After things settled down for the day I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with Three Floyds' Head Brewer and long-time employee Barnaby Struve. While our conversation touched on quite a few long-term brewery issues, the section below touches on something a bit more immediate: Dark Lord Day.
Tickets for the event go on sale this Saturday, March 19th. In the meantime, we hope to hold you over.
Why the changes this year? What went wrong last year, and what do you think needed to be fixed?
“That’s a Pandora’s box. The reason why we’re having changes this year is – every year we have changes. This thing grew organically. None of us are party planners but now we’ve been forced to do that because so many people come to the brewery every year.
There were 25 people the first year, 50 at the next, 200 at the next, and then 4000 and on and up, so all of a sudden we were like, ‘Wow, we’ve got to get a bunch of chemical shitters for these people, what do we do?’
The good people of Munster don’t mind us doing this but it cannot grow exponentially every year. We’re a small regional brewery that has a small parking lot and a little bit of space in our warehouse and that’s it.
It’s funny – you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. People want to come, but then they complain that there are lines. We’re like, ‘We’re going to try to manage the crowd better by making it a ticket only event so that also we know A) how many people are going to come and with that knowledge we can have the right amount of food for everyone, we can manage lines and crowds better, and B) it’ll be safer – it’ll be just a better event.
It’s so hard – we’re trying really hard to do the best thing we can to organize this thing. In order to have it go from year to year we have to limit the size. Munster is going to put up with only a certain amount of drunken revelry every year. There were somewhere around 10 to 12 thousand people here last year. We can’t have 20,000 this year and 30,000 the next year. We’re just a little brewery.
Everyone will complain about it, but they don’t realize that before the sun comes up the next day we’ve got a whole team of people out here cleaning up our entire neighborhood so that we can try to be good neighbors to the people that we live with the other 364 days a year.
I love people coming here and I want them to have a good time and I want them to bring beer and to trade beers. What other event – in previous years – what other event has been free where you could bring your own beer, you could bring your own food, the music is free. I don’t know of any other beer event ever that’s like that.
So this year, for the people that really truly care about it and that can get tickets – we just want to make it better for them. We want to make it more user friendly, we want to make sure that the longevity of the event is insured, and we want to make sure that everyone can get their beer, have a good time, trade with their friends, try Sun King beers, try Russian River beers and all the other breweries that we’re friends with and send us stuff. It’s fun. That’s the intent anyway, but sometimes people get a little upset.”
There’s this sort of feeling that Three Floyds tells you what they want to tell you—
“Absolutely! What company doesn’t?”
Is that fair?
“Is it fair? What I think, #1 – I love the fact the people care enough to obsess about it, but we have to control information because look at how many threads there are on whatever websites about Nick’s personal life or what we’ve got going on or what we’re making or releasing and all this other stuff. You have to control your message, especially when people want to know everything about it and everyone’s talking. There’s one thread that we printed out the other day that was, ‘How come I can’t find Gumballhead?’, and the response was, ‘These guys just sit around and smoke weed all day, and then when they want to make money they come in and brew a batch of beer and then sell it.’ They don’t understand that we’ve grown by over 30% every year and because... I actually just typed up a state of the brewery address to let people know what we’ve done growth-wise so they can understand us. Because as our name grows, the demand grows, and that’s actually exceeding our growth. You can only do so much. Like with regards to Dark Lord Day – it’s like when was the last time you and your nine friends held a party for 12,000 people? We’re honestly trying to do the best we can, and I think that people should not necessarily always focus on what is negative about the event, and try to come and have a good time. And if you don’t like it… I’m sorry. We’re doing our absolute best, honest-to-god.”
You don’t want to be the guy that’s like, “If you don’t like it don’t come,” but on the other hand it’s like—
“No, and I would never say that. We’ve been having weekly meetings and the sole focus of our weekly brewery meetings for the last probably three months has been just Dark Lord Day planning. Like, ‘How are we going to make it better this way in terms of how the space is organized?’ ‘How can we get the toilets to not overflow?’ ‘How can we cut down on lines?’ ‘Where can we have more food stations?’ ‘How can we make it safer?’ ‘What’s going on with this?’ ‘What’s going on with that?’ A lot of work goes into it and we like having the event. It’s the one day that we retail beer instead of wholesale it. Everyone thinks that we’re driving around in Mercedes or something but I’ll tell you what, last year’s Dark Lord Day paid for is a new 100 ton chiller that we’ve got outside that actually helps us produce more beer, which allowed for 30% growth last year. So this year, what are we going to do with it? We’re going to put a new roof on our building. And a new roof is going to cost us a ton of money.
It’s not as though we’re like, ‘HA HA HA! We are lording over the beer and we don’t want you to have this and we don’t want you to have that.’ It’s just so bizarre that people care that much.
I think it’s great, and I get maybe – it’s like a 50/50 response when I go out to events. Like some people are like, ‘Why don’t you guys do this, why don’t you guys do that?’ And they’re a little bit negative about it but – you know the dissenting voice is always the loudest. The other 50% are like, ‘Guys, I understand. I love what you do. It’s really great that you’re doing this. Don’t listen to those other people.’ And that’s what I would rather focus on is the positives out there. We’re putting a lot of beer out there. And the people that do get it? It’s great. And I want those people to keep coming and drinking the beer and if people want to be negative about it, I think they should maybe focus on something else, get another hobby besides drinking.
That was a really long rant.
That’s the thing, I don’t want this to be negative, I don’t want to say, ‘Hey if you don’t like it, don’t come, don’t drink our beer’. That’s not my intention or my message at all – we wouldn’t be where we are today without all these people’s support. And we rely on them – they’re our customers so they’re the people we want to make happy. It’s just that if we were a big giant conglomerate – a huge brewery that could take care of everyone’s needs at the United Center – no one would want to come. People like us because we’re a small regional brewery and we make limited edition beers. If we did that, if we grew, if we got a bunch of revenue and grew by 300% and had Dark Lord Day at the United Center or Soldier Field or somewhere where everyone could come get Dark Lord, no one would come, because then we would have sold out.
So it’s like this double edged sword that’s really bizarre to me, and I think – like I said – the loudest voice is the dissenting one, and for every person that complains, we have hundreds of people coming through our pub every day that really really enjoy the food that we make and really like the atmosphere and people that we are. We’re not a bunch of aloof, snooty fuckers.”
There were rumors that you considered moving the event to convention centers, was that actually a consideration or—
“It’s always been a consideration. But we can’t do it because of the archaic beer laws in this country. Like I said – we work really really hard to make the event accessible to as many people as possible. So that being said, of course we’ll look into different locations, but we can’t because we can’t sell our beer off the premises. The fact is that, yeah, the beer is $15 a bottle, but it’s been that way since we put it out. We’ve not raised the price at all, but it’s also an incredibly expensive beer to make. If we were to do that, and make short lines, and go to the convention center we would probably have to be upwards of $60-$70 because we’d have to sell it to a distributor, they’d have to sell it back to us – so it’s just – right now, this is our little brewery, and this is what we’re doing.”
A correction - Barnaby Struve's title within Three Floyds Brewing Company is Vice President, not Head Brewer as reported above.