Following visits to Toppling Goliath and New Glarus we were able to squeeze in one more stop on our cross country trip—Three Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana. If you are reading a beer blog like this one chances are you already know about Three Floyds (FFF for short), but for those who don’t live in the Midwest or have been living in the walk in beer cave of the corner gas station for the last decade, FFF is known for:
- Their Russian Imperial Stout, Dark Lord and the massive party that accompanies it’s release, Dark Lord Day,
- Their highly sought after American Pale Ale, Zombie Dust, that is the top rated American Pale Ale on both the RateBeer and BeerAdvocate sites,
- A stable of highly regarded beers that cover a range of styles too numerous to mention here,
- Beer names and graphics that would fit right in if a game of Dungeons and Dragons broke out at a comic book convention, while heavy metal circa 1982 was played at full volume over the sound system,
- An erratic distribution system that can make finding your favorite FFF beer an adventure.
Three Floyds beers show up sporadically in Ohio and over the last few years I’ve been able to try a half dozen or more (you can read reviews of Alpha King and Gumballhead in the beer review section if you are so inclined), but despite the occasional sighting in Columbus, Zombie Dust has always eluded me. So once I got within a hundred miles of the brewery I was willing to cross hell or high water to visit the brewery and finally try this white whale of a beer.
To enter Hell one needs only a single coin to pay the ferryman Charon and cross the river Styx. If only crossing Chicago were so simple. We cut cross country from New Glarus and everything was going fine until we got on I-90 in Beloit and crossed the border into Illinois. From that point onward the drive was slowed by road construction, toll stations, and heavy traffic. At the first toll booth I broke a $20 bill and by the time we got through the last toll booth that money was gone and I was into my second $20 bill. Make sure you have some cash on you if you go this way! Not only are the tolls expensive they bring the traffic to a halt. I would have been willing to listen to an infinite loop of Styx’s greatest hits just to have access to the easy pass lanes. At any rate it took two and a half hours to cross Illinois and reach Three Floyds, which is literally less than a mile across the Illinois-Indiana border (and very much in the metropolitan Chicago area).
The Brewpub is a one story building located in commercial/industrial part of town, set at the back end of a business park. When we arrived it was 5:30 pm on a Wednesday night and the place was about 80% full. The AC/DC album “Let There Be Rock” was playing on the sound system, most of the staff were sporting tattoos of one kind or another, and the scarcity of windows lent an ambience where the time of day and weather outside is a secondary thought. The description on Google Maps says “Snug, funky hideout for beer and grub” and that’s pretty accurate.
The bar at Three Floyds on a Wednesday night.
- Website: http://www.3floyds.com/
- Address: 9750 Indiana Parkway, Munster, IN 46321
- Hours: 11:30 am−2 am (Mon-Fri), noon−2 am (Sat), noon-midnight (Sun)
- Food: Yes
- Prices: $5 for a pint (most beers)
Because they serve food it was not a problem for my son, who is only 19, to accompany me for dinner. I had the pork belly tacos and he went for one of their pizzas. You can have a look for yourself at the menu on their website (http://www.3floyds.com/brewpub/). In short I would say the food was good, fairly priced, but not exceptional. The attraction here is the beer, but it’s nice that they do serve food because that was our dinner for the night.
The selection of beers on tap here was the best so far of the trip, just short of 20 FFF beers available. You can get a sampler flight, but only a very specific one that contains Alpha King (Pale Ale), Pride and Joy (Mild Ale), Robert the Bruce (Scotch Ale), and Arctic Panzer Wolf (Double IPA). I’d already tried most of those beers, which made it an easy decision to go straight for a pint of Zombie Dust.
At this point let’s take a short detour to separate fact from legend. Zombie Dust is an American Pale Ale that weighs in at 6.2% abv and 50 IBU. It is a single hop beer that relies exclusively on Citra hops for its aroma and taste. The FFF notes on this beer say “This intensely hopped and gushing undead Pale Ale will be one’s only respite after the Zombie Apocalypse.”
I do enjoy a good American Pale Ale, but it’s not exactly a style where good examples are hard to come by. So why was my anticipation level for this beer so high? Firstly, from reading gushing online reviews on the big beer rating sites. Zombie Dust occupies the #9 spot on the BeerAdvocate list of the top beers across all styles (although it does fail to make the Imperial Stout dominated RateBeer top 50 list). Secondly, it’s hard to come by, but still somehow within reach. I don’t have to cross the Atlantic or mortgage my house to get my hands on this elusive hop-infused elixir. I just have to make the journey to the unglamorous eastern suburbs of Chicago. Of course the second factor is a big reason behind the first factor. Zombie Dust has over 5000 reviews on BeerAdvocate and I’m willing to bet that for many of those reviewers the simple act of drinking a Zombie Dust was something of a special occasion. When you couple that level of hype with the fact that it’s a really good beer, a self-propagating cycle of high ratings is bound to result. The only thing that could mess it up would be if FFF changes the recipe or increases the availability, both of which seem unlikely at this point.
So did reality match the hype? Yes and no. Zombie Dust is a clear, golden-amber beer that is spilling over with fresh hop aroma and flavor. It’s got a ton of floral, grassy notes that are complimented by unmistakable but somewhat less prominent citrus flavors. It’s not very bitter and finishes crisp and refreshing. I presume that malts were used in the beer, but their presence does not enter your consciousness. In that sense it’s more hop forward than your typical American Pale Ale. It’s a very good beer and I can still vividly recall its taste and smell several weeks after my encounter. At the same time I couldn’t help but think that it wasn’t that much better than several Pale Ales that I’ve reviewed on this site in the past year (Founder’s Harvest Ale, Fathead’s Trailhead Pale Ale, Mad Tree’s PsycHOPathy, Yellow Springs’ Zoetic). It’s a good reminder that what makes a beer desirable is a combination of many things that go beyond the quality of the beer. The same psychology principles apply to a lot of things in life, including our attraction to members of the opposite sex.
Choosing my second beer was a more difficult task. Several beers were pretty tempting based on their names if nothing else—Snow Weasel (a Porter), War Mullet (a DIPA), Level Eater 3.5 (a dark dwarven session ale), Backmasking (an Oatmeal Stout), Rabbid Rabbit (a Farmhouse Ale), and Cimmerian Sabertooth Berserker (I have no idea what kind of beer this is from the menu description, but it is 9% abv and 100 IBU). I ended up opting for a pint of Hank on Rye, a collaboration brew with Piece Brewery in Chicago, that features a combination of smoked and rye malts. It was nicely done, a little spicy from the rye and just enough smoky flavors from the malts. I enjoyed it but if I had it to do over again I would make a different choice.
As we were finishing up an unexpected thing happened to me. The guy at the table next to us turns around and asks me if I like sours. When I said yes he asked me if I would like to have the rest of the bottle of New Belgium La Folie that he had ordered. La Folie is a sour beer made in the Flander’s Oud Bruin style. It is arguably the best US made Oud Bruin, and a beer I’ve wanted to try for a while, so I couldn’t pass up the offer. Apparently after a half glass or so he decided that he didn’t like sours, nor apparently did his two companions, so he was generous enough to give what was left to me (over half the bottle). I felt a little guilty because I had seen on the menu that a 750 mL bottle of La Folie was $20. I offered to give him some cash but he wouldn’t take it. I don’t know many people who would shell out that kind of money for a beer without knowing if they even like the style. You’ve got to love those gregarious, free spending Chicagoans. It made for a delicious end to our visit (and also meant I turned over the keys to my son for the rest of the drive). I’d like to think it was fates way of repaying me for all of those tolls I paid just to make sure the Chicago roads remain under construction indefinitely.
Beers to Go
There is a window just inside the entrance of the brewpub where you can buy 6-packs (for $10) and bombers (also $10) to go, as well as merchandise. The selection is intermediate between Toppling Goliath, which had no bottled beer whatsoever, and New Glarus, which had everything they make on offer. There are generally 4-5 beers available to go, but (not surprisingly) no Zombie Dust. I opted for a 6-pack of Alpha King and a FFF t-shirt. The selection changes frequently but you can check what is available on the website in advance (http://www.3floyds.com/beers-to-go/).
This wraps up the three brewery visits that I was able to make on my short, but fulfilling 2000 mile/3 day cross country trip from Idaho to Ohio. Three Floyds is definitely worth a visit if you are in the Chicago area. They have an extensive selection of very good beers on offer at fair prices. I can imagine that if you come closer to dinner time or on a weekend there could easily be a wait to get a table, but we were able to get right in and the service was good. Given the difficulty finding FFF beers in Ohio (and probably many other places) I wish they had a wider selection of beer to go, but at least they make the takeaway selections known online so you know in advance what you can get. I can now sleep at night easier knowing that I’ve tried Zombie Dust, but after doing so I have to conclude that while it’s a very tasty beer, its status as the highest rated American Pale Ale out there is due to its limited availability as much as anything.