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What changed for 2014? Faster lines for bottled Dark Lord, for one thing, which answered my only serious complaint from last year. Lots of stuff that already worked fine Three Floyds left well enough alone: Running Waters Group, the events company that came aboard in 2013, handled the logistics again. The layout was broadly similar, with the band stage in the green space across the street from the brewery. The brewpub again closed for the day, so that all the taps were outdoors.
Three Floyds insists that despite this new category, the total number of 2014 tickets didn't exceed the number sold in 2013; the attendance estimate issued before the festival held steady at 8,000 to 10,000. Ergo the population waiting in line for Dark Lord bottles should've shrank by the number of general-admission folks—somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000. The Dark Lord allotment grew, likely for the same reason, to four bottles per person from three last year (I still remember 2009, when you could buy two golden tickets and go home with eight bombers). The price stayed at $15 apiece.
I'm not going to pretend I could get anything like a head count in my Dark Lord bottle line (Group C, for the record), but compared to the past few years, it breezed along. I'd gotten a ride to Munster with my friend Ed Knigge (you may remember him from his long tenure in Bloodyminded), and the two of us waited for just shy of an hour and a quarter.Perennial's rye-barrel-aged 17 Imperial Mint Chocolate Stout. That right there was pretty much worth the $20 we'd spent to park.
Not to belittle the generosity of our neighbors, but the empties heaped up against the fencing that herded us zig-zagging toward our Dark Lord bespoke the presence of many painfully decadent line drinkers who'd gone before: I saw Bourbon County Proprietor's, Hunahpu's Imperial Stout from Cigar City, the Alchemist's Heady Topper, Bell's Black Note, the Bruery's Chocolate Rain, and bottles I couldn't identify from Captain Lawrence and Lawson's Finest Liquids, among dozens and dozens more.
At the end of the Dark Lord line, you could only buy Dark Lord—the other big change that sped up the process this year. (I know I've done some dithering at the counter myself, trying to split my budget between Permanent Funeral and Toxic Revolution.) Other Three Floyds bottles, formerly offered side-by-side with the stout of honor, waited at the end of an entirely different line. It looked daunting enough that I didn't bother standing in it. Folks from too far away to get any Three Floyds beers at home were going batshit crazy—I saw one guy with at least eight cases balanced on a hand truck. I later heard that the brewery had pallets of vintage Dark Lord bombers for sale, alongside all that Zombie Dust: 2011 for $40, 2012 for $35, and 2013 for $30.
The $50 barrel-aged Dark Lord variants this year were (1) bourbon barrel with vanilla beans, (2) brandy barrel, and (3) something called "The Earl of Biggleswade," aged in a brandy barrel with cardamom, orange peel, and cacao nibs. As usual the scratch-off on my golden ticket said "sorry," so I'm just going to have to use my imagination.
I didn't manage to try 2014 Dark Lord at all, in fact—not even the straight-up plebeian version (though the 2013 is still tasting great). Your golden ticket used to get you a short pour of the current batch once you'd made it back outside, but that didn't seem to be the case this year. To be fair, I can't remember if I was asked to surrender my ticket at the bottle-sales table or if I just lost it like a doofus. Your opinions are welcome in the comments! (Your opinions of this year's Dark Lord, I mean, not about whether or not I'm a doofus.)
Dark Lord variants on tap included 2014 brandy and bourbon-vanilla and 2011 Heaven Hill—and all I had was a sip or two of the 2013 from somebody else's cup! If I hadn't had such a good time, I'd be sorry about how much I missed. Sometimes it's a blessing not to learn about this sort of thing till there's nothing you can do about it.
I heard quite a few people complain about out-of-control lines for the guest taps, but they were pretty short by 3:30 PM, when I first decided to take my chances. In retrospect, this was probably because most of the kegs of ticker bait had kicked by then. I'd arrived at about 1:30 and spent most of the intervening time in the Dark Lord line. One change that might help: A limit of one beer per person at the taps. I could see that speeding up the lines and (slightly) extending the life of the most sought-after kegs.
The food lines sucked (and eight bucks for a cheeseburger with no fries is definitely "festival pricing"), but this was predictable, since several hundred fewer people were queuing up for Dark Lord at any given time. You could also end up waiting uncomfortably long for a porta-potty, unless you'd discovered the huge corral of them near the stage.
The wait for barrel-aged Dark Matter coffee was likewise insane, but I don't have anything to compare it to—I can't recall seeing that stuff for sale at DLD before. (The Chicago roaster's offerings included bottles of Black Hole Necromancer, an iced red eye aged in cognac barrels and dipped in the same blue wax as this year's Dark Lord.) Entirely by coincidence I'm sure, 2014 Dark Lord was brewed not with the usual Intelligentsia coffee but instead with Dark Matter's Unicorn Blood espresso.
So what else can I complain about? (I mean, "What else can I offer constructive criticism about?") I got some trouble from security for my small rolling suitcase, which I've been bringing to Dark Lord Day for seven years—three different staffers told me I'd be turned away, and if I hadn't ended up with a sympathetic bag screener, I wouldn't have made it past the gate. Given that the list of prohibited items on the DLD website mentions only kegs, coolers, chairs, firearms, and other weapons, I felt ambushed. What if I'd come on a bus, without a friend's car where I could abandon an allegedly forbidden piece of luggage? Especially for the sake of festivalgoers who travel huge distances and can't change plans on a dime, the regulations should be crystal clear online.
Even more confounding, security decided late in the afternoon that nobody would be allowed to bring alcohol onto the grounds (I heard but couldn't confirm that this was the result of a police edict). My friend Ed and I learned the hard way, returning from ditching our Dark Lord in his trunk. I tried to get back in with the same two bottles I'd left with 20 minutes earlier and had to flat-out weasel my way through the bag check. ("Talk to the guy over there in the yellow jacket," the screener said. I walked toward the guy in question—and then kept walking.)
I realize that defying the cops is not a great way to run a beer festival. Under such circumstances, if departing patrons are getting stamped for re-entry, staff should clue them in about the new rules: "Hey, no more outside alcohol."
One of my bottles, by the way, was Corsair's Rasputin hop whiskey, made by distilling a Russian imperial stout and passing the vapors through a chamber filled with hops. I recommend it!
And a public-service announcement: Don't carry your four-pack of Dark Lord by the handle on top. Not unless you don't care if the bottles fall out the bottom.
Anyway. I've run on at some length about what I didn't get to drink—which beers did I actually try? I paid for a grand total of three pours all day. The first was New Belgium's NBB Love, a blackberry sour aged in whiskey barrels that I'm almost certain I remember enjoying. The second was Last City Zero, a tasty malt liquor brewed by DryHop and Kuma's and named after the Corrections House album—it's the sort of beer you drink out of a really nice paper bag.Local Option's Walk of Shame tart saison, 21st Amendment's Lower De Boom Barleywine, and a trio of Three Floyds beers, the pale ale Yum Yum, the Berliner weisse Deesko!, and the reliably ridiculous smoked-and-spiced Ham on Rye, originally brewed with Jonathan Cutler at Piece. (Everything but the 21st Amendment was on tap.)
One standout was the imperial cherry oud bruin from Kuhnhenn Brewing in Warren, Michigan—I think Chris Quinn from the Beer Temple had a bottle. (Well, it was either Chris or his friend, whose name escapes me.) And John Laffler from Off Color handed me his flask of distilled Goose Island Sofie over the VIP fence—I had only one small pull, but I feel confident saying I'll never taste anything else quite like it. The original beer's flowery saison yeast and citrus oils, concentrated by distillation, felt like a golden patina on the hot liquor.
I also got to sample Rue D'Floyd, a Three Floyds collaboration with the Bruery—it's an imperial porter with cherries, coffee, and vanilla beans, aged in bourbon barrels. You might've heard about this one already, since the Bruery provoked a shitstorm in a teacup by announcing that the beer might be infected with lactobacillus (and deciding to sell it anyway, albeit at a discount). Based on the sip I had, I'll side with the early reviewers who are convinced it's fine—or at least that the bugs haven't yet had time to do any perceptible harm. It reminded me of a black forest cake or a cordial cherry covered in bittersweet chocolate.
Attentive readers will recall that I mentioned three pours and only named two. I've been holding off on the third because it was my favorite beer of the day—and yes, I realize how silly it is to have a "favorite" at a festival like this. My palate was shot from seesawing between syrupy adjunct stouts and dry, fruity sours, and I drank far too little of most of the beers I tried to form a reliable opinion.
That said, I went back for a second 12-ounce glass of a new Three Floyds beer called Boom Over Pow, an alleged ESB that's a manageable 6.7 percent alcohol (I say "alleged" because it looks more like a pale ale, and its flavor has little to none of the usual toasted malt character). I had my first pour from the food and beer station halfway down the Dark Lord line, whose existence might be a new development this year and is in any case a welcome one.
My first impression was of dazzling aromatics—the words that came to mind were "rose" and "apricot," and I'm sticking with them. Boom Over Pow has the intense, floral fruitiness of a Three Floyds pale ale (I also tasted mango, jasmine, and cherry) but very little of the prickly, piney bitterness that usually follows on its heels; instead the beer's profile was balanced by something gently woody, tannic, and citrusy, like unsweetened Earl Grey tea. The malts announced themselves mostly with the flavor of raw buckwheat honey.
In other words, Three Floyds: This ought to be on tap at every beer-nerd hole in Chicago by June. Heck, bottle it on top of that. People will drink the shit out of this stuff.
Of course I watched a lot of metal too. Dark Lord Day reliably sounds better than 90 percent of the street festivals you can see in Chicago, thanks to the talents of engineer Elliot Dicks—and the bookings are no joke.
Corrections House made good on the promise of their album—their grim and menacing wall of noise, given an extra sheen of slow-moving distortion by the cold wind tangling with the air in front of the speaker stacks, sounded like an automatic dishwasher full of sheet metal and ball bearings.
Eyehategod beat their evil sludge to within an inch of its life, inspiring the audience to topple the crowd-control barriers that kept them a dispiriting distance from the band. (I was too close to the excitement and got popped in the left kneecap by something heavy—I'm still limping a little on stairs.)
I don't remember much about High on Fire—there's a nonzero chance that the cold was preventing me from noticing how pickled I'd gotten. Once I settled into Ed's toasty car for the ride back to Chicago, I could barely keep my eyes open. I'm very glad he stayed more functional than I did.
My hands were definitely numb enough that I didn't feel myself scoop out a little piece of the knuckle on my left index finger. I only noticed when I got home and started finding blood everywhere. I'd painted an alarming number of spots onto my gray jacket, inside and out (I knew I should've worn a black one instead). The left-hand pocket of my jeans looked like I'd killed a mouse in it with a wrench.
Cold water, people! As long as you wash your clothes in a hurry, the blood comes right out.
In terms of fun per hour, this was the best Dark Lord Day I've been to yet. I wish I'd still had both prongs in the socket when High on Fire played—they're one of my favorite live bands, full stop—but you can't win 'em all. And nobody can hold Three Floyds responsible for the wind chill.
If you found the lens cap for a ten-year-old Konica Minolta, though, would you let me know?