-Tickets (The Planning Phase)
The journey begins weeks before the event, as I have 3 screens open in an attempt to get tickets. I knew they would go quickly, and website problems had plagued me in the past. 3 screens means 3 times the chances, right? Wait… What is this – a queue? Welcome to the first line of Dark Lord Day! I’m placed in the queue before tickets go on sale. I wait, then wait some more, and finally, there it is – I’m in group D! Tickets secure, I rejoice by tweeting out my accomplishments: “Dark Lord Day 2014 here I come! In your face, everyone else!”
-Bus (The Arduous Journey)
Of the two places in Chicago that offer bus service to Dark Lord Day, one charges (and picks up in my neighborhood), and the other is free (so, of course, it’s further away). Being a virile man with sound decision making skills, I naturally go with the free ride. I soon find out how popular my choice was when, at 10am, the 11am bus is already full. Damn all those intelligent, crafty, like-minded people. I reluctantly kill some time and, after waiting in only my second line (so far), board the 1pm Reggie’s bus. Finally – my first beer of the day! Even with the delayed departure, the bus was clearly the smartest way to go. Yeah me!
-Grounds (Party Time)
As we pull in, the bus crowd cheers; we’re finally at Dark Lord Day! As we get our bearings, we see people carrying cases of beer out of the fest grounds, tents near the gates, and a line (number three for those keeping track) to get in. Entrance was easy after a quick bag and ID check. The grounds are just how I remember them from last year: a stage on the east side of the road, which has kindly been blocked off, and that shining beacon to the west: the brewery. Beer, food, and merch vendors line the perimeter. Tables promoting bottle sharing are scattered around, and there are plenty of people taking naps on everything that’s not concrete. The event is a swarm of beer dudes from all over the US. I have found my home.
-Lines (The Bane of All Existence)
If you’ve ever heard about Dark Lord Day, you’ve heard about the lines. Lines everywhere: for beer, for food, for bathrooms… I wait in the beer line for 20 minutes and realize that they’re not serving Dark Lord anymore. Great. Thanks, Lines. I settle for Boogoop instead – a light 10.5% to get the day going. So far, I’ve been here for an hour and I still haven’t tried 2014 Dark Lord. I have to say, the line arrangements from DLD 2013 have been greatly improved for 2014. Lines are still hours long, but they no longer stretch out 3,000 yards through a business park.
-Bottle Share (Let’s All Take Off Our Clothes and Ride This Pony)
Over the years, Dark Lord haters have begun to emerge, stating that the festival has become too large, too commercial, it’s a marketing ploy… Well DUH. How dare a company want to make money and raise brand awareness?! I can’t believe they would do something so blatant! I, for one, am happy those people stay away from the fest. For me, it’s not just about getting a bottle of Dark Lord or listening to heavy metal (those are just the most obvious perks). For me, it’s about what goes on at the tables and tents. Dark Lord Day may be one of the largest bottle sharing events in the US. Since I know people travel from all over the US, I came well equipped with 6 bombers to share, focusing on Chicago beer, so everyone will know how awesome it is. My bombers were Une Annee Austere, Spiteful God Damn Pigeon Porter, Five Rabbit Huitzi, Goose Island Matilda, Minnesota’s Steel Toe Dark Ale, and Unibroue La Fin Du Monte (for good measure). As I’m hanging out next to the stage, one of the bodies near the fence comes to life and gets up. I’ve just opened the Huitzi. The (now alive) guy tells me how much he loves this beer and wonders if I’d be willing to trade for a sample of Brasserie Cantillon Kriek Lambic. Uhhh… Yes please. Literally, walking through the crowd with an open bottle is an invitation to share and taste other beers. Everyone brings a glass – beer is best drunk out of a glass, not a cup (although I did make the mistake of not bringing a glass… shame on me). In my humble (educated, smart, erudite) opinion, the best bottle sharing happens outside the gates.
There are tents with tables, and anyone can join and put a bomber or two down to share. This is where the real fun happens. At the Rose Hulman table, I experience a 2007 -2011 Stone Vertical Epic tasting and a Cigar City/Ecliptic Illuminating the Path. Illuminating the Path is a pinot noir barrel aged spiced ale, and it goes down as one of my favorite beers sampled at Dark Lord Day 2014.
The line for Dark Lord allotment is where bottle sharing really gets crazy. Since everyone is barricaded like cattle going to slaughter, passing faces become familiar. I’m pouring beers for people whose glasses were empty, and when I run out, they fill me up right back. The kilted guy directly in front of me goes through 4 different Belgian beers, the guy walking past pours me a hard root beer, the father and son bar owners behind me have stock from their Wisconsin tavern cellar… This place is amazing.
It was my intention to take notes on all the beers I sample in line, but that gets scrapped pretty quickly – there are just so many beers were being passed around. The party rolls right into the brewery, where we receive our golden tickets for variant beer. Then, just like that, those beautiful souls I’ve shared the last 2 hours learning from and laughing with were gone, just like that. Was this even real?
– Friends (Do I know You?)
Initially, the fest feels large and full of strangers. As a founder of ManBQue, though, I’ve come to realize that no one is a stranger. If someone is involved in food, music, or beer, they’re a “friend of ours”. Besides the connections I make in line, I do run into some actual friends at the event:
Nick from Middlebrow Brewery is there (SHAMELESS PLUG: ManBQue is working on a collaboration beer with them, set to be released this summer); Jim from Fischmans Liquors, which is one of our favorite craft beer hang outs and home to some ManBQue events;
Despite the many hours I spend in Munster, and literally dozens of great beers I sample, I never actually get my hands on 2014 Dark Lord to taste. Yes, I’ve got a few bottles and even win a variant (so does Aubrey, renowned MBQ photographer and my illustrious date for the event), but I don’t plan on opening those until next weekend.
I say this every year: I’ve never had so much fun waiting in line. This festival isn’t about Dark Lord. It’s about beer culture, and coming together to celebrate it.
Also, I leave with a lot of photos of people passed out.