Thursday, July 9, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2009

Last week I took a little hiatus from A Whale A Week due to the Fourth of July holiday and CONvergence.  But this week we are back stronger than ever with another vintage Surly beer!

Surly Darkness 2009

This week we return to our continuing series on 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?

On October 25, 2008 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 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.  Check out my previous A Whale A Week post on that vintage HERE.

And we move on to October 24 of 2009 for another run at Darkness Day.  I was able to make this event as well, but now that the cat was out of the bag, crowds were getting bigger, requiring me to get there early--8 AM or so--and I was still pretty far back in line.  The first 800 people in line got a wristband, allowing them to buy 6 bottles for $18 apiece once they finally got into the brewery.grounds later that day.  I made it!  As had been the case in the previous year, folks had camped out the night before and had epic bottle shares through the wee hours.  Some people were already drunk/hung over before we even got into the brewery!  Pace yourselves people!  The Surly crew did have a keg of Coffee Bender for those in line in the morning--a perfect way to stay happy and awake.  They sold the same number of bottles (5000) that day, but had another 2500 or so that they released to liquor stores a few days later.  The event again had metal music, Surly beers on tap, Smoke right out of the bright tanks, and tons of swag to buy.

The 2009 bottle label art was done by local artist David Witt (or DWITT) and featured a creepy mummy in bright white and orange.  Since then, DWITT has done several other beer related projects including can design for Indeed Brewing and the art for Zombie Crawl.  This was the first year that the Darkness bottle was screen printed instead of having a sticker label, though was still wax dipped.

For this tasting I had over Steven Mathistad, fellow homebrewer and convenient neighbor to help me out.  Also as usual my wife Sarajo helped us out with drinking...We served these into Darkness snifter glasses for proper effect!

Eric: Molasses or slightly burnt sugar.  Sherry cask/oak tannin--bordering on cardboard.  Almost an herbal or minty quality as swirled.  Hints of red grape or red wine.  Raisin and prune as it warms up.  No hops to speak of.
Steven: Caramel.  Licorice and dark sugar.  Not much dark fruit.

Deep black and opaque, but with slight ruby highlights at edge of glass when held to bright bar light.  Fine to nearly absent tan head that fades quickly to nothing.  Pitch black.

Eric: Very sweet up front. Strong flavors of molasses and bitter licorice root.  Oxidized but not overwhelming.  Body a bit thin for the style and much more so than the thick 2008 vintage--more like an Imperial porter.  Stronger roast and and dark baker's chocolate than previous year, but still subtle flavors compared to many RIS style beers.  Some bitterness, but no hop flavor.  Some alcohol warming but not hot.  Lots of prune flavors present--this one might keep you regular!
Steven: Plums or dark fruit is strong.  Slight tannin flavors.  Medium body to almost thin, but not watery.

Eric: Actually improved from previous tasting of this vintage.  Smoother than remembered.  4/5
Steven: Not bad, but lacks something.  4.25/5
Sarajo: "Very anise-y...not to be confused with anus-y, which is completely different..." 3.5/5

Total average score: 3.9

This beer has always been my least favorite vintage of Darkness.  I will say that compared to about 2 years ago, I liked it more this time.  The oxidation has actually added complexity to this batch, but I think another year will push it over the edge into cardboard territory.  Drink this now if you have any stashed away.  So far I like the 2008 better.  Continuing on with my Darkness series, we will do the 2010 Vampire bottle next!  Stay tuned...

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