The small, unassuming Indiana town of Munster plays host to one of the most sought-after breweries in the world: 3 Floyds Brewing Co. Founded by three members of the Floyd family, the brewery has made a name for itself over the last 24 years with extreme beers that rarely use extreme ingredients.
Names like Zombie Dust, Gumballhead, Lazersnake, and Dreadnaught adorn beers that run the gamut from goofy, fuzzy cartoon characters to bloodied horror villains and steel-plated barbarians you could picture Arnold Schwarzenegger playing in an ‘80s movie. All of them packing a punch of aggressive hops not expected from Midwestern brewers. That doesn’t mean beer fans aren’t extremely aware of them: In fact, many are clamoring to find them since distribution is limited to a handful of states. Dark Lord, the brewery’s cult-inspiring Russian imperial stout, sells out so quickly on the day it’s released, it doesn’t even make it to bars or bottle shops.
Elusive and extraordinary, yet decidedly dorky, 3 Floyds has all the ingredients you’d need for a legendary tale. Here are 12 more details of its fabled story.
3 Floyds is hard to come by.
3 Floyds is located in a suburban town about 27 miles outside Chicago, and its beer is available in just seven states. Despite this, 3 Floyds is the largest brewery in the state of Indiana — and one of the top craft breweries in the country.
In 2018, it appeared on the Brewers Association’s list of the top 50 craft brewing companies at No. 39. When the most recent list was released in 2020, the brewery moved up to No. 31, edging out Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. In August 2020, 3 Floyds announced it would expand distribution into New York. Now 3 Floyds has even more runway to keep on growing.
It’s been ranked the best brewery in the world — five times.
Each year, RateBeer releases a list of the best breweries in the world as ranked by fan reviews on its website. In 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012, 3 Floyds earned the top spot on that list. In 2008, it slipped to second place behind De Struise, a small Belgian brewer also known for its extreme beer styles.
In the years since, 3 Floyds has regularly appeared on consumer lists: On Untappd, 3 Floyds ranks in the top 20 regional breweries in the U.S., and its Zombie Dust IPA stands as one of the top-rated beers on BeerAdvocate, at No. 36 out of 250, with over 10,000 ratings. It’s pretty safe to say people really like 3 Floyds.
Why Indiana? Because it was cheap.
When 3 Floyds Brewing first opened in 1996, it operated out of an old auto garage. According to Nick Floyd, 5,000 square feet cost him $500 per month in rent in Indiana. That’s why he opened the brewery in a small town 30 miles outside Chicago.
Nick Floyd, who had attended Siebel Institute in Chicago to learn how to brew, launched the brewery with his father, Mike, and brother, Simon. Their first beers were brewed on a system they describe as “Frankenstein.” It combined a Canfield’s cola tank with wok burners and Swiss cheese fermenters salvaged from a scrapyard in Wisconsin.
3 Floyds beers have bite.
Alpha King, the brewery’s flagship beer, came to life as a homebrew concoction in Nick Floyd’s basement. The beer exemplifies the brewery’s philosophy on brewing: Extreme without breaking the rules of the German beer law, which says beer can only be made with four standard ingredients. So while brewers only use hops, barley, water, and yeast to craft Alpha King, this American Pale Ale still features an over-the-top citrus snap hidden just behind the caramel malt flavors. According to Nick Floyd, when the beer first arrived in Chicago bars, guests would send it back because they thought it was too hoppy.
3 Floyds beer is brewed in and with heavy metal.
Heavy metal and fantasy themes weave through everything the brewery does. From the design on the bottles, which feature armored humanoids, crowned skulls, and other menacing scenes (each created by local artists credited on the brewery’s website), to brewing and even the events hosted at the brewery, the heavy metal influence is clear. Nick Floyd, along with longtime employee Barnaby Struve and brewmaster Chris Boggess, are heavy into the heavy metal scene. They listen to bands like Slayer and Black Sabbath while they brew, according to Boggess.
The fermentation tanks at 3 Floyds Brewing are like members of the team and each gets its own name. Some of them are named for fantasy or sci-fi works, like “Blood Gorgon” from the miniature war game, Warhammer 40,000 and “Prometheus” inspired by the Ridley Scott movie. The tank named C-5 even features an illustration of Conan the Barbarian’s sword.
It’s extremely collaborative.
Since 2010, 3 Floyds Brewing has collaborated with heavy metal bands to craft unique beers. The Creeper, a doppelbock, came out in 2010 and was brewed with the band Pelican to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Beers have also been crafted with help from Mastodon, Skeletonwitch, Exodus, and Amon Amarth. The connection to music is so strong for 3 Floyds that it even worked with a record store in Chicago called Reckless Records.
Wizardry is behind 3 Floyds’ wicked brews.
Alongside the badassery of brewing extreme beers, regular Dungeons and Dragons games at Nick Floyd’s house also helped shape the brewery’s style and ethos. Characters used in beer label designs, as well as names of beers, have a dungeon-mastery ring to them — the demon knight grimacing on the Alpha King label, for example, or Barbarian Haze IPA, which has a hint of Conan the Barbarian to it. Nick Floyd even refers to himself as a “wizard-metal” CEO (translation: extremely geeky CEO).
3 Floyds has a sweet side.
While 3 Floyds generally held to traditional brewing ingredients, the brewers broke the mold when they developed Dark Lord, a Russian imperial stout brewed with coffee, Mexican vanilla, and Indian sugar. Nick Floyd got the idea for the beer after hearing about a nearby brewery that repeatedly won awards for its barrel-aged brews. He knew he could do it better, according to 3 Floyds lore, and, well, he was right.
Every Dark Lord has its day.
After it was first brewed in 2002, Dark Lord grew in popularity immediately. By 2004, the brewery was hosting an event on the beer’s release date and fans from all over the country traveled to the brewery to get their own bottle.
Dark Lord Day evolved into a festival that brought together thousands of beer fans with a lineup of heavy metal bands and breweries across the country, such as Burial Beer, Half Acre Beer, and TRVE Brewing. The event grew so large that in 2011, 3 Floyds capped the number of tickets sold at 6,000.
There’s magic powder in Zombie Dust. Or is those Citra hops?
When it first arrived in 2010, Zombie Dust offered something beer geeks weren’t entirely familiar with yet: A big citra hop sting. The beer, a single-hop pale ale that featured both the fruity and bitter qualities of Citra, took advantage of a brand new hop. Citra only became commercially available to breweries in 2007 and prior to Zombie Dust, no one had really used it to its full potential. 3 Floyds knew what to do.
Like it often does, 3 Floyds drew out the bitter notes of the hop but cut the intensity with the fruity notes as well. Add to that a collaboration with comic book pros and the beer caught the attention of not only beer geeks — but comics geeks, too. This only added to the beer’s popularity, inspiring all geeks to hunt Zombie Dust down wherever they could find it.
3 Floyds distills spirits, too.
An expansion that began in 2014 included a five-story distillery that would allow 3 Floyds to take the long-awaited step of making whiskey. For years, Nick Floyd had wanted to distill the grains of 3 Floyds beers, including Dark Lord. By 2016, longtime brewer Abby Titcomb was training to become the head distiller.
When the distillery officially opened in June of 2019, it was serving up “Not Normal” spirits, including gin, rum, and aquavit. The lineup also included a whiskey not yet aged in barrels. Eventually, the aged version of that whiskey (aged 17 months in barrels) would be released to fans as well. Among the other not normal offerings, BüstHedd Akvavit combines distilled grains with a bit of spice (caraway seed, dill, fennel, and cinnamon) and White VVitch Gin puts a twist on the traditionally juniper spirit with the addition of ginger and peppercorn.
3 Floyds has a comic book.
Friend of the brewery Brian Azzarello happens to be a veteran comic book writer. He created the noir-style comic “100 Bullets” and wrote a run of “Wonder Woman” during his time in the comics world. In 2018, he teamed up with Nick Floyd and Simon Bisley, a British illustrator with an appropriately metal style, to create a comic book inspired by 3 Floyds beers.
The story follows an Indiana brewer (sound familiar?) who transforms into “Alpha King” in an alternate reality and takes on a villain by the name of Rice King. The tongue-in-cheek humor pits the hero against a warlord who represents big, macro breweries (that use a lot of rice in their beers). It’s accompanied by pretty gory illustrations. And there may even be a follow-up comic with a new writer.
Published: October 2, 2020