Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews

Dark Lord

Three Floyds Brewing Co.
Munster, IN

Style: Imperial Stout

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (World class.)

So we’re almost to the end of 2009’s American Craft Beer Week, and nobody here’s died yet, except Franz. I guess that’s pretty good. I thought I’d put a capper on the week with a review of Three Floyds Dark Lord, a beer whose annual release is arguably the most hotly anticipated here in the Midwest. (I’d argue Founders Kentucky Breakfast and, yeah, even Bell’s Oberon in the spring. But Ma says I’m not allowed to argue in the house.) In case you don’t know about Dark Lord, it is a giant Russian imperial stout, brewed with Intelligentsia coffee, and released once a year at Dark Lord Day in Munster, Indiana, at the Three Floyds brewery. Dark Lord Day has become an event in and of itself, and people from across the country gather to swap rare beers, share home brew, and just hang out, all while waiting to get a chance to buy a bottle or four of Dark Lord.

At one point in time, Dark Lord was rated the best American beer by BeerAdvocate and RateBeer, and ranked only behind the even harder-to-get Westvleteren Abt 12 in the best-in-the-world category. Although it’s interesting trivia and all, I don’t put a lot of stock in user-generated content, unless I personally know every user doing the generating. It’s not that I think I know more about tasting and evaluating beer than anyone else, it’s just that tastes vary widely, and popular tastes very rarely align with my own.

And then we can go around and around about the “best” beer in the world. I can contend that the best beer in the world is the locally brewed craft beer sitting in front of you at the moment. What makes one beer “better” than the other? One can taste better, or provide a better experience, I’ll admit. But these lists can end up influencing some tasters, kind of creating a perception-is-reality scenario. In other words, herd mentality.

Oh  yeah. Don’t forget to vote in the 2009 Midwest Brewery Power Rankings.

Enough prattling on. Time to pay a visit to the Dark Lord.

The pour is two words: lightless and syrupy. As dark as the beer’s name and with no head. None. From three feet away the beer’s powerful aroma hits me with plums, black cherries, chocolate, and coffee. The coffee’s in the background, and takes a while to come out and show itself.

I whisper a prayer (but to whom?) and venture my first sip. The body isn’t as lead-heavy as I expected, and the mouthfeel is basically nondescript. But immediately Dark Lord aggressively asserts sharp, winey, estery flavors of plums and molasses upon my taste buds. The bottle copy uses the word vinous to describe the beer twice, and now I can see why: Because it’s true. The dark fruit notes are extremely reminiscient of big, semi-sweet wines. The sip slowly transforms more toward rich chocolate and smooth coffee notes, although the wine-like character extends to all but the very end of the sip, at least early on. The chocolate notes claim the very end, and it is completely smooth, without any harshness whatsoever. Let the beer warm, and the winey esters retreat; the chocolate and coffee come to the fore for a very dessert-like personality.

The rumored ABV is around the 13 percent range, but I’m guessing a little bit more. The beer clings stickily to the glass toward the end, not quite forming legs, but looking as if it’s seriously considering it. On big sips, my tongue goes numb. But otherwise no fusel alcohols or anything taste-wise to suggest how goddamn big this beer is.

Is Dark Lord the best beer in the world? I have no idea. Is it a world class imperial stout? Fuck yeah. And the following is why I believe Three Floyds is one of the best breweries in the world:

Imperial stouts aren’t all that rare anymore. It seems every brewery has a big, sprawling imperial stout, and some of them are phenomenally good. But Three Floyds took the style and made it its own. Dark Lord stands out from every imperial stout I’ve ever had. The hype surrounding it—the fearsome bottle label, the one-day-a-year release, the death metal bands at Dark Lord Day—would be pretty lame if the beer itself wasn’t great. But it is great, a giant, aggressive, chthonic beer that lives up to its mighty reputation as much as any beer could. So everyone out there, put your fist in the air, extend your thumb, raise your index and pinky fingers, and say it like you mean it …

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on May 15, 2009.
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