Monday, April 29, 2013

Drink the Beer, Darkly: Three Floyds Dark Lord Day - 2013

Three Floyds is run by elegant savages.  They must be.  Otherwise, the contrasts they present, seemingly from the mind of a split personality, would be impossible to achieve.  They're a veritable study in conflict.  Take for example, the trademark skull logo.   But, note how its dark symbolism conflicts with the delicate touches they can put on a beer like Rabid Rabbit.  And how else could you explain their ability to craft a polarizing beer such as their signature offering, the transcendent Dark Lord.  By listening to the Dark Lord Day band lineup you know that FFF's heart is with metal.  But someone there must be a Neil Young fan.

Neil is a singular example of excelling at both ends of a spectrum.  His songs have ranged from ragged electric sludge such as "Cortez The Killer" to the gentle lilting beauty of "Tell Me Why".   Not much middleground lies in his catalog, only extremes.  Exceptionally executed extremes of erratic beauty.  As he famously claimed, when he found himself in the "middle of the road" after the accessible Harvest, he "headed for the ditch" and crafted the splendidly dark Ditch Trilogy albums.  So if Neil isn't Three Floyds' muse, well, he should be.  It's not as if Neil wouldn't love Dark Lord.  For, nothing embodies Three Floyds' divergent personality more than Dark Lord's barbaric beauty.  It's viciously dark yet sumptuous.  An almost insane merger of beauty and beast.  By "beast" I don't mean the overgrown, jolly, animated Wookie from the Disney cartoon; I'm talking about a straight-up red-eyed demon.  Despite its beautiful refinement, Dark Lord is a bold, bad ass, beastly beer.  No wonder the yearly Dark Lord jubilee almost eerily recalls a convening of the occult.

This year's installment of the annual release party, Dark Lord Day 2013, threatened to be a downer.  Many of last year's attendees had reported that DLD 2012, the first year that beer lovers were shut out of the grounds unless they had acquired a precious non-transferable ticket, was kind of rotten.  The rain didn't help.  But the primary complaint was that the new rules cut down on the party atmosphere.  Prior to skipping 2012, I had attended DLD for three straight years. It was a nothing short of a huge, glorious tailgate in an industrial park.  Classic DLD's best part was the sharing tables, where people brought and sampled rare beers, foreign beers, expensive beers, 100-score-at-BeerAdvocate beers.  DLD was a come-ye-all for beer lovers.  It embodied the craft brewing world's unique sense of community.

So when we decided to drive down to Three Floyds despite no tickets and in hope of scoring some, we did so as skeptics.  The ticket policy made it almost impossible to obtain a ticket.  If the seller was not in attendance, their ticket became essentially void.  The purchaser whose name was on the ticket had to be present in order for that person and his or her guest to enter.  This destroyed the secondary market for tickets.   In order to attend, those not lucky enough to get tickets had to be invited as a purchaser's guest.  Scalpers seized upon people's ignorance of these rules, chousing at every opportunity.  Scam artists at Craigslist offered tickets by the pair.  Even the seemingly legitimate offers were asking outrageous prices.  Through some connections, I was offered a ticket that included a limo ride (from Naperville - ugh), only to be told that my ticket had been lost.  Between the exclusivity created by the ticket regulations and the negative reports from last year, we were convinced that this year wouldn't be the same.   But we went down to Munster anyway, hoping our concerns were misguided.

Our hopes were further dashed upon arriving at Three Floyds.  All the formerly free parking in the surrounding lots such as at the nearby state park was gone.  Almost every lot was a pay lot and $20 was the cheapest price.  Some lots were charging $30.   Space was limited regardless.   You could parallel park for free on the surrounding streets if you were lucky enough to find such a spot; but you probably had an equal chance of landing a Golden Ticket.  The line of folks going in to Three Floyds was intimidatingly deep.  No one was selling extras.  The warm sunny weather seemed like a curse, not a blessing.  The ill-timed sunshine meant that  practically every guest would be in attendance with the ticket holder.  Further, during our first few laps-around while trolling for parking, we didn't see any tasting tables.  We drove to a nearby strip mall to kill some time in hopes of the situation changing.  It seemed as if we had wasted our time, gas and the Chicago Skyway and Indiana tolls, not to mention the majority of our energy.

The turning point occurred when we found a lot nearly adjacent to the grounds which was offering - get this - free parking!  Some forest-ranger-like dude parked in a suburban at the lot entrance was waving in drivers, each of whose gingerly entrance into the lot displayed their concern that this was some sort of scam.  We joked that once the lot was full, the owners were going to gate it and charge $100 to get your car out.   When we were finally on foot, the first Dark Lord purchasers we encountered demanded obscene prices for Dark Lord.   It didn't help at all that FFF reduced allotments this year to 3 bottles per ticket instead of 4; sellers had you by the hop cones.  I remember when you were allotted 8 bottles.  Guys would walk out with cases of Dark Lord bombers like they were 2-liters of Sprite for Aunt Sue's birthday picnic.

But, boy, were we ever rewarded for traveling down there.  I'm not being sarcastic.  Although we never obtained tickets, we ended up finding the tasting tables around the perimeter.  By noon, a healthy crowd of outsiders (the uncool, those without tickets) had gathered, and the tables were full of beers, rare and incredible beers.  People were gesturing you to help yourself to Surly Darkness, KBS, Bruery Chocolate Rain, which was devastatingly good, like a milk chocolate cream.  There were even verticals of Dark Lord.  The highlight was running into some guys from Minneapolis, which included a Surly rep who was pouring samples of Darkness, Abrasive, and Pentagram.  Wow.  We shared a Goose Bourbon County Coffee that we brought; and several people liked it more than Dark Lord.  The strong coffee contrasted nicely with some of the sweeter beers we had sampled.

What was cool was that many of the folks mingling outside the fenced-in perimeter included actual ticket holders who were in a sharing mood.  We got to sample some of this year's Dark Lord from folks who had already purchased their allotment.  We also got to sample Alchemist's incredible Heady Topper IPA which was truly sensational.  It was feathery and mango juicy.  There were plenty of other incredible and rare beers being shared.  As for the Dark Lord itself, there had been complaints about the 2012 batch, which I have not tried; but the 2013 installment is as good as ever. It's rich, with some dark berry and chocolate bittersweetness, firmly grounded in hops and roasted coffee.  The mouthfeel was silky, expressing the FFF brutes' elegant side.

The overall atmosphere was pleasantly relaxed.  Security was at its needed level but was minimal and never suffocating.  I can't speak for the evening session, but the crowd that was there was during the balance of the afternoon was well-mannered and peaceful but jubilant.  You didn't even need a ticket to hear or see the bands.  FFF thankfully fenced in the premises with wire fencing and didn't cover it with opaque material.  Even without a ticket, you could tailgate outside the fence, grill, enjoy your beers, and watch and listen to the bands from a short distance, as if you were a privileged ticket holder.  This was a nice wink by FFF to their die-hard fans and other beer lovers who weren't able to obtain a ticket but had ventured down there anyway, some from several time zones away.

My major complaint is about the garbage.  People were leaving beer bottles - and some of these had housed some pretty amazing and expensive beers - on the grass for surrounding properties.  Not only is this behavior tacky, it's only going to put further pressure on FFF to more tightly regulate the party.  People should not risk sucking the life out of one of the last non-micromanaged public events through their ill-regard for others.  The parking prices of $20, $30 were just shameful.

At the end of the day, it turned out to be a terrific experience despite our lack of tickets, and is in competition for my favorite Dark Lord Day.  We still got to mingle with beer lovers, sample amazing beers, meet some cool folks  - hey, Surly dudes!  Get a hold of me! I want that brewery tour! - and get fed.  The pork shoulder with BBQ sauce hit the spot.  I always end up talking to homebrewers at DLD who usually have brought their own stuff.  I usually end up being forced out of courtesy to try their concoctions, some of which taste like soap or mud.  But the guy I met from Michigan had fortunately run out of his personal fermentation, yet he was a great chat.  One guy dropped and broke several bottles of his homebrew.

The weather deserves its own mention.  It was a resplendent day that absolutely shimmered.  If it had a musical equivalent it would be Blue Mountain's Dog Days; glorious is too mild a term.  We bathed in the very sunshine we had earlier derided, and the 70 degree temperature meant you could go with short sleeves and feel the sun on your arms. This was even more intoxicating than the beer.

Of course we also got to drink some delicious Dark Lord, the show's star.  Though the Dark Lord is a treacherous sorcerer, even he is capable of benevolence.  He summoned his dark powers to allow us a great experience in reward for our devotion to his doctrine.  He similarly rewarded others for having faith in the power of the dark side.  One dude who was clearly overserved early had brought some bottles of his homebrew, and dropped a newly-purchased bottle of Dark Lord on the bottles.  Only the homebrew shattered, the Dark Lord remaining in tact.  Even the Dark Lord can work in mysterious ways.


Mike Wing said...

I'm hoping my home brewed bourbon oaked imperial red I let you try didn't taste like soap. Glad I got to chat with you guys. If you're ever cruising down 80 in Iowa, stop off at Backpocket brewing , we're nice!

Kenneth Noisewater said...

I like the comparison to Neil Young! It's weird because I JUST heard about this beer yesterday and I'm dying to try it.

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