Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2010

Surly Darkness 2010

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.  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.  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.  Last week's review of the 2009 vintage is HERE.

Which catches us up to 2010.  In 2010 they increased Darkness production to about 14000 bottles, also wax dipped and screen printed.  About 7500 were released at that year's October Darkness Day, and the rest to retailers later in the month.  This was the last Darkness Day I was able to get to.  My mom came with for her allotment and to keep me company in line, oh, and to drive me home after.  We arrived just at sunrise, about 6 AM and was several blocks away from the front of the line.  Most of the folks in front of us had camped out the night before and many were either half frozen or half-in-the-bag.  Not thinking about it, I hadn't brought anything to share in line so we just watched folks drinking beers, cooking breakfast on portable stoves, serving from portable kegerators, etc.  Yup this event had turned into some kind of crazy brewery tailgating thing over the past 2 years. We got our beer, enjoyed a couple of pints at the brewery, and headed out.  A good time, but getting much too crowded for my comfort level.

The bottle art for 2010 features a close up of a vampire, done by local commercial art and printmaking studio Aesthetic Apparatus.

For this particular tasting, my wife Sarajo, friend Anna Osborn, and I were invited over to Brian and Tina Ackermann's place for dinner and games (Pathfinder card game for my geek readers.)  Not until that day did I realize that it was Brian's actual birthday, so I quickly threw my 2010 Darkness into the car with our games to take along.  A little background on our cast of characters:  Me--BJCP National ranked judge, president of our brewclub Jack Of All Brews, and geek.  Sarajo--my wife, dark beer lover, with no problem judging me but less likely to judge beers. Anna--one of the few female homebrewers I know, proprietor of Irate Princess home brewery.  Tina--beer judging novice, but willing to give it a try!  Brian--a very good homebrewer who has recently started up the hobby again...and our birthday boy!

Eric: Deep dark bitter chocolate with a mild roasted malt aroma.  Sweet toffee.  Notes of sherry.  A bit of alcohol zip.  Dark bing cherry or almost dried cranberry aromas as it warms up in the glass.  No hop aroma.
Anna: Lovely--so vanilla!  It reminds me of that Creme Brulee from Southern Tier (that I love).
Tina: Coffee notes.  Toasted something...couldn't quite place my finger on it.
Brian: Chocolate covered cherry.  Toasted coconut or something else elusive.

Appearance: (Normally I combine these, but I loved our panel's descriptions so much I left 'em.)
Eric: Black in color.  Very deep tan colored head that is amazingly persistent for this style of beer.  Larger sized bubbles.  Completely opaque.
Anna: Black as night!  Beautiful.  Great carbonation.  Black is beautiful.
Tina: Deep ebony with a beautiful caramel head.  Even after 20+ minutes there was notable presence of head on the beer.
Brian: Dark as midnight.

Eric: Sweetness up front.  I get a very light acidic tang that combined with the raisin and cherry flavors reminds me of a chocolate covered craisin.  Roast malt present but subtle, this is dark, but not a bitter roasty stout.  Sherry cask flavors from age and oxidation.  No hop flavors.  Mild coffee notes.  Slight anise or licorice flavors.  Moderate to almost thick mouthfeel.  Some alcohol present but not hot.  The elevated carbonation really helps to keep this from being cloyingly sweet.
Anna: Full flavor--lingers nicely and feels like a warm blanky.
Tina: Very smooth finish.  Something fruity up front.  As it sat there was a richness that wasn't present at first.
Brian: Full bodied, rich and velvety.  Chocolate and fruits.

Eric: A very good beer!  This reminds me of a dark chocolate and cherry milk shake.  There is oxidation here, but it adds complexity to the beer.  So far my favorite of the three vintages I've tried recently.  This one seems to be at it's peak, so I'd drink it now and enjoy! 5
Anna: I feel this has aged and held up nicely over time.  My opinion is that this is at it's peak, and may start decreasing in enjoyment over the coming year. 4.5
Tina: Very warm and restful--use in place of cognac.  I think this is the best dark beer I've tried. 5
Brian: Delightful and heavy.  Sweet and sticky. 5
Sarajo: "Vanilla and licorice shouldn't go together.  I'm a hater apparently".  4.25
And in response from Tina: "She'll shake it off."

Overall Score: 4.75

So what did we discover from this tasting?
1) That the 2010 vintage is very good and that you should drink it now.
2) That the women in our group are much more descriptive than our guys.
3) Darkness goes great with birthday cake and cherries.
4) Brian and Tina's cats can open all the cupboards in their house when being ignored by guests.

Stay tuned for our next A Whale A Week!  Next week will likely be Surly Darkness 2011...

No comments: