Sunday, April 29, 2007

Professor of the Dark Arts meets the Dark Lord

I am of the intelligence that I am known in some parts as the Professor of the Dark Arts, largely, I think, because of my English heritage. Of course any comparisons with Alan Rickman, regardless of motivation are gratefully received by the SSCP. Thus it seemed appropriate to join the throngs in the annual pilgrimage to Munster, Indiana for Dark Lord day. I suspect that many are as yet unfamiliar with this festival, it is a little less widely known than Easter, or Cinco de Mayo even, but for lovers of stout it is perhaps far more important. It is after all the one and only day of the year when Three Floyds Brewing releases its dark, rich imperial stout called Dark Lord. Dulcie and I have become big cheerleaders for this "local" brewery since its Alpha King is served in our local, the Fox and Firkin in downtown Glen Ellyn. Endless sophomoric plays on words with firkin abound in the menu of course (a firkin is a small barrel). The Alpha King's strong hoppy character and fruity complexity easily knocks off the English imports such as my beloved Fullers Smith and Turner; and coming from an Englishman that is some high praise. The Dark Lord has apparently achieved something of a cult status, as much for its quality (alleged) as its extreme lack of availability - the Romanee-Conti of the beer world.

Making the journey of some fifty miles from the western suburbs to northern Indiana is to travel back in time about 40 years. Dulcie and I mused as to the sociological types that would be attracted to the Dark Lord. I suspected deeply that they would be the kinds of folks who would have attended Magic Card tournaments before they got old enough to drink. I was not wrong. Three Floyds lives in a nondescript patch of industrial estate. It is not unknown to locals of whom we were forced to ask for directions as Mapquest tricked us on its of more important directions. The lines of cars parked beside patches of grass in vacant lots betrayed our destination: this mecca of beer under a large water tower beside a railroad yard.

Clearly we had arrived long after the fun had begun. What had begun as a road trip in search of beer transformed instead into a study in anthropology. Dulcie observed that it was a bit like the 60's clashing with the 90's. It was something of a love-in over beer with the majority of the participants being members of the goth-inspired black teeshirt and pierced set. I even believe that a comparison with Woodstock was offered by one of the punters. It has been quite a while since I have been in the company of so many seriously paralytically drunk people. Tables were forests of (mostly empty) dark brown bottles of various exotically labelled brews. It was, as one celebrant observed as he offered us some of the dark treacly nectar from his "growler" (which was very good), the biggest impromptu beer tasting in the country. Being the only ones sober (and over 25) we felt a little out of place. Alas all the Dark Lord was already sold out and we did not even get a sniff of the fabled sticky thick coffee and chocolate laced liquid to allow a determination as to whether all the fuss was truly merited. I think though for most that aspect was really unimportant. The decoratively labelled bottles could have been filled with used motor oil. All around us were the precious six packs (the limit per person) lying carelessly on the ground with their owners slumped comatose in their chairs. I wonder how many bottles (not inexpensive at $15 each - very good wines can be had for much less) were separated from their drunken owners as afternoon wore on into night. I also wonder what if anything most of the celebrants did for a living in order to afford this hobby. In the old days, young people worked traditional jobs. It's hard to imagine this particular crew, replete with their wild tattoos, rings and pins emerging from all points and grotesque clothing styles, working at anything. Probably they all live at home with their parents and play WOW 24-7. I suppose I should be damned for judging by appearances but it is hard not to. We did meet one nice fanatical, if fairly normal looking, fellow from Cincinatti who had driven several hours to arrive at the crack of dawn. He had clearly planned it for weeks and had carefully programmed his consumption to maintain a reasonable level of sobriety. Proudly he produced a nearly full growler from his cooler to share. Apparently later that night the Hampton Inn was where the after party was taking place.

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