Drinking in a heady father-son adventure
Road trip to savor craft beer in Des Moines, Chicago, and Muenster strengthens bond, brew-tasting list
By John H. Ostdick
MUENSTER, Indiana — The cold, dreary rain that softly pelts my son, Hunter, and me seems apt on something called Dark Lord Day.
Yet, the weather is doing little to dampen the good vibe flowing among the thousands of beer lovers standing in a Muenster, Indiana, queue awaiting entrance to 3 Floyds Brewing Co.
The 20th annual Dark Lord Day release-date extravaganza of the brewing company’s Russian Imperial Stout, which attracts fans around the world, is the focal point of our father-son, road-and-beer trip. A couple of months before, Hunter, beer manager at Pogo’s Wine & Spirits in Dallas, texted me to hold this weekend open and then plunked down the $200 apiece that reserved us a spot in this sudsy circus.
So here we are, 1,200 miles later, after a detour to craft-beer-rich Iowa, road stops along the way to pick up impossible-to-get-in-Texas craft beers and a Cubs game at Wrigley Field in Chicago.
The craft beer explosion has exponentially increased the number of craft breweries worldwide. In 2012, there were 97 craft breweries in the United States (craft breweries fall under a small brewery designation, which means they have annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less), according to the Boulder, Colorado-based Brewers Association, a not-for-profit industry trade group). By 2015, that number had jumped to 178, a 31.9 percent increase from the previous year (the total number of U.S. breweries — regional craft, microbreweries, brewpubs, and both large and small non-craft breweries — was 4,269 in 2015).
Craft-brewed beer accounts for 20 percent of the U.S. beer market share by dollars and a 12.2 percent share
by volume in 2015, according to Association figures. That translated into a $22 billion business in 2015.
The following for 3 Floyds Brewing Co., birthed in 1996, is almost cultish. Three Floyds lives up to the brewing company’s “It’s Not Normal” slogan in strictly adhering to “the Samurai code of the German beer purity law.” Dark Lord, an Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar, packs a punch befitting its heavy-metal label imagery.
The $200 ticket (strictly issued, no transfers, ID required upon entry) grants holders entrance to the festival
grounds, four bottles of 2016 Dark Lord Imperial Stout, one bottle of a rare Dark Lord variant, and a commemorative tote bag with $40 worth of food and drink vouchers for food fortifications and a bevy of brews on tap inside. For me, this adventure is a lark; for Hunter, it is lark, passion, and professional fact-and-taste gathering.
Festivals championing the craft beer movement are mushrooming. Beerfestivals.org recorded 1,478 such events in 2015, and the numbers keep climbing. The 2015 annual Great American Beer Festival in Denver drew 60,000 participants, who had access to product from 750 breweries. The festival is celebrating its 35th year October 6 through 8.
One of the early pioneers in the craft beer movement, Samuel Adams founder Jim Koch, forecast a heady
future for his industry in a 2009 interview: “Fifty years ago, a handful of California winemakers started making great wine and changed the way Americans think about U.S. wine and wine in general. Now it has a lot of respect and nobility.
“Beer is having the same metamorphosis. Twenty-five years ago, a handful of small American brewers started making world-class beer and changing how Americans think about beer. And 20-somethings are adopting beer in the same way their boomer parents adopted wine. It’s not just something they slug down — they want to sample it, know about it.”
That awakening is out in force in Muenster.
We’ve Uber-ed (parking is extremely limited) from our nearby hotel, where the desk clerk informs me that
founder/president Nick Floyd hung out in the lobby with fans the previous night.
Jake DeHart, his brother Josh, and some area friends — millennials all — are just ahead of us in the line waiting admittance. As we wait, they offer plastic cups and pours from the brews they have brought with them in backpacks. The products run from high lobs to baseline smashes for our taste buds. Super, thick and sweet is followed by light, sour alternatives. One guy keeps walking the line offering taste of the brews he has brought — Jake describes one heady alcohol content beer that packs a cough-medicine sweetness as “diabetes brew.”
This is Jake’s fifth Dark Lord Day, although he had to travel a bit farther this year than previous ones — he had moved to Austin, Texas, some months ago. He and his friends offer insider tips on how best to maneuver once inside — get beers to taste, food and merchandise as warranted, then seek refuge from the rain in the large concert tent until about 30 minutes before for your product time slot, when you line up again. Then taste to your heart’s content.
We do just that in cold rain, tasting brews and munching on slightly misted chorizo link sandwiches with guacamole, feta, and cilantro.
Although the crowd trends youngish and male, there are plenty of females and codgers sprinkled in. Everyone is friendly, bubbly, and into uber-sharing — of regional beer knowledge, differences in product, and their own story. I gather a deepened appreciation of how well Hunter knows his business in the process.
By the time we shuffle through the line to collect our 3 Floyds product, my saturated clothes are starting to meld. Hunter has indicated he’d like me to pick up Conquistador de la Muerte, a seasonal Milk Stout aged for one year in bourbon barrels with ancho and guajillo, as my variant selection.
Among much clamor around me, I am the sole customer for a tall, bearded staffer who stands behind the Muerte station. He smiles broadly at me in my bedraggled state, hands me a bottle, and says, “I love you, brother. Enjoy.”
We don’t hang in the screaming tent to listen to the lineup of six heavy metal bands playing all day. We don’t even make it that far into the wet afternoon, as Hunter has to catch a plane at Midway Airport to get home and I am meeting my brother, who happens to be hiking in Indiana, for a few days of brother bonding. But we feel that we got our money’s worth.
Hunter allows that he “didn’t have a bad beer the entire trip.” We thoroughly enjoyed the AAA game we saw in Des Moines (go Iowa Cubs!) and a Cubs win at Wrigley.
The road time we’ve spent together has allowed me to further appreciate who Hunter is, more intimately see how his adult mind works, and how easily he interacts with strangers. That leaves a taste better than the most mellow of lagers.
THE ROAD TRIP SCORECARD
A look into our Stop/shop/taste bag:
Good beer selection, farm-to-market pretzels, Bavarian, potato rosemary, jalapeno-cheddar style, served warm with a choice of dipping sauce
Michigan-based Bell’s Brewing Co.’s Oberon Ale (a pale wheat scheduled to begin distribution in Texas in 2017)
Brooklyn-based Evil Twin Brewing’s Aun Mas Todo Jesus stout
Denver-based Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project’s Progerator, a Wild American ale with a lemony tartness
Missouri-based Crane Brewing’s Grapefruit Gose, the salty, sour gose of Leipzig with an American touch of grapefruit zest
Ingersoll Wines and Spirits
Downtown location, good selection of craft beers.
Some of Chicago’s famous Old Style (to share with Dallas friends)
Iowa-based Toppling Goliath Brewing Co.’s pseudoSue, an American Pale Ale that is the state’s most sought-after brew
Iowa-based Peace Tree Brewing’s Kiss from a Gose, a tart golden ale twist on a classic German gose
Exile’s American IPA, a smack of fruity and floral aromas
El Bait Shop
An incredible beer-packed neighborhood dive, packed with a lunch crowd, many tables brewless, a testament to the quality of the food. The broasted chicken was excellent. We could have made a career out of the 236 drafts, bottles, or cans listed on its printed beer list. A list is updated weekly online (elbaitshop.com/beer-menu). The Miller High Life Lounge, immediately next door, is a 1960s homage bar.
Des Moines-based Exile Brewing Co.‘s The Gigi, a smooth caramel dark lager
Toppling Goliath’s Golden Nugget, a golden, medium-bodied IPA
Peace Tree Brewing’s No Coast IPA, a grapefruit-kissed brew with a brooding bitterness
Asian-inspired pizzas & appetizers, where we devoured Sesame Chicken pizza and Pizza Rolls (handmade in egg roll wrappers, filled with pepperoni, Graziano sausage and mozzarella, served with marinara)
Iowa-based Confluence Brewing’s Des Moines IPA, a citrus-infused, piney American take on India Pale Ale
Exile Brewing Co.
Exile Brewing Co. in Des Moines, which opened in 2012, only distributes its product on draught and in bottles throughout Iowa. California-based Zester’s Daily placed Exile fifth on its “America’s 10 Best-Selling New Craft Beers” ranking in 2015.
Brews and a fairly extensive menu
Hannah, Bavarian Wheat and malt with citrus, banana and clove accents
Beatnik Sour, a tart and acidic Berliner-style Weisse
Blood Orange Bohemian, a fruit sour ale
Binny’s Beverage Depot
32 Chicago locations
Good selection of craft products.
3 Floyd’s Brewing Co. Alpha six pack, a bold yet balanced American Pale Ale with slight caramel sweetness and aggressive citrus hoppiness that the brewery considers its flagship beer
3 Floyd’s Brewing Co. Gumballhead six pack, an American wheat beer with a refreshing, crisp citrus finish
Home to Cubs’ AAA team has better craft beer offerings than Glove Life Park in Arlington.
Peace Tree Brewing’s Sound Check Session IPA, easy-drinking, light hop-forward India Pale Ales; portion of each sale goes to growing music scene in central Iowa
Iowa-based Boone Valley Brewing Co.’s Hallagan Porter, a low-bitterness porter with slight chocolate flavors
Iowa-based West O Beer’s CocO Chocolate Stout, hints of chocolate, plus coffee and oats
Old Style draft to go with our Chicago Dog
3 Floyd’s Brewing Co.
Dark Lord Day
Wildly unusual brews and one heck of an annual celebration
Standing in line (we missed the name of some walk-by pours)
California-based Lagunitas Brewing Co.’s Waldos Special, a honey citrus hops bomb
Minnesota-based Steel Toe Brewing’s Dissent, roasted malt with hint of coffee
Austin-based Jester King Brewery’s Foudreweizen, collaboration with Austin’s Live Oak Brewing Co.
Gumballhead, American wheat beer with a crisp citrus finish
(“brewed with boatloads of Amarillo hops”)
Zombie Dust, intensely hopped and gushing Pale Ale
Yum-Yum, a Pale Ale with just the right malt backbone to support an explosive juicy hop profile
Dark Lord, Russian Imperial Stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar
Deesko, a Munster-style Berliner Weiss — a tart, summer brew
LazerSnake, an old-fashioned Indiana Pale Ale, brewed with special Bavarian hops
Midway Airport bar
Chicago-based Revolution Brewing’s Anti-hero IPA, a four-hop blend that imparts bitterness and massive floral/citrus aromas
FOR FURTHER CONSIDERATION
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