Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Eight

Hey folks, time once again for A Whale A Week!  Last week we tasted Surly Seviin, and this week we finish up our series (until next year's Nine release) of Surly Anniversary Beers!

A quick recap:  The Surly Anniversary beers have been quite a mixed bag over the years, but I appreciate the brewers stretching their brewing chops to try new things.  One was a Quad/Doppelbock concoction that I never got to try.  I assume it was good.  Two was a cranberry milk stout that I first tried at a charity benefit--very tasty and tart.  That one made it to a small bottling run, but I've never actually seen one in person.  Three was a braggot, made with half honey and half grain.  I did not like that one fresh, but a year later it was much more balanced and mellow.  I'd love to try this again now!  Four was the first of these that I loved from the get-go and is reviewed HERE.  Five was their first sour and is reviewed HERE.  Syx was a 15% multi-wood aged monster, and is HERE.  Seviin was a Belgian strong ale finished off with brett and was reviewed HERE.

Let the Wild Rumpus begin!

Surly Eight

Surly Eight just came out November of 2014 and one can still run across a bottle here or there in the hinterlands of the Twin Cities.  As such it is perhaps not as rare or "whale-like" as some other beers, but I felt that I should really go ahead and finish up my run of the Surly Anniversary beers with it.  Not to rest on its laurels, Surly decided to try making a new category of beer: an Oat Wine.  This is a strong ale made a generous proportion of oats, that was then aged for many months in High West Rye Whiskey barrels.  Currently the beer has ratings of 93 on BeerAdvocate and 98 on RateBeer.  The beer comes in a bomber bottle dipped in white wax and decorated with a disturbing bit of artwork by local artist Josh "Jawsh" Lemke.  He's famous for his aerosol mural artwork and has done a couple of other things for Surly including one of their Darkness labels.  

This beer was released very late in the year (their actual anniversary is February) because Surly found they needed more time in the whiskey barrels to even this beer out.  I first tried this at Autumn Brew Review in a preliminary form before the final bottling.  At that time I felt the beer probably needed a bit more time, but was quite an unusual experience.  I've been waiting to crack a bottle and officially review it!

For this week's review Steven Mathistad, myself, and my wife Sj all gathered up in the basement bar to taste this new addition to the Surly cannon.  I served the beer in Surly stemware glasses and we got to work!  We all agreed pretty much on the review, so I just combined our thoughts together below.

Steven waiting patiently for his serving of Eight...


Initial aroma has a hint of unexpected sourness.  Some vanilla and toffee or sweet caramel.  Has an alcoholic zip to it.  Peppery.  As it warms I get increased tart and sourness as well as a subtle vegetal note.


Deep gold to almost amber in color.  Slightly hazy.  Large off-white head with medium sized bubbles.  Head fades slowly.


Initial sweet toffee that was hinted at in the nose.  Mouthfeel is medium, not as thick as I expected.  Lingering boozy finish rife with vanilla and marshmallow.  The end is actually off-dry despite the boozy notes.  As it warms I get more of the sourness that I can smell in the aroma.  Steven pointed out that he also got more whiskey as it warmed up.


The big issue here is that the beer is souring.  I remember getting a tiny hint of that tartness the first time I tried it, but I assumed that might be from the wood or the rye whiskey.  The beer is not very complex, likely because oats have almost no flavor of their own, so they don't add much to the body and flavor of the beer.  Most of the flavor present comes from the whiskey barrel, so this is pretty one-note.  I feel that this beer will probably get more sour with time.  If you have some in your stash I would probably drink them now or throw them in the fridge to slow that process.  I have four of these bad-boys and will age a couple just to see what happens over time.

Ratings: Since both Steven and I had such a hard time deciding on a score, I decided to allow quarter increments on this one.

Eric: 3.75
Steven: 3.75
Sj: 3.5  "Meh"

So that concludes our review of Surly Four through Eight!  My personal favorite?  Probably Surly Five, just because it has matured into something so much better than what it once was.  Least favorite was the Seviin--we had a bad bottle initially, but even the retry wasn't amazing.  I would say that the Surly Anniversary beers have been a bit of a mixed bag, but I do appreciate Todd Haug take some risks.

Next up on A Whale A Week:  Goose Island Madame Rose 2012 Vintage

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