The Robin Hood of beer, borrowing from the beer-rich to sate the beer-poor

Long shadows, long faces: toward the end of the beer line.

The early bird gets the beer. Me, I got a sip.

Saturday was Dark Lord Day, the annual release of Three Floyds’ Dark Lord, a Russian-style imperial stout that’s earned a cult-like following for its rarity as well as its ability, at 13 percent alcohol, to show casual drinkers the floor. When I visited the brewery in December, our tour guide talked the event up big. People come from Japan, he said. People camp out just to be sure they get their rationed six bottles before the near-mythic brew sells out. Hm, I thought. People travel from Japan to Munster, Indiana, for beer? OK, sure.

Some people, not us, came prepared with growlers of homebrew.

But when my friend Ben and I rolled into Munster around 1:30 p.m., a good hour and a half after the first bottle of Dark Lord traded hands, I knew I’d been wrong. Tragically wrong. We were greeted by the mother of all lines—think Disney World plus security at O’Hare multiplied by Lollapalooza—and we were at its bitter, wind-blistered end. When someone showed up to relieve us of our last-in-line shame, she came bearing bad news: A friend who had queued up three hours earlier was still an hour or two away from victory. We exchanged sheepish grins, and Ben set off to investigate.

But lines, like other tragedies, engender community building. A good Samaritan wandered out to our corner of obscurity with a bottle in hand, pouring tastes for anyone with a glass. And when a linemate’s friends returned from the other beer line—the one selling cups, not bottles—with Dark Lord in hand, he selflessly passed around sips. Germs be damned, I took a swig—and fell in love.

Dark Lord battles sun. Dark Lord wins. This beer is about as translucent as the Chicago river.

Before long, Ben came back with our own cups. A swish, a sniff, a hearty sip, and—holy hops—this was the real deal: opaque as midnight in Siberia, resembling nothing so much as motor oil in looks and viscous Turkish espresso in taste. Another linemate put it best: “Old Rasputin [another Russian imperial stout] is a beer that grabs you by the face, punches you a couple of times, and still has you coming back for more. Dark Lord is a beer that makes Old Rasputin bow respectfully.”

I was still in the honeymoon phase when a Three Floyds employee ventured out to tell us suckers toward the line’s end that bottles were numbered, and we should prepare ourselves for disappointment. No matter. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and, come next April, I’ll still be smitten—but I’ll also be smarter, with more camping equipment.

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In other news: Three Floyds took home two medals at the Brewers Association’s World Beer Cup, the Oscars of beer announced last week: a gold in the imperial or double red ale category for the winter-seasonal Behemoth, and a bronze in the imperial or double India pale ale category for Dreadnaught. Both can be tricky to track down, but you can usually find at least one Three Floyds brew at local bars including Delilah’s and Weegee’s (3659 W. Armitage Ave.).

Photography: Jennifer Wehunt