a shared love of great beer:
Verily, it was like seas of bearded dudes drinking beer, and my chin felt positively chilled in comparison. But no matter. I waded around, sampling beers and burning my way through a 50-pack of plastic solo cups. I wish I could have said I was the guy who had a backpack of pressurized water strapped to his back and was using it to rinse his tasting glass after each sip, but I’m simply not that smart.
Just how rare and interesting are the beers people bring to Dark Lord Day? Here’s a few of the tastings that I checked off my own personal list that day, all beers that I had never sampled before:
— Cigar City Hunaphu
— Russian River Supplication
— Foothills Brewing Sexual Chocolate
— Three Floyds Evil Power Imperial Pils
— Pipeworks Brewing Abduction Imperial Stout
— Many others that I can no longer recall, but I’m fairly sure they tasted good.
And lots of homebrew, as well. I’d say that’s pretty worth a $10 ticket, right? Right. I also got a chance to have a conversation with Mosher, and to also interview the crazy young men behind Chicago’s Pipeworks Brewing, which is rapidly approaching its opening date. I’ll hopefully have that interview up sometime in the near future, assuming I can make out any of the words on my digital recorder. Keep in mind that this interview was conducted while standing among 6,000 people milling around, outside.
All in all it was an extremely hectic, busy, orgiastic beer experience. I think this photo actually sums it up pretty well:
You’ve got people texting, people calling and desperately looking for each other, a table strewn with random, rare bottles that these same people would ruthlessly horde on any other day, open packages of finger foods being munched on by strangers, and more beer joke graphic tee shirts than you can shake a hydrometer at.
All in all, this day was a strong contender for the best beer event I’ve been able to attend. From what I’ve heard from others who attended and had been there in previous years, things ran MUCH smoother this year than they had in the past, and the ticket system was a being described by most of the event’s veterans as a big success. And when I say “event veterans,” I basically mean this guy:
Forgive the Coors patch, I say. There’s a Surly one on there too.
I’ll be back there next year. How about you?
EDIT: I forgot to add one of the new features to this year’s fest–the lottery system for even more rare bottles of Dark Lord. All tickets to the fest contained a scratch-off portion. About one in ten of these scratch-offs was a winner, allowing that person to buy ONE bottle of a special Dark Lord vintage. These included:
— Brandy Barrel Dark Lord
— Brandy Barrel Dark Lord with vanilla beans
— Dark Lord aged in 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon barrels
— Chile pepper (I forget which varieties) Dark Lord
Clearly, my ticket was not a winner, or you would have already heard about it.