The worst way to sell the best booze

[From The A.V. Club Chicago / April 20, 2010]

This year’s batch of Dark Lord Imperial Stout, that tastiest and rarest of brews from Munster, Ind.-based Three Floyds Brewing Co., goes on sale Saturday. Justifiably acknowledged by beer lovers and the booze press alike as one of the finest beers on earth, its cult following has turned Dark Lord Day (the one day a year in which Dark Lord can be purchased) into a veritable all-star summit of boozehounds and brew snobs. But despite the good intentions and excellent beer, The A.V. Club posits that Dark Lord Day fails miserably at doing either its namesake brew or its devotees justice. Here’s why:

The presale remains a disaster.

To ensure fairness of distribution, Three Floyds has implemented a “golden ticket” presale system the past two years to pre-guarantee bottles of the hooch (although the festival remains open to the public, tickets or not). After a failed attempt to contain scalping in 2009, the brewery this year decided to reveal the tickets’ on-sale time in a surprise announcement to its Twitter followers in such a way that wouldn’t “screw over the average working man who can’t access Twitter at work,” as though the average working man would waste his precious free time checking Twitter.

Not only did the rush of orders crash the sales site, but purchasers were also hit with previously unmentioned shipping fees of up to $20 per ticket (although this has since been corrected). Contrast this with the success of Three Floyds’ other operations, which exhibit niche-marketing savvy or realizing distribution efficiencies through cross-brewery collaborations, and it’s as though the worst effort has intentionally been saved for the company’s best product.

It’s in fucking Munster.

Great beer demands a great setting, and here Dark Lord Day really shoots itself in the foot. No one can fault Three Floyds for its location, and that onsite brewpub does excellent work the other 364 days of the year. But is an industrial park with minimal space in a northwestern Indiana steel-plex really the proper venue for unveiling the Sasquatch of Russian imperials—especially when the only way in and out is in a car? (Some may say “drinking responsibly” is the simple answer, as if a beer festival at a brewery were really the time and place for a lecture on sobriety and moderation.) And sure, there’s a train station one town over, but do the good people of Hammond really want (or deserve) a drunken parade up and down Calumet Avenue?

Is beer really worth a day amongst a sea of drunks, listening to alcoholic road stories about the barley wine some dude found at an organic free-trade nanobrewery outside of Missoula? Is anything? It’s almost enough to make a person swear off the stuff forever, if it weren’t so delicious and so likely to fuel so much hilarity:

Tremendous improvement is within reach, yet cruelly ignored.

Dark Lord is rated as one of the best beers in the world, yet if the recipe changes annually, how can anyone possibly know this year’s batch is worth the effort needed to procure it? They can’t, yet golden tickets sold out anyway, and while Dark Lord ticket fees go straight to charity, the beer itself still sells for $15 per 22-ounce bomber, suggesting plenty of interest (and revenue) to go around.

So what’s to say Dark Lord Day couldn’t become a proper, admission-capped festival, held at a small arena, fairground, or otherwise logical space in a more accessible location? Some may argue that folks wouldn’t go elsewhere for the delicious brew, but come on: If someone will go to Munster for a beer, they’ll go anywhere for that beer. The crowd would become more self-managing, the current parking, transportation, and accommodation problems could be eradicated (nearby hotels are sparse and camping is strictly forbidden), and Munster’s finest would be spared the headache of putting up with thousands upon thousands of liquor bombs just waiting to go off. But perhaps this was the true goal of Dark Lord Day all along: to give the people what they want, and to stick it to The Man in the process, in which case all signs point to another mission accomplished.