Ok, we are back to weekly posts about crazy rare beers with A Whale A Week! This is my excuse to stop hoarding these beers and share them with friends who will appreciate them. The catch? Everyone taking part has to help me critique each beer. I've enjoyed seeing the differences between these write-ups from BJCP judges, seasoned homebrewers, and craft beer fans.
Surly Darkness 2008
This week we return to my stomping grounds of Minnesota, with a look at Surly Brewing's Darkness. This beer is Surly's take on the Russian Imperial Stout, and was first brewed in 2006, in a very small batch and released in growlers. I never got to try that first year's release, but at the time it was pretty "ballsy" to put out an expensive-to-brew RIS for a very young upstart craft brewery. They are called Surly after all.
The second year they released a limited run of bottles (under 500) that they released in the very first Darkness Day event at the brewery in Brooklyn Center. The event went well and the beer met with high praise. The bottle for 2007 Darkness featured a Grim Reaper, and while I have held an unopened bottle in my hand, I have yet to taste that batch. Anyone still have one of these gathering dust in a cellar?
And that catches us up to the chilly morning of October 25, 2008. 2008's Darkness Day was much more organized as well as publicized and by 10 in the morning, a line snaked all through the neighborhood around the brewery. I arrived there around 9:30 or so and was able to get a spot fairly close to the front of the line. A few folks from out of state had camped out overnight and shared some epic beers the night before. They were feeling no pain. That year Surly increased production of Darkness to around 5000 bottles, a big increase from the previous year, but still a small run. If you were in the first 700 people in line you got a wrist-band allowing you up to 6 bottles for a total of $100, about $16.67 a bottle. The bottle art for this year was done by local tattoo artist Nik Skrade featuring a demon with an upside-down skull in his palm. The bottle was wax dipped and the label was actually a sticker placed on the glass bottle. The next year they began screen printing the bottles and scrapped the sticker. Darkness Day itself featured live metal music, various Surly beers, and limited food options. I had a great time!
So I have been hoarding (like I do) my 6 bottles of 2008 Darkness over the years since, drinking one every so often on a special occasion. Now, over 6 years later, I dusted off this beauty for a last bow. I've stored it in the dark in my mid-60 degree basement. I invited a couple of friends over for the tasting, since we decided to try a couple of rare beers in one day and spread the wealth. We poured into Surly Darkness glasses and some Steel Toe Snifters for this particular tasting. Here is our cast of characters: Me (Eric)--homebrewer for over 25 years, beer judge, beer geek. Sj--my wife who inexplicably is a woman of few words when it comes to reviewing beer. Sean Kampshoff--Winner of National Homebrew Competition medals, beer judge, cool guy. Jim & Cindy Moldenhauer--a very fun couple of craft beer geeks we got to know at several McCoy's Public House beer dinners.
|98.7 % of demons enjoy a Surly Darkness...|
Eric: Prune, raisin, dark dried cherries. Sherry cask tannin and woody aroma from oxidation. Slight dark chocolate notes. There is a slight sharp tinge that seems almost minty--hops? Some roast malts but not as roasty as I expected.
Sean: Super roasty, sherry notes, and toffee. Minty/herbal hop aroma--menthol cigarettes?
Cindy: Chocolate, sherry.
Jet black (Sean) Black as Sin (Eric). Sexy Dark (Cindy) Dark and lovely (Jim) Also Opaque. Off-white to tan head that fades quickly. Fine bubbles easy to rouse with swirling.
Eric: Very sweet and malty up front--bordering on cloying at first. Strong sherry notes after the initial burst of sweet, almost cardboard but not quite. Deep blackberry (almost tart) and prunes. Earthy hints, not vegetal, but more herbal or minty. Moderate roastiness. Burnt/dark candy sugar. Mouthfeel thick and syrupy, coating the mouth. Finish fairly sweet but not overly so. Not as boozy as I remember, but light warming.
Sean: Thick roastiness with dark fruit character and deep toffee notes. Finishes slightly sweet, but lingering hop bitterness helps dry it out. Mouthfeel medium-high body, medium-low carbonation. Slight creaminess and alcohol warmth.
Cindy: Toffee, chocolate. Thicker mouthfeel, smooth. Nice bourbon finish.
Jim: Chocolate magic.
Eric: Still a very good beer! This tastes a lot different from previous tastings, mainly due to increased oxidation. This oxidation is still more sherry than wet cardboard, but is right on the edge of turning. Complexity of the beer is fading in favor of the oxidation. Could use just a touch more Satan. 4.25
Sean: Fantastically aged Imperial stout. Big, bold roastiness but not overdone and the sherry notes from its age add a great depth to an already complex beer. 4.25
Jim: Hello Darkness my old friend. More please! Ages very well. 4.5
Sj: "Withstands the test of time". 4.25
Overall average score: 4.45
Interesting to try such an old version of this famous and rare beer. Sean and I ended up at the same score overall, but he felt there was more roastiness than I did, perhaps because I've tried the beer before and found it faded this round. We all enjoyed the beer a lot. I have another bottle and feel that I want to drink it soon before it goes over the precipice. I've got another from each year since and will work my way through those this year as well...tune in and play along! If you have tried this vintage recently, feel free to comment--I'd love to see what other folks get from this beer.