Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year. Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016. Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!
Three Floyds Brewing Dark Lord 2012 Vintage
This week we point our attention to a famous brewery from Indiana, Three Floyds! Located in the small border town of Munster, the brewery started up way back in 1996. They have grown and become quite famous for their "Its Not Normal" style beers. I've had the pleasure of getting to the brewpub where it all started a few times now. The tour was nothing special, but the beers and the food were fantastic! Each time I went, there was a big line outside 45 minutes to an hour before they opened, so plan accordingly. The brewery vibe is very Heavy Metal and irreverent, surely influencing other breweries such as Surly here in Minnesota. In fact Surly and Three Floyds have done a couple of collaboration beers such as Urine Trouble, Baller Stout, and Blakkr.
Dark Lord is the brewery's most famous beer. This is a big 15% ABV Russian Imperial stout brewed with coffee (Intelligentsia) and Mexican vanilla. Available in bottle since 2004, the beer is released only one day of the year--Dark Lord Day--at the brewery. This day has become an epic event with people camping out and traveling across the country to take part in the festivities and get a few bottles of this rare beer. My friends Rob and Ron of Limited Release actually recorded the 2012 festivities for their show and I've linked it to the bottom of this post if you want to see what this is all about! Oh and Rob brought me the bottle we are tasting for this Whale A Week from that excursion. Thanks Rob! Dark Lord is rated 95 on Beer Advocate and 100 on RateBeer and is much hoarded and traded. I first tried a bottle of this shared by Chris German of BSG at a Jack Of All Brews event held in his home brewery--perhaps around 2009? For me that was one of the best beers I had ever had up to that point and it became my unattainable White Whale--until I got to try it again in 2012!
For this tasting we gathered up the largest group I've ever used in one of these tastings--our entire group of Jack Of All Brews officer's--during our 2016 planning meeting. Things got a little chaotic!
Eric Wenting: Me! BJCP National ranked judge, homebrewer for over 25 years, stout fiend. Sarajo Wentling: My tolerant wife. Tyrone Babione: BJCP judge, writer for BSG. Annette Babione: BJCP judge, knitter extraordinaire. Joe Lushine: Homebrewer, guy who hates judging beers. Shawn Wischmeier: Judge, homebrewer, beer hoarder. Steven Mathistad: Homebrewer, craft beer lover. While reading the bottle we saw Cyrillic writing on the bottle and Tyrone managed to translate it visually with a cool app on his phone--we were all blown away by this seemingly magical effect!
We cut off the thick red wax on the bottle with The Hopsecutioner (my battle axe shaped heavy steel opener made by my blacksmith friend Martin Pansch). The bottle opened with only a small fizzing sound. The beer was poured into a group of waiting snifter glasses for our expectant crowd.
Aroma: In which our party get ready for an complex and sweet beer.
Eric: Dark, dark chocolate. Deep dark candied cherry is strong. Vanilla notes. Hint of roast. Very sweet smelling and sugary. Slight oxidation (papery) as warms up. Raisins. No hops.
Annette: Dark Chocolate, cherry, toasty coffee, wood (oak) drifts lazily. Smells like the syrup you wish you could have on a pile of pancakes. Hint of soy sauce.
Joe: Malt forward. Small hint of hops. Soy sauce.
Steven: Slight smokiness. Raisin. Wet cardboard. No hop aroma.
Shawn: Chocolate, raisin, molasses. Deep malty aroma. Sherry or port-like aroma--like an aged English barleywine (Thomas Hardy's).
Tyrone: Black strap molasses entices one's nostrils deeper into a dark pit--a siren song beckoning those who have only known the light to disappear into darkness. Sweet songs of perfumed pit fruits, plums and dark cherries, mask the forbidden. A slight oxidative note warns of old warlock magic ahead...
Appearance: In which our explorers bemoan the lack of head...
Eric: Deep brown to nearly black in color. Hint of ruby highlights at edge of glass so it isn't completely opaque. Very fine light tan head fades quickly to a ghost.
Annette: Black in color. Opaque. No head. Rings around edge with little lacing.
Joe: Opaque. Hint of red.
Steven: No head. Very dark brown.
Shawn: Dark, opaque.
Tyrone: Dark brown center--absolute clarity with bright orange halo framing the edges. No head or noticeable carbonation.
Flavor: In which fruit and fortified wine notes cavort across our palates, and Tyrone gets even weirder...
Eric: Holy chocolate covered cherry! Bourbon-like vanilla notes. Very very sweet. Not much roast to this. Hint of hop flavors. Alcohol is present but not hot. Smooth finish but borders on cloying for me. Dark cocoa. Not picking up coffee. Raisin and dried cranberry as it warms up leading to a tartness and a sherry-like oxidation. Almost no carbonation accentuates the syrupy thick mouthfeel.
Annette: Chocolate cherry that feels heavy but drinks light. The choco/cherry syrup coats delightfully. A light bittering compliments the malt and sweet notes.
Joe: Very sweet. Low bitterness. Caramel flavor. Thick! Maybe a hint of oxidation.
Steven: Plum. Very sweet. Doesn't taste like 15%!
Shawn: Same raisin, molasses, dark malt as aroma. Sherry-like flavors. Grain bill a bit too much, even for a RIS. Bordering too malty, giving a strong, overly malty finish. Flat profile.
Tyrone: Chewy Fig Newton drops a juicy load in the puckering back pockets of my mouth. A sweet almost golden raisin-like sweetness comes close to making the intrepid hero torn away--until it washes away in a smooth finish, calling him back to his heroine siren.
Overall: In which we all need some water...
Eric: Smoother than I remember it, but it has been a few years! Still very sweet. The chocolate covered cherry flavor is unreal and more spectacular than most actual cherry beers I've had. Almost tastes barrel aged due to the oxidation and vanilla. I gave this a 4.5, but ended up dropping to 4.25 because the finish was so sweet.
Annette: Delicious! While this could have gone the way of cough syrup, it instead was a beverage best served over ice cream. The coffee, chocolate, and cherry notes blend nicely with the hop bittering--mixing perfectly. 4.2
Joe: Good beer. A little out of balance toward the malt for my taste. Is a little cloyingly sweet to start but finishes surprisingly dry. 3.5
Steven: Smooth, medium body. Very enjoyable. 4.25
Shawn: Exceptional balance in ingredients. Aging improved the beer a lot and gave way to sherry-like character. Beer has a bit too much specialty malt character, however, to be excellent. Alcohol warmth is very appropriate. The aroma was my favorite part of the beer. 4.25
Tyrone: The Dark Lord rises from the syrup molasses swamp. He trudges through a thicket of crushed and fermented figs, dates and prunes rain from broken branches and trunks; his skin stained with the crushed souls of raisins. 4.75
Sarajo: It fell a little flat for me. 3.5
Overall Score: 4.1
Below is the Limited Release episode for Dark Lord Day 2012!
Photo info: This week I took a close up of the bottle label and superimposed it with Photoshop Elements over a macro shot of a Warhammer chaos warrior miniature I painted back in my teens. I thought it was "metal" enough!
Also I created a new Whale A Week intro photo using one of my only watercolor paintings (the other one was stupidly given to a girl) from about 1993.