Heavy metal music blared as a shirtless, long-haired guitarist shredded on stage. Craft beer fans traded rare bottles as the empties piled up on park benches. Lines stretched seemingly forever, but almost everyone appeared to be in good spirits, possibly because most had a beer in hand.
Dark Lord Day returned Saturday to Munster, and enjoyed good weather for the first time in years. Organizers said at least 8,000 to 9,000 people attended Three Floyds' annual bottle release of its Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout, a thick, molassesy beer brewed with Dark Matter Coffee, Mexican vanilla and Indian sugar that RateBeer has deemed the best in the world and that the craft brewery describes as "demonic."
The brewery again sold out of $180 tickets that include four bottles of Dark Lord, and either one variant like vanilla bean or barrel-aged or two bottles of vintage Dark Lord. The beer is so prized that a single 22-ounce bomber can sell on the secondary market for more than $400.
It has passionate devotees, like Virgil Grider who has made the pilgrimage from Champaign, Illinois, for the last 10 years. He works for Triptych Brewing, a craft brewery there that specializes in New England-style IPAs, though he also appreciates Three Floyds' hoppier, more aggressive style.
"My favorite beer is my next one, though I don't know what that's going to be yet," he joked.
Over the last decade, Grider has watched Dark Lord Day grow from a small, cash-only gathering where people could duck into the brewpub when it rained to a huge ticketed daylong festival with a full lineup of bands, not unlike a music festival.
"It's totally different than when I first came," he said. "Ten years ago, you didn't need a ticket. It was basically 20 people here sitting at a picnic table."
Joe Funderburk also visited from Champaign.
"This will be my first year having my own bottles," he said. "I don't know if I'm going to hang onto them, take them to parties to share or save them for a special occasion. It's kind of overwhelming."
Several festivalgoers wore costumes. Nick Niebling came in a homemade Dark Lord helmet with huge antlers that drew compliments from every other passerby.
"It's a fun day," he said. "You can hang out with people and drink great beer."
Nathan Hess from Chicago and Tim Meyers from Atlanta came for the first time.
"We were skeptical at first, but the longer we've sat here, the more we've been enveloped," Meyers said. "I was just telling him we have to do this again."
They've especially enjoyed people watching, including of revelers face-planting, puking or resting on the fringes of the festival grounds.
"Everybody comes here, goes too hard, can't handle it and sleeps in the dirt," Hess said. "It's insane ... I go to a lot of craft beer fests. This is the weirdest crowd I've ever been around."