This week I’m reviewing a pretty special beer—Three Floyds Dark Lord. Not only is the 15 percent alc./vol. Russian Imperial Stout currently the 11th ranked beer on BeerAdvocate.com, but it is probably the prototypical example of the hyped, limited-release beer trend seen in the craft beer industry. Each spring, Three Floyds Brewery, located in Munster, Ind., sells this beer for only one day per year. But because there is still too much demand for Dark Lord, Three Floyds is forced to sell “Golden Tickets” which allow each golden ticket owner to purchase up to four Dark Lord 22 ounce bottles for $15 each. The $20 Golden Tickets, whose profit is given to charity, are sold first-come-first-serve after Three Floyds makes a surprise announcement on their Twitter account. So, the lucky beer lovers who do get a Golden Ticket travel from all over the country to Munster, where they have to wake up at the crack of dawn or wait in a line for several hours for their Dark Lord allotment, regretting the extra few hours of sleep. On the positive, though, from what I understand, Dark Lord Day is just a huge party for craft beer fans. People from across the country bring some of their favorite locals or other limited-release beers to share with everyone else.
I haven’t been to Dark Lord Day, so I had to trade for a 2010 bottle (I traded a New Glarus R&D Gueze, another brewery-only release that was sold out in a couple of days). This beer pours absolutely pitch black with a coffee colored head, which is impressive for such a high alcohol beer. The aroma is complex and just awesome. Dark chocolate, obscene amounts of sweet malt, some caramel and even tobacco with a hint of alcohol in the background. The taste is similarly intense and complex. It starts with a truckload of sweet malt, then some dark fruits, such as raisins and prunes, almost like a Belgian strong dark ale. Dark chocolate, coffee and tobacco are present in the finish. I do think it is a little too sweet, but that may mellow out with some additional cellaring. I also think the mouthfeel is a little underwhelming. For 15 percent, I was expecting almost milkshake-like thickness, but it really is not that much different than a typical Russian Imperial Stout.
In the end, I think Dark Lord is one of the best imperial stouts I’ve had, but I don’t think it is worth all the effort to obtain it or deserves the hype that surrounds it. More and more breweries are starting to produce limited-release beers, although none on the same scale as Three Floyds’ Dark Lord. I personally think it is a really bad trend for the craft beer industry. Good beer is very comparable to wine, but is significantly less expensive and much more accessible. I don’t think you can buy a world-class wine for $8 per 750 ml bottle, but you can with beer. I think limiting who has access to these presumably excellent beers and charging top dollar will lead beer to be like wine—elitist and expensive. Until scientists determine that people can, in fact, taste hype, I’ll pass on most of these rare, limited-release beers.