There are certain awe-inspiring events that happen in one’s lifetime that are difficult to explain to those that have not already experienced them. Watching Wizard of Oz on mute set to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon…finally seeing that damn 3D sail ship in the stereogram picture…and realizing that Michael Stipe wasn’t singing “Let’s pee in the corner.”

Attending the Woodstock carnival that is Dark Lord Day at Three Floyd’s Brewing in Munster, Indiana also falls neatly into this camp.

Having bravely ventured to Indiana (a feat in and of itself) for two consecutive Dark Lord Days, I can safely say the event is a beer festival like no other, complete with thousands upon thousands of raving craft beer fanatics from all corners of the globe descending on Three Floyd’s like a swarm of locusts to revel in the glory of Dark Lord, a Russian Imperial Stout that is considered by many to be the premier example of the style.

Joining me on our multi-state Kerouac-esque journey this year were a couple of notable beer blogger friends from the East coast, including Aaron at The Vice Blog and Dave at The Drunken Polack, as well as Stu from local blog Friday Night Beer and my social media-averse brother-in-law (love you @Steve). During the various legs of the trip, we also ran into numerous other beer brethren including Ryan (aka @esch), Shawn and Mike at Beer Genome Project, Beckel at Legal Beer, Dean (aka @ibeyou), and of course Mike and Nate from Thank Heaven for Beer.

The weekend included stops at local favorites Stub & Herb’s, Town Hall and Barley John’s; a brief visit to Surly for some swag; lunch at Ale Asylum and a tour of New Glarus Brewing near Madison; as well as a post-Dark Lord Day dinner outing to Flossmoor Station on Chicago’s South side. But in lieu of regaling you with a blow-by-blow transcript of every second of the trip, I’ll provide a greatest hits (and a couple misses) list from the weekend, as there were plenty of both. Here we go…

Best Beer of the Trip – Isabelle Proximus
Dave at Drunken Polack lugged along a few notables to sample at Dark Lord Day, including this whale of a beer that completely blew my mind. A collaboration brewed a couple years ago by Dogfish Head, Lost Abbey, Avery, Allagash, and Russian River, it’s one of the most softly rounded, imminently drinkable sours I’ve ever tried. Musty hay, a hint of sweetness amidst the sour, a definite A+. Notable Runners-Up: Oak-Aged Popskull, The Bruery’s Black Tuesday, and New Glarus Cran-Bic.

Worst Performance Carrying a Case of Dark Lord – Some Dude with Ripped Underwear
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought I was at a grand finale on Fourth of July as the unmistakeable popping sounds of scores of people accidentally dropping their cases of Dark Lord on the street peppered the area. People stood staring for minutes at their broken bottles as if they were going to magically patch themselves back together like the evil robot in Terminator 2…too bad tears aren’t a suitable adhesive. And not to gross anyone out, but what’s with the torn Underoos on this guy? Word to the wise – hold the case from the bottom next time.

Best Homebrew – Mike’s 44% ABV Freeze-Distilled Strong Ale
I was floored by the quality of this unique brew conjured up by Mike at Thank Heaven for Beer. He started off with 45 pounds of grain for the five gallon batch, fermented with an alcohol tolerant yeast strain to get it to about 22% ABV, then freeze distilled the rest to eek out a few small bottles of this amazing beer. It seriously reminded me of Utopias in its liqueur-like characteristics, and man was it drinkable. Runner-Up: Nate’s “Three Kings” Triple, brewed with gold flakes, frankincense, and myrrh. 

Best Dark Lord Variant – Oak-Aged Dark Lord
I’m not one to complain about good old regular Dark Lord, whether from the bottle or served on draught. But the other variants offered up at the Three Floyd’s brewpub are worth mentioning (both good and bad). Vanilla Bean Aged Dark Lord (right), oft-cited as the best of the bunch according to Beer Advocate’s legion, tasted just fine but something with the vanilla bean aging process gave it the consistency of a sludgy milk shake and it turned me off a bit. The Oak Aged version, on the other hand, was something to behold. And ironically, it smelled and tasted more like a nice subtle vanilla than the other version thanks to the oak, without overwhelming it.  

Most Impressive Brewery Facility – New Glarus
I gotta say, I wasn’t sure what to expect driving down desolate, winding roads in the Middle-of-Nowhere, Wisconsin. But once we rolled up the hill to New Glarus Brewing and its commanding view of the Swiss-style hamlet below, I was immediately in love. The new brewery is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever been to…state-of-the-art brewhouse at its core, with a beautifully appointed tasting room geniously plunked in the middle of the gift shop. Not only did I walk out of there with a nice buzz, but also a bag filled with T-shirts, tap handles, and various other baubles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Most Impressive Brewpub – Flossmoor Station
Man, these guys make some nice beer. Located in the middle of a tony neighborhood south of I-80, Flossmoor is in an old train station that’s been converted into a brewery and upscale restaurant. Their IPA knocked my socks off with its wonderful floral aromas and intense bitterness, and I also picked up a bottle of their Pullman Brown for home perusement. If we go back for DLD next year, a visit to Flossmoor for a more proper sampling of their other beers will certainly be on the agenda. Runner-Up: Ale Asylum, which surprised the hell out of me with their very good bar food (get the pulled pork sandwich) and their impressive roster of beers (try the Bedlam! Trappist IPA brewed with Citra hops that lend unique aromas of tropical fruit).

Oddest Beer Consumed – 1995 Sam Adams Triple Bock
At last year’s Surly Darkness Day, we met a couple really cool guys in line from Chicago who had driven up the night before completely unpreprared with not a beer between them. As any good Minnesotans would, we took them under our collective wing and indoctrinated them into the ways of drinking 10% ABV bombers of Russian River Consecration at 8 a.m. To repay the kind gesture, they tracked me down at DLD and offered up their slew of impressive beers…but amongst them all this one stood out. A 1995 Sam Adams Triple Bock? I had to try it, if for nothing else to see how terribly far gone it had become. My suspicions weren’t off by much, considering the cork snapped in the bottle, with the rest disintegrating into flakes as we attempted to pry it out. The beer poured like a gloppy mess with zero carbonation, and tasted like someone had soaked a Werthers in a glass of warm water for a few hours. One of the Chicago guys literally gagged and vomited after sampling it. I’m sure it was a good beer…right around the Y2K scare.

Best Beer Festival Innovation – Golden Tickets
The thought of inviting a few thousand drunken friends over to my house to trample the flower bed, leave piles of trash in the backyard, and potentially piss off my neighbors with debaucherous behavior doesn’t sound like my idea of fun. So I think the folks at Three Floyd’s should be commended for opening their doors to, what is by all accounts, a mob scene. And one of the things that keeps this whole thing running relatively smoothly is their Golden Ticket idea, which I think is a good one. Everyone there with a ticket is guaranteed beer up to a certain time, and everyone (hopefully) walks away happy. It’s especially nice for people like me traveling from several states away to comfortably know you won’t leave empty handed. Granted, the tickets were tough to come by thanks to a crashing e-commerce website, but they’ve acknowledged the issues and plan to remedy next year.

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