Originally Told: June 11 2017
Friend: Wait, you’ve never met any of these people?
Friend: So you’re flying to Indiana. Alone. To a beer release. Staying with people you’ve never met.
Me: No! I’m flying to Chicago. Then driving. But, the rest is right.
Friend: And you’ve never met any of these people?
Me: We covered that.
That was a common conversation when telling friends I was traveling to Munster, Indiana for my first Dark Lord Day, 3 Floyds's annual release of their Russian-Style Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar. An event as much about the Dark Lord release as the bottle shares surrounding it.
Let’s rewind though.
Dustin and I began trading in 2012 after my first trip to the Alchemist. I posted a photo of a case of Heady Topper on Instagram and the rest is history:
dustinsides: ..if you need to get rid of some of that
kffoster40: @dustinsides what do you want to trade?
Classic. Dustin and I have been trading ever since, and today I consider him to be a really good friend. I recently found the email exchange from that first trade where he told me he had never tried Heady Topper, but had the chance to. He had sent the two cans he first got his hands on as extras in a trade because the guy considered it (at the time) his white whale and to Dustin, “they always brew more and sharing it is priority one.” People often talk about how special and generous the beer community is, and looking back, this was my first introduction to that. It’s why I was instantly hooked.
So when Dustin and his wife invited me to take one of their extra passes to DLD last year, I didn't think twice. We had never actually met, but I didn't care. I knew them.
9:20am: Depart Boston for Chicago
On the plane, I watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
11:00am: Arrive in Chicago (there’s that time difference thing)
I grab the rental and make the 45 min drive to the Residence Inn in Hammond, Indiana, approximately 15 minutes from 3 Floyds. Whether in town for Dark Lord Day or to visit 3 Floyd's, the hotel and the ones nearby are a good jumping off point.
11:45am: Arrive at the Hotel
As I pull up to the hotel, it’s the first time I get a little nervous. Less that I am with people I don’t know, and more worried that these people I have been communicating with and trading with for the last 4 years won’t like me. I suck it up, text Dustin that I have arrived, and walk through the hotel doors.
11:46am: The Hotel
I love Dustin and Lisa! Think they like me too. I’m gonna stick it out.
11:48am: The Hotel
We’re in our suite, checking out all of the beers we have for the weekend bottle shares, mapping out the plan for the day and night.
12:15pm: Arrive at Bombers BBQ
Bombers BBQ in Munster, Indiana is easily some of the best BBQ I have ever had. The food is amazing, and the beer list makes it the total package. I get a Pulled Pork sandwich with the pretzel bun and (based off of Dustin and Lisa’s recommendation) the Burnt Ends. I enter thinking, “drink water, lots of water.” But, then I see the beer list. Zombie Dust. And I can’t resist. Beer 1 is in the books.
3:00pm: Arrive at Justin Cases’s Annual Pre-DLD Bottle Share
Dustin and Lisa’s friend Justin hosts an annual bottle share at his house the day before DLD, with complimentary BBQ made in a BBQ Smoker Trailer. I get to meet another person I have traded with, Kyle. He lives in Connecticut, I live in Mass, but we first meet in the driveway of a bottle share. Doesn't get better than that.
It’s my first official bottle share, and I am stoked. The chance to try 40 different beers within a few hours, all while sitting in lawn chairs, talking and meeting new people… what’s not to love. Here’s how it works. Someone reaches into their bag or cooler, pulls out a beer, opens it, makes sure that they and their close friends get a pour, then start walking around asking who wants a taste, then puts the bottle on a communal table. And it goes on and on like that for hours.
And people aren’t pulling out shit beer either. People share a number of beers I have been dying to try such as Proprietor’s BCBS and Regal Rye BCBS. Someone opens a Coffee Abraxas, Triple Shot, Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, Last Snow and Hazel’s Nuts. One guy, Chad, started Lil Beaver Brewery, a collection of his homebrews. He brings Liquid Mounds Bar, his version of 2014 Prop. The coconut flavor is well represented, right up front in your nose and mouth as you take that first sip. Being from New England I bring Treehouse (Haze, Alter Ego and Eureka Citra cans) and Trillium (Double Pot & Kettle and Dialed In). As I take each sip I desperately try to take a picture of the bottle so I don't forgot what I’ve tried.
This bottle share also marked an individual milestone for me: the day I started to like sours. Like anything, you need to drink or eat something of quality before judging it. To date, I had drank pretty average sours and always opted for other varieties even when a good one was available not knowing what I was missing. It would be like trying to tell someone tacos are delicious, but forcing them to decide by eating Taco Bell. Today though, I get to taste Cantillon Fou Foune, Casey Brewing’s The Cut: Peach, and New Glarus R&D Wild Barrel. And I’m hooked. I vow to seek out more sours during the weekend, and then find some trading partners to help educate me about the style (and other variations) across different geographies.
The main event at Justin’s this year is a 2004 - 2015 vertical of Dark Lord, along with each of the variants for those years. You had to contribute to participate, but Dustin generously shares his allocation with Lisa and me.
Dark Lord is known for its soy sauce flavoring. Add 10 years to it, and you can imagine how that flavor and the viscosity have evolved. Some pour like mud. Some have the same coloring as mud. Some taste like mud. But, there were winners in there as well. The first round includes 2004 - 2010 Dark Lord. 2009 is everyone’s favorite, the hotness as eased and it goes down smooth.
Each subsequent round is a single year, regular Dark Lord plus the variants. From the 2011 round, the winner for me is the Pappy Van Winkle Barrel Aged Dark Lord. Like the whiskey, it’s smooth with nice finish. The 2012 favorite, and probably my favorite from the entire Dark Lord vertical, was the Bourbon Barrel Aged Dark Lord with Vanilla Beans, the 2012 version as one of the 2 most sought out variants this year.
It starts to get late. Everything is starting to taste the same, so we head out to grab food, reset our palates, and retreat to the hotel for the next bottle share.
8:00pm: Back to Bombers BBQ
9:00pm: Head back to the hotel
9:30pm: Hotel Bottle Share
“As far as I'm concerned the only thing to do is sit in a room and get drunk.”
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road
When I walk into the hotel common area after we return from dinner, I quickly realize that almost everyone at the hotel is here for Dark Lord Day. Some even booked their hotel rooms as they were checking out the prior year. I admit, 1 month after the event I booked for 2017.
The lobby is packed with various groups of people sharing beers, speaking with anticipation about tomorrow’s release. Our bottle share is a little different than the one at Justin’s. This is a smaller group, and most participants are people Dustin and Lisa know. This is also where people break out the more rare stuff since there is an opportunity to share it with a smaller group and get bigger pours.
I will finally get the chance to try Julius by Treehouse. I had snagged a growler on my pre-DLD Treehouse trip. And it doesn't disappoint. Other favorites:
Honestly, I don’t remember what time we woke up. Let's call it 8am. But for what time I went to bed, and for how many beers I tried the day before, it’s too early. I feel pretty good though. I drank water all day in between tastes, ate food, and despite being before 9am, I’m ready for the day. We stumble to breakfast, load up on alcohol-absorbing food, then head out for a rainy DLD.
9:30am: The Main Event
It’s a cold and rainy day, so I bundle up from head to toe in everything warm I brought. We uber over to 3 Floyd’s to the bottle share and tailgate that’s set up. Dustin and Lisa’s friends have rented a space outside the gates, set up tents, and lay out tables for a bottle share. When we arrive, it’s clear everyone has already started as there are 20 to 30 bottles already laid out across the table. With the rain misting, everyone is tight under the tent, but in great spirits as Dark Lord Day begins.
Dustin and I are in Group B, so we have some time to hang out. There’s a variety of beers on the table, I pick up a few random ones, take a sip then talk with the people around me. Some in the group who were Group A and arrived at 6am to get in line return with their 4 bottles of Dark Lord and variant. The topic of conversation is definitely about the variants available that day, what was left and what everyone is going to try for first.
Like the day before, I get to try some amazing beers: Bottle Logic Ground State, a 2014 Sump, FSW Peachy Bones, 2014 New Glarus R&D Vintage, Side Project Abricot du Fermier (B2) and an 18th Street BA Bitches’ Bank. My absolute favorite though is a 2003 Cantillon Lou Pepe Kriek. I make a lot of new friends, a few new trading partners (I am looking for a variety of sours to start trying), then it’s time for Lisa, Dustin and me to get in line.
11am: The Line
11:15am: The Line
11:30am: The Line
11:45am: The Line
12pm: The Line
DLD passes are allocated by Group. With a pass, you can enter the grounds at any time, but you can only enter the line for your allocation at the time indicated for your Group on your pass. In addition to getting your Dark Lord beers, a pass entitles you to vouchers for beers being poured by other breweries and food, as well as access to an array of hard-core heavy metal music. We find a way to sneak into the middle with people Lisa and Dustin know and for the first time since we arrived, we are out in the rain.
The. Line. Is. Long. But people are happy, and eager to get in. As you take each step you see a graveyard of bottles from those who came before. We finally get through security (the ID check points are more strict than TSA) and head for the allocation line.
Lisa is in Group E (brutal), but since she has a pass we can all enter together. This line moves much faster than the line to enter the event. As you enter the brewery, you grab a tote bag with 4 2016 Dark Lords, and then head to the next room which holds all of the variants. The two most desirable variants are gone, so both Dustin and I grab a BA Dark Lord. We are in and out in less than 5 minutes with volunteers encouraging you to move quickly. Given how long we waited, it’s over in the blink of an eye. After we depart, beers in tote, we head for the beer trailers.
3 Floyd’s publishes which breweries will be attending before the event, but you never know when any given beer from a given brewery can will be on tap. Cold and drenched, we pull our soaking wet beer vouchers out of our coats and head to the line. The list in front of us is solid. I don't have the energy to move to another area and stand in line again so, I grab a 2016 Dark Lord (I mean why not) and start sipping.
Lisa finds us after purchasing some DLD merchandise, and we all agree we could use a break at the hotel before heading back for Lisa’s Group E time slot. We head back to the tent, say good-bye to everyone, and have just enough time to taste another winner from the weekend, Funky Buddha Morning Wood. A beer and brewery I continue to seek out.
2:30pm: Arrive back at hotel, nap
We arrive back at the hotel, I shower and put on dry clothes. It’s heaven.
5pm: Group E
Lisa, Dustin and I arrive back at 3 Floyd’s. It’s a shit show at this point. Anyone still here has likely been pounding beers since 9am and as we get quickly through the line, we’re just dodging sloppiness left and right.
Dustin is Lisa’s plus one, so they work their way to the beer allocation line, and I head back to the beer trailer to see what’s on tap. I try the FFF Quaanto, a Triple IPA, and a BA Raspberry Grand Poobah by Crown Brewing. There are a lot of breweries I had looked forward to trying, but the bottle share beers have more than made up for it. I am happy to just taste beers I have never tried before.
Lisa and Dustin come back, beers in hand, and we uber back to the hotel.
6:30pm: Bottle Share #2 at the Hotel
We order pizza (I wish it was Bomber’s BBQ, sad face) and kick off the final bottle share of the weekend. The crowd is a little thinner. Everyone is tired, worn out from the cold and rain, but most have saved their best for tonight’s share.
Tonight’s line-up includes:
Side Project Derivation is on point. When the bottle comes into the room (a great share from Jeremiah) everyone gets quiet. Admittedly I have no idea what it is, but as happened many times throughout the weekend, Dustin and Lisa just whisper to me, “you want to try this one.”
Another highlight of the night, Rob Syers hanging out with us. Rob is the artist behind Gumballhead the Cat. Gumballhead is a 3 Floyd's wheat beer (not normally my favorite style) that is like my kryptonite. I don't know what it is about that beer, but I could drink it for days. As the crowd weans, Rob hangs out with us, talking about the comic he had created for this year’s Dark Lord Day.
I turn in for the night, sad the day is over, sad I have to leave tomorrow.
10:30am: Saying Good-Bye
The weekend is coming to a close. As I head to breakfast and pass the front desk, I wonder if I should reserve rooms for 2017. It’s hard saying good-bye to Dustin and Lisa. After waiting so many years to meet them, a short 48 hours together doesn't seem like enough.
2:05pm: Depart Chicago for Boston
I sit down on the plane and slump into my seat. I'm tired, and pretty sure I’m about to fall asleep. Before I do though, I smile. I am so grateful for the weekend. I got to try some amazing beers, beers I never would have had the chance to try were it not for the bottle shares I attended. The weekend opened my eyes to sours, which I am still exploring, but love more and more with every sip. Most importantly though, I met an amazing group of people. Dustin and Lisa’s friends welcomed me into their crew with open arms, no questions asked. They shared their beer with me, made me feel at home, and I left with more friends than I started with. That’s the beer community, that’s why to this day I still live by the mantra “sharing it is priority one.”
Evil Twin, Michigan Maple Jesus
(I bought 2… I drank 1 and sent the other to Dustin)