Saturday morning. Four guys hop in a minivan and cruise along the Lake Michigan coast towards a craft beer mecca in a small, industrial town near the Indiana-Illinois border. Coolers of local beer and rare specialties befitting the occasion sit in the back. Metal, a preview of the day’s soundtrack, is interspersed with dubstep on the speakers. Small towns give way to factories then to suburban sprawl and finally to an industrial park. People appear, moving in one direction like flies attracted to the glowing light of one of the most difficult beers in the world to acquire. A parking spot is located, beers are transferred to backpacks, last swigs of hangover-preventing water are downed.
Dark Lord Day is the beer release party that inspired all others. Hunahpu’s Day (RIP), Darkness Day, Kate Day, they all must pay tribute to the Dark Lord. Tickets are gone in seconds; a lucky few celebrate, most are left dreaming of next year. By employing an iPhone, an iPod, a computer and the help of my brother and his computer, I secured four tickets to this year’s event. My father-in-law, brother-in-law and a friend would be joining me (my brother backed out last minute citing some crazy reason like studying for finals).
Dark Lord Day is not about securing your allotment of Dark Lord. Oh, that’s definitely an integral piece, but it’s more about meeting people who share the same passion for carefully crafted beer. Beers are exchanged, stories are swapped. Tröegs Nugget Nectar from a guy who had come from Pennsylvania. Green Flash Palate Wrecker (from a keg!) under a tent set up outside the gates. The tent’s owner, a bar owner from the Chicago area, also offered up Spiteful’s Worst Driver Award, Evil Twin’s Femme Fatale Yuzu Pale and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Cherry Rye, amongst others.
Beers one would expect would be hoarded and kept to drink alone due to their rareness are handed out freely. The bottles littering the ground read like a Ratebeer list of the best in the world. I gladly doled out heavy pours of Founders KBS to new friends. To best sum up this spirit of sharing, some generous soul handed our group a bottle of Dark Lord in the parking lot and left before we could return the favor. Whoever you are, thank you.
Dark Lord may be the star of the day but the other beers available on tap throughout the grounds hardly play second fiddle. First there are the Three Floyds tents. The regulars like Alpha King, Gumballhead and Zombie Dust are all the real prizes are the harder to find or brewery exclusives like Blakkr, a collaboration double black IPA from Real Ale, Surly and Three Floyds, and Permanent Funeral, one of many double IPAs from the brewery. Get lucky and you might end up with some vintage Dark Lord. By a stroke of pure luck we ended up with the last three glasses of 2013 Dark Lord. As that sweet nectar reached our lips, the prospect of acquiring four bottles at the end of the day kept us going through the ever-advancing haze.
Cross the grounds to the other side and tent after tent of guest taps stand ready for consumption. Breweries from all over the country bring some of their best and/or rarest beers to dispense. A good majority don’t even distribute in Indiana so this is the first chance to experience the breweries for many. A veritable who’s who of breweries leading the craft beer charge awaits discovery – Against the Grain, Allagash, Cigar City, Fat Head’s, Firestone Walker, Half Acre and others. We didn’t even make it halfway down the row.
For what it’s worth, I haven’t even tried this year’s Dark Lord yet. One day soon the four of us will get together to crack open that young bottle gifted by our benevolent stranger to taste it fresh. By all accounts, it’s a beer best aged for a bit to mellow it out and tame the darkness within. It’s a theory I’m happily looking forward to testing as my four bottles will age in the basement, broken out in the company of good friends over the next few years. Who knows, maybe one will make its way to a future Dark Lord Day, a treat to be shared and a passion to be passed on.