Shaun has already covered some of this ground, recapping our unforgettable Dark Lord Day experience. I guess I should give you my take so you can get a complete picture of the mayhem. What a day. We got a late start. My pal Josh was a late addition to our DLD crew. I give him credit. He had been at a whiskey tasting the night before with a bunch of whiskey imbibers in suits getting faced. So, naturally, at 7:30 a.m., on DLD, he was having second thoughts about driving an hour to Indiana for even more drinking and tomfoolery. He sucked it up though after some shaming and made his way down to my place. Meanwhile, as I blasted some of Television's Marquee Moon on the stereo, Shaun was packing pastrami sandwiches from stuff in the fridge. I had no idea until later how much these would come in handy.
By the time the cab dropped off Josh, we were ready to go, so we thought. Seemingly everything was packed in our backpack as we headed down the road to get gas and hit McNasty's for some quickie breakfast. It wasn't until I was halfway through my first of two Egg McMuffins that Shaun and I realized a minor detail - we had forgotten our beers we brought to share, his Brooklyn Local 2 and my Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous. We made a disgruntled u-turn.
We finally got going for real by 9:45 or so, and to the sounds of Neil Young. Josh talked about his website, Chicagaofoodies.com, and the air became heavy with anticipation. I got excited when we finally crossed the border into Indiana, hit the Calumet Avenue exit in Munster, and headed south. Just let me see that "Munster" water tower. Let me know that we're finally there.
This was my second Dark Lord festival. As I expected, the streets nearby the brewery were lined with parked cars. Festival goers were in packs, packs of three and five, donning ballcaps, skullcaps, various knitted headgear. Lawn chairs and coolers were in tow. We parked and walked up to the brewery. The line of Golden Ticket holders for Dark Lord stretched for a block. Shaun went looking for his Seattle friends and Josh and I did the best we could to hang tight in line. I think our resolve broke when a guy in the group behind us in line came walking back with a pair of fresh, nutty brown Alpha Kings, ripe from Three Floyds which started pouring at ten. Another brew lover walked by with a cup containing ten ounces of a dark potion, which was surely Dark Lord. That was all she wrote. It was time to skip the line and hit the beer tasting tent.
The tent is as chaotic as the NYSE trading floor, yet has its own harmony. People unite for a common purpose: the love of beer, and its beautiful. The tables are stacked with a constellation of beers, some familiar, others as strange as can be. There were all kinds of names from the microbrew universe: Pliny the Elder, Boris the Crusher, Spotted Cow and Fat Squirrel. People come by and just offer you beer. You don't even know what it is but you hope it's really beer. A few guys have homebrews. One of the standout microbrews I got to try in this madness was California's Alesmith's Wee Heavy. It is a barrel aged Scotch style ale with a soda like quality, dark and a bit peaty like Scotch. Sensational, and even better than Founders Dirty Bastard. I also got to try a 3-year-old Kentucky Breakfast stout. Yummmm. The guy who owned the bottle was so hammered, he wandered off and I started sharing his bottle with some other folks. That's good beer karma, I say.
As for my drinking experience, I got things going pretty early with some fresh Alpha Kings. I take this beer for granted because it's everywhere here in Chicago, but it's sensational. No barrel aging or manipulation. It's just sharp biting hops balanced with some caramel malts. It may be the best everyday beer made in the United States. Eventually, by the time some of my other friends showed up, I was able to get an 8 ounce pour of Dark Lord from a booth inside the brewery. Wow. It reminded me of what this event is all about and why the fuss is worth it. The powerful coffee flavor is balanced out by roasted malts and the right amount of sweetness - it's a lush, delicious affair. As I enjoyed my Dark Lord, a buddy from Cleveland who lives here was eating a cookie, pouring Dark Lords out of a bomber, and jawing with a Michigan backer about the OSU-Michigan rivalry. Meanwhile Josh and Shaun were making friends. I was hanging back a bit, losing my voice and getting hoarser by the minute, ugh! There were too many people to talk to and beers to try. By the way, Shaun's pastrami sandwiches hit the spot. Not only were they tasty with the sharp Trader Joe's seed filled mustard, they helped us avoid the funeral procession like food lines. A stranger's request to try a bite of the sandwich made me feel proud of our DIY efforts.
The highlight - make that lowlight - of the day was carrying the Dark Lord to the car. We had parked in the state park, about 2/3 of a mile away, and I had to carry Shaun's and my allotment in a box all the way there. It was backbreaking but sobered me up for the second half. When I got back, Shaun surprised me with a sweet Alpha King glass he bought in the brewery, and later we walked over to the guest beers tent where I got to try some Firestone Walker Union Jack. FW had just won best craft brewer at the Craft Brewer Festival here in Chicago a few weeks ago. The Union Jack did not call that award into question. It's a solid, crisp brew with a modest but firm amount of hops and terrific balance. It's probably on the Anchor Steam branch of the beer family tree and very sessionable. As an added bonus, it also brought me over to the area where I met Jennifer from Indianapolis. Rowrrr! Hi, there. Talking to her for a few made my beer taste even better!
Shaun and I went mingling a bit more and made more friends by the man made pond, which came into play. As we quaffed some Oberon some guys poured us, a girl fight broke out that crashed into the pond. It ended up looking like a combination of an industrial brew commercial and a TMZ episode, with these two wet clothed women wrestling in shallow water, then getting hauled off by the cops. It was probably partially staged - the crowd loved it and hooted and hollered for more. I think that was when I celebrated the melee with a Three Floyd's Samurai Gazeebo, a deliciously crisp but full bodied lager, said to be made with Japanese hops.
Back at the main tent, Shaun and I sampled a few other items as our group started to dwindle. Shaun decided it was a good idea to head back to Chicago. Why drink more there when I was sober and we could put the car down and enjoy more beer back home? On our way out, we treated ourselves to some outstanding sausages that were part of the cattle call of sausages going on the grill operated by FFF's personnel. They were really juicy and not overcooked; the exteriors were supple and flavorful. Great job, FFF!
It was sad to leave this beer mecca, but a comfortable feeling being in the car, in one piece, perfectly sober (perfectly!), and capable of recounting actual memories of the whole affair.
Thanks go out to Three Floyds for making such a great beer, organizing the Woodstock of beer festivals, inviting such a warm feeling, and having a great staff. I look forward to DLD 2011 already.