May 27 2011

Dark Lord Day 2011 – But the Waitin’ Feel is Fine

This is my very belated post about this year’s Dark Lord Day.

I had tickets for Dark Lord Day in 2010, but a family commitment kept me from going. So I was prepared to go this year and, although I struck out in getting a ticket, a friend had me covered.

This was my first time attending and I was excited to take in the Dark Lord experience. For those who have never heard of Dark Lord Day, it is big event put on by Three Floyds which is filled with beer lovers and an orgy of all things beer. People come from hundreds of miles around to get their allotted Dark Lord bottles, and to trade unusual and rare beers with others. That is what sold me on the event.

But it is easy to forget that the bulk of the day is spent waiting in lines.


It is a day of lines. Lines to get in. Lines to get your Dark Lord bottles. Lines to get your Three Floyds swag. Lines to try the guest taps. Lines to get into the 3F Brewpub (I didn’t even try). Lines to get food. Lines to……well, you get the idea.

No lines for the porta-johns, though. Seriously, that was well played, guys.

Three Floyds has gotten a lot of flack in the beer world for Dark Lord Day and how it is has been run the last couple of years. The process of selling the tickets is still a mess and, as someone who has been in the hunt to acquire tickets the last two years, the scrutiny they’ve gotten for that is well-deserved.

So how was Dark Lord Day 2011? I know you are on the edge of your seat and I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I thought it went smoothly. As smooth as you can expect considering the nature of the event.

The photo is full of a bunch of shifty motherfuckers, isn’t it?

Inside the gates was a mass of humanity, but not an insane one. People were polite, but it was like being in a giant, vibrating ant heap. It is always clear in events like this that beer people are good people.

The tickets were sold in “A”, “B”, and “C” versions, so Group A could pick up their bottles between 10am and noon, Group B was 1pm to 3pm, and C was between 5pm and 7pm. Fortunately a few of us had “A” tickets which allowed us to get directly in line for Dark Lord bottles once we arrived. The line was long, but it moved steadily.

This year, the Golden Tickets also had a scratch-off area that let you know whether you would have the ability, nay honor, of purchasing a bottle of the limited run barrel-aged Dark Lords for $50 each. Lots of us got lucky and, when all was said and done, our group got one of each bottle variant: a DL aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels, a DL aged in brandy barrels, a DL aged in brandy barrels with vanilla beans, and a DL, aka. Dark Lord de Muerte, aged in bourbon barrels with ancho and guajillo peppers.)

One of the cooler surprises was getting to meet Randy Mosher at Dark Lord Day. Randy is the author of the books Radical Brewing and Tasting Beer. Both are really great, and I find myself returning to Radical Brewing whenever I get in a homebrew rut. His understanding and explanation of unusual ingredients in brewing (i.e. atypical sugars, exotic spices, fruit, etc.) in that book are inspiring, and it has pushed me, personally, in new and exciting brewing directions. Highly recommended. At his table he had several types of coriander, plus cassia buds and I bunch of other spices I had never heard of. And he was very patient with might-have-had-a-couple-of-beers me, too. Thanks, Randy.

The only thing I had to say negatively about the day was that the Guest Tap line was absurd and badly run.

That line could be measured in hours, rather than minutes, and once you got up the front it all became clear. Lots of people standing around *wanting* to pour beers, but they were bottle-necked by some expediter/joker who brought things to a crawl. I grabbed two beers in the line, the Stone Double Bastard with chipotle peppers and Cigar City’s Big Sound scotch ale. The Stone was solid and very balanced. The Big Sound was amazing.

Isn’t there always 5 or 6 of these tragedies during each DLD?

All and all, it is was a great day and the weather even cooperated for a few minutes and let the sun shine through. And it didn’t hurt that there was jockey box next to us that was pouring Zombie Dust and Gumballhead. All. Day. Long.


The Good:
• The Dark Lord bottle and the bathroom lines moved quickly.
• All of the Dark Lord attendees were cool and unobnoxious
• All of the police and 3F event workers were cool and, I dare say, downright friendly
• It bears repeating: Beer people are good people

The Not So Good:
• The Merchandise, Guest Tap and 3F Brewpub lines we absurd and not worth getting in.
• This is the wrong location for this kind of event. No space, spent most of the day in an ant farm.

In the end, this event is about coming to the Three Floyds Brewery and getting in line to get your Dark Lord bottles. The rest is cake. I had a great time, and Three Floyds and the town of Munster, Indiana were great hosts.

Will I go to Dark Lord Day again? Maybe, but likely not anytime soon since getting to the Chicago area in April is never a great time for a trip.

But you never know.


May 23 2011

Score Sheets from the First Round of the 2011 National Homebrew Competition


The score sheets from the 1st round of the 2011 AHA National Homebrew Competition (NHC) came out last week. It is cool win ribbons and medals, but the feedback is the most part of entering these contests. And, with a competition like the national one, it is really, really hard to place without making a spectacular beer, so it is a good idea to keep your expectations low.

My sheets came back from the Nashville region and quality of the feedback and the scores I received were good. My average score was 31.87, which I am pleased with. The highest scores were 43s and the lowest score was smack down of a 15 (for a Scottish ale that aged badly).

The two scores of 43 that I received were for my “Tobias Fünke” flanders red and for my “Fargin Eishole” eisbock. The flanders red won 1st place for the Sour Ale category, and the eisbock won 3rd place for the Bock category. The feedback for these was very good but, honestly, how unhappy can you be with a beer that scores in the 40s?

The other beer that placed was my “Slow Motion Walter, Fire Engine Guy” oak-aged, smoked Baltic porter. It scored a 30.5 and it must have squeaked in to 3rd place in the Smoke-Flavored and Wood-Aged Beer category. The feedback for that was good, but both judges wanted a bit more smoke flavor in the beer. I can completely see that. I enjoy all styles of beer, but smoked beers are at the very bottom of that list. So, in making a smoked beer of my own, I went a little light on the Bamberg malt. I can live with that feedback because I’m not sure I’ll ever make a beer that I can’t enjoy just to do well in a competition. That’s BS to me.

My bourbon-oak tripel did really well and scored a 39.5, but it did not ribbon. This was simply a gallon of my tripel that I siphoned onto French oak cubes and Blanton’s bourbon. My feedback for that beer said it was nicely balanced and creamy. I agree, and it will be hard not to bourbon-oak the entire batch next time I make a tripel.

The only head scratchers were scores for the original tripel and the brett saison. The tripel received a 30, and it was downgraded for not having enough of a phenolic character. I think most American tripels are over-the-top with phenols so I specifically fermented that one cold to keep them subdued. But I can’t blame the judges for not “getting” what I was trying to do.

The other strange one was my brett saison which received a 31.5. (And it did pretty well in The Bruery’s Batch 300 competition.) Both judges only sensed a “slight sourness”…..which is mystifying. If it was supposed to be a sour saison, I would have marked it as such. This was a brett saison and brettanomyces does not make things sour. That is disappointing.

But, all and all, I’m happy with what I heard back from the Nashville region of the AHA NHC 2011 First Round. Hopefully one of my three beers advancing to the final round lucks into a medal. If not, there’s always 2012.


May 4 2011

Organic American Wheat with Rakau Hops – Haka

In 2009, I made a Gumballhead clone that turned out great and not too terribly far off the mark from the original. It even got a silver medal in the Dominion Cup for the Light Hybrid Beer category.  I wanted to make it again but, being me, I couldn’t make the same recipe twice.

In the end, I changed more things than I expected.

I wanted to keep the same grain base, which was almost a 50/50 split between American 2-Row and Wheat malt with a touch of Crystal 20L. The first was a single hopped beer of all Amarillo, so the real question was what hop did I want to highlight with this batch?

After some random conversations and stumbling around, I came across a New Zealand hop called Rakau. I could only find it on the Seven Bridges Cooperative website and it was described as having a “fruity character with tropical aroma highlights of passionfruit, mango, and peach.”

That sounded interesting and, since the Seven Bridges Coop is all about organic products, I decided to make the entire batch organic. After further conversations, and some advice from Bison Brewing, it didn’t appear that brewing an organic beer was in anyway different from the my normal brew day.

The only wild card was that I ordered the wrong yeast for the beer. I meant to get the WLP001 California Ale yeast, but accidentally asked for the WLP060, which is an American Ale Yeast Blend. The WLP060 is a mix of the WLP001 and two others strains, and sounds like it brings more of a lager character to the beer. This would accentuate the bitterness and the hops.   

These are the three organic grains: Crystal 20L, American 2-Row and Wheat Malt

These are the Horizon hops since the Rakau were pellets and really boring to photograph

The final change in the beer was a major one and completely accidental. In fact, it would be better labeled as a sloppy mistake. While putting this recipe into my brewing software, the Horizon hops defaulted to 0.25 ounces and I simply forgot to adjust it up to 1 ounce. Since Horizon is a 10.2% alpha acid hop AND it was added for the full 60 minute boil, it blew the IBUs off the top of these beer. Instead of being ~25 IBUs, like a normal American Wheat, this one is probably closer to 60 IBUs, like an American IPA.

I don’t what that spells for the beer. From my pre-carbonation tastings, it isn’t overwhleming bitter, but it certainly isn’t an American Wheat anymore. The hops are evolving. It is certainly like nothing I’ve made before.

It is named “Haka” for a traditional dance form of the Maori of New Zealand. I first saw this dance performed by the New Zealand All Blacks before a rugby game, and it was nothing but intensity and intimidation.

Just like this beer so far.

Haka – (Organic Rakau American Wheat)

Starting Gravity: 1.057 (4/3/11)
Final Gravity:  1.012 (5/4/11)
6.0% alcohol (by volume)
Apparent Attenuation: 78.1%
Real Attenuation: 64.0%

Mash (@150º 70 min)
5 lb American 2-Row
5 lb Wheat Malt
1 lb 20L Crystal Malt

1.00 oz Horizon Leaf Hops (10.2% AA) (60 min)
0.75 oz Rakau Pellet Hops (12.7% AA) (15 min)
1.00 oz Rakau Pellet Hops (12.7% AA) (5 min)
Irish Moss (Boil – 15 min.)

Primary (66º F)  

WLP060 American Ale Yeast Blend – Starter Made
2.0 oz Rakau Pellet Hops (12.7 AA) (4/27/11) (Dry hopped for 7 Days)