[This post is the first from Scott Simmons, a homebrewer and friend of ours. Here he chronicles his trek to Dark Lord Day, a festival that brings together beer geeks from all over the country to celebrate the release of one specific beer (in multiple variations). But in all honesty, the festival is so much more than the release of one beer…So, hope you enjoy this, we’ll see more posts from Scott in time.]
The pilgrimage to 3 Floyd’s annual Dark Lord Day, located in Munster, Indiana, began with an online ticket sale that sold six thousand tickets in just one minute. Mind Blown. This was the first sign that we were in for something very serious. After that eye opening experience, the true preparation began with hotel rooms, other logistics, but most importantly online beer trading.
Beer Advocate is a site that a lot of people use for rating beer, forums on homebrewing, and lots of other really nerdy beer stuff. Most important to me is a forum called ISO:FT (In Search Of: For Trade). This is a place where you can offer up some beer you have (FT) for some beer that another person might have that they want to trade for your beer (ISO). It’s a lot like an online adult version of trading baseball cards, pogs, magic cards, etc… It gets real nerdy, real quick. I began setting up in-person trades for stops along the way, stops at Dark Lord Day (DLD), and stops on the way home. I was able to land some great beers that we would not have access to normally. Luckily, Colorado makes some great beer and some of it trades pretty well.
Finally April 25th arrived. Dark Lord Day was on the 28th but we had other breweries and bottle shares to hit before the true festivities began. We started our 15.5 hour drive at 3am, hoping to arrive at our first stop, Bloomington, IN at a decent hour. We decided on Bloomington for one reason – Upland Brewing Co. Upland doesn’t distribute here and sells out of their famous fruit lambics within minutes. We had sampled some of them and knew this was a place we had to go. Unfortunately they had no lambics in the tasting room but they did have Gilgamesh, a dark bourbon barrel aged sour beer. We enjoyed a couple of meals here through the night, and next day, and we sampled everything they had to offer. Their mainline beers were good but there is no doubt their sour program is above many.
Bottle Sharing: imagine Comic-Con but with beer. That’s what you have when you take a beer geek event like DLD and then add a pre-party with the King Geeks. A Beer Advocate Bottleshare, for those unfamiliar, consists of bringing beers out of your cellar that you’re very proud of and that you want to share. It’s a lot like a drunken show and tell. People walk around the table sizing up what’s there and strategically planning where to be and when, so they can have a chance to taste something they may never see again. We were at an advantage. Not many people traveled as far as us, so we had a leg up on providing beers most people won’t see. I decided Chocolate Rain from the Bruery, Trinity, and Crooked Stave would be my weapons of choice. Those beers along with some Avery and Odell brought us plenty of attention.
Finally Dark Lord Day was upon us! We had done our research and had our plan of attack. Unfortunately, what we didn’t expect was rain. We were in line at 530 am for a gate that opened at 10. That’s right, 4.5 hours early. We were by no means in the front of the line either. It was cold. We’re from Colorado so we were prepared for that, but we weren’t exactly prepared for the sideways rain. We had an umbrella yet still ended up completely soaked. We took turns warming up in our car that was nearby and taking care of some more in-person trades. One of these in-person trades felt like I was buying speakers that had fallen off a truck from the trunk of a strangers car, oh well. We traded for some good beers that morning like an ’09 Surly Darkness and New Glarus (thanks Crooked Stave). Then the bottle sharing started. People were walking up and down the line pouring amazing beers to complete strangers. I’m not talking about good locals either. I’m talking about Cantillon, Jackie O sours, King Henry, among other semi “whales” (a beer geek term for unobtainable beers). This is where making friends at the bottleshare, the night before, came in handy. We joined our new friends in line and started pouring good beer and getting great beer poured to us in return. We drank Goose Island King Henry, Westvleteren 12, and Founder’s Anniversary all before the gates opened.
Finally it was 10. Gates were opened and we slowly moved towards the opening, getting our IDs checked and our wristbands. I felt like I had just camped out for the Lord of the Rings premier and it was finally show time. I laughed as we looked in the gutter, the curb, and the trash. There were discarded bottles that any person would be proud to see in their collection: ’10 Dark Lord, New Glarus Geueze, Mikkeller Sour Bitch, Cascade Blueberry Sour, and BA Bahemoth to name a few.
Once we got in the gate, it was a mad dash for the pub. A place where we could get warm, get food, and most importantly, taste the entire prized barrel aged variants of Dark Lord. We were somehow one of the first 20 people in the pub. We sat and ate some pizza and drank multiple Dark Lord, Bourbon Dark Lord, and the best – Bourbon Dark Lord with vanilla beans. That beer is possibly one of the greatest beers that has ever been in my mouth. People have asked if it’s worth the hype. It’s not hype; it is earned recognition. We had stuck with all of our new friends until this point. We laughed, we cried, and we drank a crap ton of Dark Lord.
We separated from most of the group but we stuck with the two people that had been instrumental to our Dark Lord Day success and headed out to the sea of people that were now inside the fence line. We hit a couple guest taps including Stone’s Mix Tape, a blend of 7 of their beers and opened a couple more bottles. Avery Uncle Jacob’s Stout came out and held it’s own on my palate after it had been spoiled by Dark Lord – impressive!
Across the grounds, a flag popped up with a B on it. We knew it was our time to get in line for our allotment of Dark Lord, as we were Group B. Some people call DLD “line day”, and yes there are a ton of lines. However, great people, amazing beer, and heavy metal music surround you. What more could a girl ask for? We waited in line until it wrapped around the brewery and we were able to get our four Dark Lords each. There was my wonderful girlfriend, Lisa, and me, so that’s 8 beers – score! If that wasn’t enough, now you get a scratch off ticket for a chance to win and spend $50 on a barrel aged version. Lisa scratches her ticket and I hear her rejoice. She won! I scratch my ticket and no way, I won too! I screamed like a 12-year-old girl on a rollercoaster. We collected our non-barrel aged DL and then went to the special table and had our choice of the four barrel aged variations. We chose 2 vanilla DLs and celebrated with our new friends who also won a bottle too. In fact, their group of four somehow magically collected all four variations of barrel aged DL that day. They deserved it, as they were so generous the whole day.
We headed out of the brewery passing by the stage that had heavy metal bands playing on it all day and grabbed a beer. We sat there with our group, staring at our special bottles and contemplated an awesome day/trip.
We exchanged emails with our new friends for some upcoming beer trading, hugged goodbye, and headed back to our hotel room. What an amazing experience. We drove out through Chicago seeing Goose Island, Wrigley field, and hitting a recommended bottle shop in case we didn’t have enough beer already.
Dark Lord Day is unlike any event Colorado has. When will we have a release that draws that many people or that much beer trading street cred? By no means am I saying we don’t have great beer. We have one of the best beer states in America; however Vanilla Dark Lord has been spotted on eBay for up to $500 and on Beer Advocate people are offering their first born for trades, unsuccessfully. In my opinion, there are a few places that are on their way to giving us such beer. Crooked Stave and Avery are two that I’ll be keeping a close eye on future releases, among others. People didn’t know what they had with their Dark Lords in 2004 or 2005. All I’m saying is, if something amazing comes out, dig up your guns and bury your beer!
Thanks to Grant, Leah, and Isaac for the DLD recommendation and day of advice and to focusonthebeer.com for letting me rant on their blog.
FT: Dark Lord 2012 ISO: Offers
More images on Flickr