I think everyone remembers the first time they either heard about or tried Dark Lord. It kind of had the first truly dark metal beer name. The lore surrounding it was strong. You inevitably heard stories of Dark Lord Day with his festival of gluttony that tickers drove from all over the Midwest to attend. You likely either remember tasting it for the first time being impressed at its assertive coffee and sometimes umami flavor. Or you got into beer more recently and were entirely underwhelmed with the experience on the whole. That seems to be generally both paths through the gates of the Dark Lord.
Once upon a time, the event was a meager single parking lot affair. It bloomed into an event they then needed to close off an entire street for, adding multiple gates of entry, and taking up a grassy park area with an increasingly bigger stage. At some point, the pure enjoyment of the actual event itself eclipsed the notoriety of the beer being released. That moment of time seems to be different for everyone. For me it was probably 2016. Others have told me 2014, or just whenever they got too fed up with the weather of all the wet and windy April Dark Lord Days of years past.
Earlier this Summer to much fanfare, Three Floyds offered a vintage Dark Lord sale where multiple years of vintage regular Dark Lords were available, 3 regular bottles were included as well as 1 barrel aged variant for $150, with an option to add a second variant for and additional $50. They turned units and sold out in fairly quick fashion. The reputation of the brand and chance at extra variants was too desirable for some.
In this scenario we see that FFF values the barrel aged variant at $50, which has been true going back to when variants were only obtained via lotto tickets at the event and required an additional $50 in cash. This would make regular bottles of Dark Lord $33 and some change. People sought Dark Lords out at this price and well above it for years. That activity has largely concluded. Typically there’s people content with trading or selling for a small loss, just to get the bottles out of their house (often because they have others they don’t know if they’ll drink already.)
I wouldn’t be the first to write about the extremely crowded craft beer space at retail. Adjunct stouts, once abnormal and rare are basically par for the market place. There’s really few adjunct non-BA stouts selling above $25. There’s plenty barrel aged choices less than $25. This puts Three Floyds in a tricky position at this moment.
Two weeks ago, 2020 Dark Lord bundles went on sale. An event that once sold out in minutes, is now in the position that of the six bundle timeslots packages were available, three timeslots remain. These bundles included 4 regular Dark Lords and 1 barrel aged variant for the assertive price of $170. This price is a trivial price cut from the $180 cost for last years bundle which also included access to the festival grounds, live music, bottle shares, tap pours, and a dose of that sweet Northern Indiana sunshine.
In this scenario they’ve devalued the Dark Lord Day experience itself as well as the entertainment they provide. This is problematic as it appears the sales are an indictment against the beer itself and proof that the event is of much more interest than merely the souvenir tote bag and a bunch of La Choy bottles.
What happens to the glut of unsold Dark Lords?
The die appears to be cast on regular Dark Lord. I suspect Three Floyds pulled the remaining inventory from the site to ensure the appearance of a sell out (though it may have just been done to smooth logistics of the bundle pickups.) Image is everything. Here’s some possible options for what happens next
- Do nothing. Build unsold regular Dark Lords and variants into 2021’s bundles and produce less regular Dark Lord next year. This could make some people mad, not unlike in 2017 when Three Floyds didn’t have enough bottles of variants so some people got additional vintage regular Dark Lords, and then FFF sold additional 2017 variants this last summer during the vintage sale much to the disdain of those customers Floyds gave second class bottles to previously.
- Keep 2020 Dark Lord bottles perpetually available for onsite consumption when they open again. This would be similar to how Goose Island perpetually has Bourbon County available at their Fulton location. In this scenario they could from time to time offer barrel aged variants for on site consumption as well. Some days Handjees. Other days, Temeculan 3000. They then return the brewpub notoriety to being a destination location.
- Send regular Dark Lords to US distribution. This is probably the worst idea. It might struggle to sell at an MSRP of $30 and they fall victim to the lower profitability from the distributors cut.
- Send regular Dark Lords to international distribution via Mikkeller. They have done this on a small scale to Mikkeller bars previously, but they have global distribution and that might provide the best opportunity for Three Floyds to spread these beers around the world, avoiding over saturating their brand, keeping the product relatively rare in these markets that might not typically otherwise see Dark Lord and where the mystique and reputation still exist.
2021 and Beyond
Being in that top tier of revered hype breweries is a special place to be. It’s kind of like being among the blue bloods of college basketball or a 6 star prestige football program on NCAA 2014. Except the breweries in this class aren’t permanent. Breweries typically get elevated in this group and remain there or they fall out of favor but continue as successful local and regional businesses.
Three Floyds Brewing has long been a member of this group, going back to the days when spontaneous released barrel aged bottles would be released for $50 and sell out the same day. A bit of that shine has waned in the last 2 years as previous local whales like BA Behemoth became available for months on end. While Three Floyds no longer appears to have the same cache among the 1% of beer nerds, I think the interest and passion for the Dark Lord Day event will continue.
The event has outgrown the beer release itself as essentially the largest bottle share in the world. Some come for the metal. Some come for the people. Others come for the ability to get slammed before noon in a warm Indiana industrial park. Dark Lord Day is a carnival in many respects. You never know what the freak show will provide. I think this year’s stumbling bottle release (largely due to the price point) will only harm their brand a little. If the Covid era ends in time for Dark Lord Day 2021 or 2022, I think the event will return to its former glory, possibly with a bit slower period of time for tickets to sell out.
The people will be back. Whales will be opened. Public urination tickets will be issued.