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.


Jul 6 2009

Gumballhead and My Homebrewed Clone Review

So here’s a little side-by-side comparison between Three Floyd’s Gumballhead and my homebrewed cloned version.

Three Floyds Brewing began distributing their beers to Virginia years ago, but then cut us off again after what seemed like less than a year later. I assume that they couldn’t keep up on the production side of things, and I don’t blame them for that. But it was cruel deed when they snatched away their Alpha King from me after it had, in no short order, become my favorite IPA.

Another of the many casualties of the withdrawal was Gumballhead. Gumballhead is an American wheat beer that had been aggressively hopped with Amarillo. American wheat beers had always underwhelmed me, and I think I can write some of that off to a younger palate that was still hoppy-crazy. I only had one bomber of this beer, and it was many years ago, but it was an eye opener and it made me think about that style from a whole other angle.

Fast forward to 2009, spring was rolling into Virginia and that was the time that I usually brewed a nice, refreshing hefewiezen. Since it was a yearly brew, I had tweaked my hefe recipe down to the point where it was a perfect summer brew. I kept the fermentation cool, to keep out the bubblegum flavors, and the balance of cloves and bananas was a teetering wonder.  But a six pack of that sounded great, but I wasn’t in the mood for 5 gallons this time.

Long story short: Gumballhead was the answer. A cool, wheat beer with the floral and citrus bite of late- and dry-hopping sounded perfect. I did some research on the web and looked at what some other brewers had done. I tweaked a recipe for my system, and I was ready to go. I even had a name for it: Fritz the Cat. Gumballhead is named after an underground comic book character that I had never heard of, but I had to make a small tribute to an artist I knew and loved: R. Crumb.



The added bonus was that a friend of mine rolled back into town from a roadtrip and brought me back a few beers from Michigan and Indiana. One of them was a Gumballhead, and so it seemed like a good idea to compare the two.

Right from the first pour, the carbonation was clearly different. GBH had a thick bubbly head, while my FTC had a thinner, but creamier, head.


Gumballhead Clone close
Fritz the Cat (clone)

Once you get past the bubbles, these two beers are amazing similar looking. Both were deep oranges with straw highlights. My FTC might have been a hint darker, but not in a way that was glaringly obvious. I’m painfully impressed with myself.

Gumballhead Clone -

Aroma: The GBH had a dump truck of grapefruit aroma with a hint of orange in the median. Mine was reversed in that the orange was in front and the grapefruit was in the backseat.  (Yeah, I’ll mix my metaphors.  Wait, do dump trucks have backseats?)

Taste: This is where the two beers clearly separated, but remained similar. The GBH gave me a slight wheat flavor with a hint of cloves. The more it warmed, the more fruity it became as it reclaimed the grapefruit and slid into apricots. My FTC had more wheat character and a bit more bitterness. It had a deeper and thicker mouthfeel, and it rolled to the side of a tangerine sweetness.

The biggest difference between them seemed to be the carbonation. The GBH, as you could tell by the head, was more bubbly and refreshing. Downright sessionable. My was good for a hot summer day, but the density made it more replenishing than refreshing.

Next time? I’d up the carbonation a hair and I’d probably try to mash it at a higher tempature in order to lower the final gravity.  As I mentioned in my note to friends about FTC, but before this tasting, I would not bitter it with amarillo just for the minor cost savings and I’m just not a fan of that hop for bittering.  Also, I’ve been playing around a lot with Golden Promise, and this one might be closer to style with an American 2-row, or lighter base malt.

Is this one clone?  No, but it is a nice, kissing-cousin to the Gumballhead.  My Fritz the Cat is a light and clean brew…..until you put it up against the work of some professional brewers, but I’m happy with it all the same.


The stripped down recipe:

Golden Promise 2-row 48%
Wheat Malt 48%
CaraVienne Malt 4%

0.25 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0 AA) – First Wort
0.25 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0 AA) – 60 min
0.50 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0 AA) – 15 min
0.50 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0 AA) – 5 min
0.25 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0 AA) – 0 min
2.00 oz Amarillo Pellets (8.0 AA) – Dry

S.G. – 1.046
F.G. – 1.010

Yeast- Safale-05 fermented at 68°F

Primary – 2 weeks (dry-hopped the last 7 days)