Dark Charge Day 2023, The Tradition Continues With Some Updates
By: The Gnarly Gnome
Photos By: The Gnarly Gnome
If you’re a craft beer fan in Greater Cincinnati, I’d assume that by now, you’ve at least heard of Dark Charge. The beer (from Braxton Brewing Company) has been around for almost a decade and has an entire day dedicated to its release down at their Covington taproom. That’s an impressive feat for a beer that is also only released in that taproom. It so far has never hit distribution other than a little drop on Tavour a few years ago.
I’m a sucker for things like this and have never missed a Dark Charge day. (I don’t have any plans to ever miss one, either.)
This Year’s Big Changes
Right off the top of things, there was one massive change this year that you can’t hide from. Most of the dark charge beers were packaged in cans instead of the signature 22oz wax-dipped bottles that we’ve gotten used to over the years.
When you talk to the brewery, their reasoning for the change is pretty simple and, in many ways, hard to argue with. Cans are better for beer. They protect the liquid from many of the outside forces that are arguably bad for beer. Oxygen, light, etc. They also are much easier to store in your refrigerator for quick access when you, you know, actually drink your Dark Charge.
This is the part that stands out for me, and it also plays into the biggest reason that I’m on the fence about how I feel about the move into cans. The very act of being in a can makes a beer feel a little more… normal.
On the one hand, the normalization of a beer like Dark Charge is exactly what someone like me needs. I often find myself passing over a bottle because it doesn’t feel like the occasion is “special enough” to open it up, leaning instead towards a can of beer that arguably isn’t any more or less “special” in any way. It’s solely because of the packaging format and how it makes me feel.
The flip side of this, though, is Dark Charge starts to feel a little more normal from a beer perspective. It becomes less about the liquid itself and more about the event. Dark Charge stands out less amongst a sea of local imperial stouts from a beer perspective. That, however, doesn’t say anything about the event.
The Slow Death of Beer Events
Ok… that might be a little extreme. Beer Events aren’t dead or dying. They have certainly changed over the years, though. Anyone around craft beer a decade ago remembers how things looked and felt and can recognize the difference between that and today.
This isn’t really a bad thing. It shows maturation and an industry that is actually turning into just that – an industry. It does leave a lot of craft beer drinkers missing something, though. I think an event like Dark Charge Day is in a perfect position to keep some of that alive. I’d go as far as to say that events like Dark Charge Day are critical in keeping some of that feeling alive.
As beer events change and become a little more “mainstream,” it leaves space for events like Dark Charge Day to keep finding new ways to capture the magic that was so prevalent back then.
That raises a great question, then. How is Braxton doing? More accurately, how did Braxton do this year?
It Started With Stave
This year’s Dark Charge Day started a day beforehand via a first-of-a-kind event from the brewery – called ‘Stave.’ This “beer dinner” was a lot more than just a beer dinner, and before I go too deep into my thoughts about it, I have to let you know that Braxton invited me as a member of the press (haha, they think I’m part of the press) so I didn’t pay for my ticket. This was great news because those tickets were a little steep for my budget, at a little under $200 a person. I’m thrilled I made it, too… because the event was spectacular.
The dinner started with a cocktail hour, during which we got to listen to a fantastic four-piece contemporary string quartet on the stage in the Dark Charge tent outside of the taproom. At 7 pm, we were all seated at tables of ten and were led through a night of seven courses of incredible food from local B-Line restaurants alongside Dark Charge samples and New Riff cocktail samples designed to pair up with the course.
You could tell that a ton of thought went into each pairing, which is too often not the case at beer dinners. The beer hit perfect, heck – the cocktails hit perfect. I’d go as far as to say that I’ve never had a dinner with cocktails that actually paired up with the meal itself. It was spectacular. Our table conversations were fantastic – the crowd was a perfect mix of “fancy folks” who like to spend some cash and “beer folks” who just wanted to be a part of a beer dinner like this.
When I call the dinner amazing, I’m not even coming close to explaining how much I enjoyed it.
On To Dark Charge Day
The event itself has evolved over the years. It used to kick off with a line that started forming the night before – with some folks waiting overnight to get the first shot at a bottle of Dark Charge. Those days are gone, as Covid ushered in an era of online sales and scheduled pickups. Instead, now, the event kicks off at 11 am with a crowd that descends upon Covington, ready to celebrate with each other.
The street in front of the brewery is shut down and covered with a large tent, which houses a music stage, several tasting bars, food options, televisions, and space to hang out. Whether you want to hang out watching a live act while sipping away on your stout or if you prefer to watch a soccer game while noshing on some food from Grub Local or Dewey’s Pizza – you have the options open to you.
They had tasting bars with everything from Light American Lagers to IPAs to the day’s beer, Dark Charge. One bar was dedicated to a beer and donut pairing (they did a donut box this year, with each stout flavored to represent a different donut), and another featured their new ‘Vino’ variant, an incredible blend of beer and wine.
Inside the main taproom space, a DJ kept the “party atmosphere” going all day, with the main bar pouring everything you could imagine. The warmth and comfort of the taproom space provided a much-needed rest spot for anyone during the day.
Upstairs, meanwhile, in the brewery’s event space they call ‘The Loft’ – New Riff and the BLine took over with a B-Line lounge dedicated to bourbon tastings and an experience that they call “from the barrel” where you can try Dark Charge straight out of a bourbon barrel. This space also had the projector playing sports all day, and being infinitely more laid back and quieter than anywhere else, it was the perfect space to take a breather and talk with friends.
So… What Do I Think?
What do I think about Dark Charge? I got asked that a lot over the weekend, which lets me know one thing: many folks are struggling with what things used to be like and what things are like today. I’d be lying if I told you that I hadn’t faced some of these same struggles as a beer drinker. Dark Charge holds a significant role in Cincinnati’s beer scene. No one has created an event like Braxton has done around this imperial stout. As beer drinkers, we want to hold onto the experiences and moments we’ve had and recreate them again and again.
This isn’t entirely what drinking is supposed to be.
I’m a firm believer that drinking is supposed to be a delicate balance between the new, the exciting, and the mysterious. Between new experiences, new flavors, new friends, new thoughts, and the old traditions, memories, and stories from the past that made it all happen in the first place.
Without change, evolution, or growth, we get lost, and things get stale.
So, what do I think? Braxton is doing a great job and carrying the torch of Dark Charge’s role in Cincinnati Beer. They are managing the balance well. The beer and event are still great, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it next year. Will they be the only brewery that ever attempts to carry this torch? Certainly not. Someone else will feel like they can do it better and will probably try to create the “next Dark Charge Day” (some already have) and might even be successful. I welcome that, too.
We’re lucky to live here in Cincinnati. This is the Gnarliest beer town in the country. I stand behind that more and more firmly every single day.