Surly Darkness 2011
This week we return to our continuing A Whale A Week 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. 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?
For 2008 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 demon label was a sticker placed on the glass bottle. The next year they began screen printing the bottles and scrapped the sticker. Check out my previous A Whale A Week post on the 2008 vintage HERE.
For 2009 the label featured a mummy. 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. My review of the 2009 vintage is HERE.
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. That year the label featured a vampire and my review is HERE.
Next up: 2011! I couldn't dig up details on the batch size for 2011. The label art for this vintage is a very creepy zombie done by local artist Michael Berglund. Currently he's Creative Director at the new new Surly Brewery in Minneapolis. I think this is the freakiest label of the entire lot, so good for you Michael!
This A Whale A Week tasting took place fairly spur of the moment, since our friends Tyrone and Annette Babione were out to Victoria and Waconia for a brewery tour. We started with Sunday Bloody Mary's at Floyd's, then over across the street to Enki Brewing for a pint. Next up we went to Schram Vineyards Winery & Brewery in Waconia, though unfortunately they were unable to sell beer on Sunday so we settled for some good wine and sandwiches from a food truck. And then to Waconia Brewing for a pint and a board game (Ticket To Ride!) What better way to cap off a great day? Why not try some vintage Darkness back at my bar...
Our cast of characters: Me--BJCP judge, beer geek, regular geek. Tyrone--BJCP judge, great guy. Annette--Has taken the test for BJCP but still waiting on her scores... Bill Schmiedlin--JAB member, skilled homebrewer. And Sarajo--my wife, woman of few words when it comes to judging beers. This bottle has been aged in the basement in utter darkness (see what I did there?) for almost 5 years. I served the precious fluid into stemmed snifter glasses.
Aroma: (In which we all get different aromas from this complex melange.)
Eric: Sweet! Slightly zippy alcohol and tartness after the sweet fades. Mild oxidation character. Roast present but subtle. Raisins as it warms. Slight coffee aroma as swirled. No hop aroma.
Tyrone: Slight soy sauce. After initial aroma blows off, a dark, dark roast develops. Nothing burnt or acrid--more like a fire from within a wet forest that has smoldered for days. No hop aroma. Very faint chocolate in the fringe. Just a tint of vanilla.
Annette: Heavy chocolate aroma with hints of coffee. Roasted malts are heavily present. No hops detected. A liquid candy bar is the best representation--or a Bailey's hot chocolate.
Bill: Dark fruit notes...Fig? No hop notes. Typical of a Russian stout.
Appearance: (In which Bill gets no head...)
Eric: Deep and dark as night--opaque. Fine tan head that lingers.
Tyrone: Black-opaque body. Head is long-lasting, dark brown with fine tight bubbles. Head low but persistent.
Annette: Very opaque. Nearly black in color.
Bill: Very dark, nearly ruby. Light won't penetrate the goblet. Only a small amount of bubbles around the glass. No notable head.
Flavor: (In which we discover that this is a very thick beer...)
Eric: Powerful sweet and dark fruit flavors of raisin, prune, and dark cherry. Well balanced roast and dark malt smoothing out the sweetness. No hop flavors, but the beer is not overly sweet to cloying. Slight sherry notes of oxidation but not cardboard yet. I do get some chocolate and molasses cookie as it warms. There is an umami rich flavor as it warms. Medium/high carbonation. Body is fairly rich and thick.
Tyrone: Oxidized paper. Medium high carbonation with slight carbonic tingle up front tip and side of tongue but not a bite. Balance to the sweet end. Molasses/syrup sweetness. No particular hop flavor. Medium body with alcohol viscosity. Weight of the beer lingers and coats the tongue but not unpleasant--rather a warming and filling sensation that warms the oral, nasal and chest cavities. Slight tartness.
Annette: Heavy on the chocolate and coffee flavor with a little hint of oak involved. No hop flavor, medium hop bitterness. Very heavy on initial chocolate sweetness.
Bill: Sightly sour and metallic finish. Unsalted soy sauce. Bitterness increases as it warms, as does the complexity.
Overall: (Where we find that we are all over the board on this one...)
Eric: Very well balanced for such a big beer. Not overly sweet, but still plenty of thick warming complexity. Not as oxidized as the previous beers in the series but less carbonation than the 2010. Slight tartness that I can't quite figure out but doesn't seem infected. I actually liked the 2010 slightly more. 4.75
Tyrone: For a RIS, it is filling and alcoholic. Sweet with the right amount of bitter as one would expect. It lacked the chocolate and roasted complexity that this style typifies. 3.5
Annette: A very heavy, malty beer that has a great emphasis on the roasty, chocolaty, coffee aroma and flavor. Hop bitterness is on the back end which balances with the heavy malt sweetness. Perfect beer for an evening in January by the fireplace. 4
Sarajo: A little tart. 4.5
Overall Score: 4.05
So there you have it! This one still got a decent overall score but not as high as 2010. Interesting that Annette picked up on more chocolate and coffee in this, while I just got a little bit, and Tyrone got none. Proof that every one's palate is different and that's why we judge in groups! Several of us also picked up on soy and oxidation as well as a slight tartness.
Has anyone else tried this beer recently?