Dark Lord Day spreads out and levels up for 2013 | Bleader

Dark Lord Day spreads out and levels up for 2013

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Old Dark Lord (2008), new Dark Lord (2013)
  • Old Dark Lord (2008) on the left, new Dark Lord (2013) on the right
This year Dark Lord Day, the annual beer and metal festival that's also the only place (and the only day) that Three Floyds Brewing of Munster, Indiana, sells its famous Dark Lord Russian imperial stout, fell on Saturday, April 27. I've been going since 2008 (though I missed 2012), and in that time the brewery has made several changes in an attempt to control overcrowding, scalping, line jumping, and other bad behaviors that proliferate wherever demand exceeds supply.

Beginning in 2009 attendees had to buy Golden Tickets in advance in order to score their allotted bottles of Dark Lord. Beginning in 2011, to get a Golden Ticket you had to purchase an admission ticket, which restricted entrance to the grounds to patrons willing to pay up front (and able to pounce on the online sales page within minutes). Tickets have steadily increased in price, and cost $30 plus service fees in 2013. Three Floyds diverts money from ticket sales to charity, in part to blunt criticism that the brewery exploits the hype over Dark Lord to fleece its most dedicated customers: the event's FAQ page says, "We are donating a portion of the proceeds to three charities that support Veterans, Literacy and the Humane Society."

The Dark Lord, rendered more badass for 2013
  • The Dark Lord, rendered more badass for 2013
This year saw two more changes: On a superficial level, the Dark Lord label and logo got an overhaul for the first time since the beer was introduced in 2004, acquiring a much more evil-looking Dark Lord character. More important, the festival expanded into the wide-open green space across the road from the brewery, instead of being confined to the grounds—this gave the huge crowd roughly four times as much space to spread out, so that the ass-to-elbow congestion of past years evaporated entirely.

The band stage moved outdoors, an improvement not least because it became possible to tell that somebody was playing without fighting your way into the brewery building. This year's music lineup, first act first, was Bloodiest, Lair of the Minotaur, Sweet Cobra, Pig Destroyer, Municipal Waste, and High on Fire. Chicago's go-to metal engineer, Sanford Parker, was on hand to record the proceedings.

The new outdoor stage at Dark Lord Day, quiescent between bands
  • The new outdoor stage at Dark Lord Day, quiescent between bands

One of the guest-tap lists as of 2:47 PM. Click on the image if you care to actually read any of that.
  • One of the guest-tap lists as of 2:47 PM. Click on the image if you care to actually read any of that.
Lines for the guest taps have run as long as an hour and a half in past years, but I never waited more than five minutes on Saturday. (I arrived at about 2 PM, and I doubt that conditions were anything but better earlier in the day.) That said, I only made a couple trips through—I tried a nutty, roasty strong ale from Greenbush called Doomslayer (given the name, I felt obligated) and a zingy floral lambic from Mikkeller called Spontandoubleelderflower. I noticed Local Option's Sweet Leaf on tap too—a lovely Belgian golden ale brewed with New Zealand hops and sencha green tea—but I passed it up because I'd tried it the night before at the bar. (I'll get to the Three Floyds taps in a bit—and to the beers shared by fellow festivalgoers.)

I can't say anything one way or the other about the food lines, since I didn't actually buy anything to eat at Dark Lord Day. Ordinarily, with so many potent beers around and nothing much to do but drink them, this would be a reckless and eventually disgusting decision, but I'd had a proper lunch before heading down—and not only did I provision myself for the evening with trail mix and mini bagels from Trader Joe's, I also benefited from the generosity of Sun-Times digital editor Marcus Gilmer, who'd accidentally been served an extra brisket taco and gave it to me. (Thanks, Marcus!)

One thing that didn't improve this year—possibly the only thing that didn't improve—was the wait time to buy your allotment of Dark Lord. (The three-bottle limit per person was also the lowest I'd seen.) Sales fell behind schedule early in the day, and you could safely expect to spend at least two and a half hours in line.

A small part of the Group D line to buy bottles of Dark Lord. There are more people behind me than you can see here, and the line extends out of frame to the right for another block or so.
  • A small part of the Group D line to buy bottles of Dark Lord. There are more people behind me than you can see, and the line extends out of frame to the right for a block or so.

J.R. Hayes of Pig Destroyer
  • J.R. Hayes of Pig Destroyer repping Agoraphobic Nosebleed, another group featuring his bandmate Scott Hull
I was part of Group D, slotted for 4-6 PM, and I'd been dismayed to learn that Virginia grindcore champions Pig Destroyer would play at 4 PM. (The band ended up starting right on time, despite delays to the music programming early in the day.) If there's one administrative suggestion I'd make to the good citizens at Three Floyds, it'd be to announce the band schedule before Dark Lord ticket buyers have to pick their sales groups. I never would've chosen to be in line during Pig Destroyer if I'd known!

Fortunately I was traveling with CHIRP board member Micha Ward, who used my second ticket; he was happy to stay put and hold our place in line while my urgent trip to a portable toilet (no lines there either!) turned into a 40-minute absence while I watched Scott Hull and company rip it up. We'd fallen in with a few friendly groups of fellow queued-up beer nerds, who were sharing pours from schmancy bottles they'd brought from home. (The KBS to the lower right made the trip to Dark Lord Day courtesy of Mr. Ward.) Sharing or trading beer, formally or informally, is a big part of festivals like this, and in fact DLD featured an enormous tent dedicated to nothing but such activities—though I didn't spend any time in it, having arrived too late in the day to do much but wait in line or watch bands.

You definitely want to be standing in line next to someone with KBS.
  • You definitely want to be standing in line next to someone with KBS.
While waiting in line, I got to sample much more than KBS. Somebody behind me was pouring a 2009 bottle of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout. I had a taste of Half Acre's hoppy Quakerbridge barleywine, and I narrowly missed some great beers not distributed in Chicago, including Surly Syx and New Glarus Serendipity, a sour fruit ale made with cherries, apples, and cranberries. (Sometimes the motion of the line carries a beer fairy out of reach at exactly the wrong moment.) Pipeworks brews made a strong showing in the hands of nearby festivalgoers—folks gave me generous splashes of the Flower Child Berliner weisse and the Raspberry Truffle Abduction imperial stout. The bottle of Raspberry Truffle Abduction I reviewed last month was from batch 94, but this one was from number 120—tweaks to the recipe have brought the sour berry flavor much further forward. I think I was officially a bit of a dick for forgetting to fish anything special out of my fridge to pour around in return. Sorry, everybody. Apparently bringing food exhausted my advance-planning acumen.

The Pig Destroyer crowd. Can you spot the six women visible in this photo?
  • The Pig Destroyer crowd. Can you spot the six women visible in this photo?

Scott Hull of Pig Destroyer
  • Scott Hull of Pig Destroyer repping Three Floyds' Zombie Dust
I also hit up the Three Floyds taps a few times, where the lines weren't just short but nonexistent. All you had to do was walk up and pay. I won't pretend to have been taking tasting notes, but I tried two great tap-only pale ales—Michiana Power and the astronomically rated Space Station: Middle Finger. The gentleman who took my money for the latter also, perhaps appropriately, gave me the finger. Even after I tipped! "I dunno, man," he said, laughing. "It just never gets old!" I especially had fun with Three Floyds' nicely funky and spritzy Berliner weisse, Deesko!, which you could flavor with any of a dizzying variety of syrups, arrayed on the table in tiny bottles. I remember a woodruff syrup—highly traditional in Germany but often regulated because it contains the toxin coumarin—as well as cherry-thyme (I think) and grapefruit-rosemary, which is what I opted for. That beer made me wish I'd gotten to it while the sun was still out.

I also tried a bit of this year's Dark Lord, of course, though I shared somebody else's glass instead of putting one away single-handedly. (It's a fiendishly strong beer, and I didn't want to end up sitting down on my suitcase and holding very still for 45 minutes while waiting for Indiana to stop spinning, like I did in 2010.) Dark Lord is usually scorched and syrupy, with a lot of port, coffee, and molasses in the flavor, and the 2013 is no exception—but this one opens with a startling flush of blackberry and blueberry that I don't recall from any previous iteration, then finishes with a less treacly sweetness that's more like brown sugar.

I saw five guys in kilts, but only one in a homemade Dark Lord helmet.
  • I saw five guys in kilts, but only one in a homemade Dark Lord helmet.

After finally making it through the Group D line and into the brewery, where I loaded my rolling suitcase (yes, I am a nerd) with eight bomber bottles, all I had left to do was soak up some rampaging barbarian metal from High on Fire. If guitarist and front man Matt Pike was bothered to be playing a beer festival less than a year after going through rehab for a drinking problem, it didn't show. And "Learn how to play drums like Des Kensel" remains on my bucket list. For the first time, I was complimented on my headbanging by a stranger. Yes, my neck still hurts.

Props to ace engineer Elliot Dicks, who supplied the sound system. "You see that up there?" he asked me, pointing at the stacks. "That's every fucking piece of gear I have." He and his crew, which included Che Arthur and Steve Moore, made Dark Lord Day's outdoor stage sound louder and clearer than most club PAs I've heard.

Jeff Matz, Des Kensel, and Matt Pike of High on Fire
  • Jeff Matz, Des Kensel, and Matt Pike of High on Fire

On top of my three bottles of Dark Lord, I picked up two of Toxic Revolution (the Muncipal Waste oatmeal stout I reviewed three weeks ago), one of the astonishing Pig Destroyer pale ale, Permanent Funeral (named after a song from last year's Book Burner), and two of Tiberian Inquisitor, a strong Belgian pale aged for a year in Chardonnay barrels (I'll be letting it mellow in the bottle for a bit, based on the very mixed reviews I've seen).

My friend Sei Jin Lee—you may know him as the tall Korean guy standing by the stage at house left at every Empty Bottle show ever—won the opportunity to buy one of the $50 barrel-aged Dark Lord variants, as did his buddy Tim Coghlan. (Every Golden Ticket has a scratch-off window, but mine have always said "Sorry.") They picked a port-aged bottle and a muscatel-aged bottle, which I helplessly coveted on the ride back to Chicago. At least they let me play the new Clutch record in the car!

This years bottle haul: Toxic Revolution, Dark Lord, Permanent Funeral, and Tiberian Inquisitor
  • This year's bottle haul: Toxic Revolution, Dark Lord, Permanent Funeral, and Tiberian Inquisitor

Overall I would rate this my favorite Dark Lord Day—the combination of beautiful weather, good company, short tap lines, great metal, and delicious, novel beers more than made up for the painful wait for bottles. There's still room for improvement, but it feels uncharitable to point that out given how much the event has improved already.

Philip Montoro writes about beer and metal, singly or in combination, every Monday.

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