Wednesday, February 4, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Syx

Just a quick reminder on the Surly Anniversary beers before we move on:

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 just found out that Surly plans to have this on tap at the Rare Beer Festival this year!  Four was the first of these that I loved from the get-go.  That one was a thick and creamy Imperial porter/stout with espresso and we reviewed it HERE a few weeks back.  Five was a 100% Brett fermented sour ale aged in red wine barrels and we tasted that last week HERE.  If any of my friends and readers have a Two they want to share for this series please contact me!

Surly Syx

This is the first of many posed Surly bottle photos I've taken.  We just happened to have Lego Harry Potter sitting on the kitchen counter and he crowded into my shot.  I've done one of these for every Darkness and Anniversary beer since.  I'm weird.  And a geek.

Surly Syx was an interesting animal.  This was Surly's strongest beer to date clocking in at 15% ABV.  It used the new (at that time) Honey Comb Barrel Alternative method from Minnesota's Black Swan Cooperage to add wood aged character.  The idea behind this method is to increase the surface area of the wood to hasten the uptake of wood-aged character without having to have the beer sit in a barrel for 6 months.  I have a couple of these wood pieces at home for homebrewing, but haven't used them yet.  They come in multiple wood types including cherry, ash, several oak species, and more.  To tie in with the name, brewer Todd Haug used 6 different versions of these woods while making Syx.

This may have been Surly's first "miss" on the popularity scale.  I tried a bottle of Syx right away when I got it--I saw potential, but it was rocket fuel plain and simple.  Hot alcohol, strong and impressively tannic from the plethora of wood.  I had bought up plenty of these, hoping they would be as good as Five.  I couldn't even trade any of them to anyone out of state--Syx was the pariah of the Surly catalog.  Currently Syx has a rating of 77 on RateBeer and 86 on Beer Advocate.  So why am I considering this a Whale?  Mainly due to its rarity at this point, and because I've been looking for an excuse to open this boozy nightmare again and see how it tastes!  And I wanted to do a Surly Anniversary beer vertical.  Hey, I set the rules for A-W-A-W so I'm counting it.

Syx with Black Swan Honey Comb oak and The Hopsecutioner bottle opener.

We did this tasting at my bar with fellow Jack Of All Brews members Steven Mathistad and Mike Lebben, after trying out Surly Five.  My wife, Sj came home in time to try this with us as well.  I opened this with my fantastic Hopsecutioner bottle opener (made for me by my blacksmith friend Martin Pansch).  I served mine into the appropriate Surly snifter, while Mike and Steven got ghetto generic ones.  I've put my impressions first, but some of that is actually after discussing as a was collaborative!

Eric: Strong orange jam/marmalade aroma.  Quite a bit of citrus hop bite on the nose.  There is some earthy or woody wood tannin noted as swirled a bit.  Definite alcohol zip!  Kumquat and honey as warmed up.
Steven: Fruity.  Some almost Belgian yeast character.
Mike: Orange, other citrus, and honey.

Has the look of orange juice!  Hazy and a bright warm orange in color.  There is a thick white head that persists through the whole glass.

Eric: A malty sugary sweetness up front that fades to a firm finish of candied citrus rind.  Strong wood tannins and hop bitterness make the end on this beer borderline astringent, and very dry.  Very noticeable alcohol warming, but not the high-test rocket fuel that this was when fresh.  Strong hop flavor (citrus and tart apricot) as well as the bitterness.  Honey flavors as it warms.  Dry white wine flavors as well (can't remember who mentioned this!)
Steven: Doesn't taste like it is 15%.  Possibly under attenuated/too sweet.
Mike: Very woody.  Clears on the finish.

Overall Impression:
Quite strong in several ways!  The balance has improved greatly over time, but still very boozy, bitter and tannic.  Those flavors have melded together much better than I expected.  The major aroma and flavor of candied citrus and apricot is just wild.  Much more drinkable, but still a sipper to share among friends.  We all liked this beer and as a group gave it a 4 out of 5 score.  Despite its reputation as Cletus the Slack-Jawed-Yokel of the Surly catalog, I think this beer got a raw deal when it first came out and is coming along nicely.  I'll be curious to see what happens to it when the hop continues to fade and if more sweetness takes over...

A fun experience for sure, and thanks to my wife and friends for helping out!  I've posted a link-up below so if you have a blog or web page and want to play along with your own review of this beer, just click below and follow the directions!

An InLinkz Link-up

Coming up next week, we continue our Surly Anniversary beer extravaganza with the Belgian-esque Surly Seviin!

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