Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2012

Surly Darkness 2012

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.

I couldn't dig up details on the batch size for 2011.  The label art for that vintage is a very creepy zombie done by local artist Michael Berglund.  My review of 2011 is HERE.

And here we are at 2012!  The 2012 vintage was as usual released in October to much fanfare and an increasingly crowded Darkness Day celebration.  They gave out 1500 wrist-bands to get 6 bottles of Darkness--making that year's brewery release about 9000 bottles.  The art for that bottle was an angry looking werewolf (is there any other kind?) done by Brent Schoonover.  You can check out his cool stuff including a lot of comic work HERE.

Cast of Characters:
For this A Whale A Week tasting, we had a couple of friends over to help us out.  Calley Donath-Beardsley and Joshua Beardsley are friends we met at one of The Happy Gnome's beer dinners and they live not to far from us.  Joshua is a seasoned homebrewer who brought along an aged bottle of his own Imperial Stout to share, nervous to put this up against one of the most famous beers in the state.  Matt Finnesgard, also a homebrewer who now lives in within walking distance from The Gnome, was able to come out to visit as well.  And of course my fine wife Sarajo took part as always.

Eric: Sweet malt and soysauce up front.  Slightly sharp tang to it.  No hop aromas.  Some dark fruit--predominantly prune as it warms up.  I can tell there is some alcohol in this.
Joshua: Not picking up much trademark Imperial stout coffee, chocolate, etc.  Significant aged hop character, Formosa black tea, burnt caramel.  Faint vinous currant scent.
Matt: Roasty.  Hints of smoke.  Dried berries.
Calley: Tannic.

Eric: Very dark brown to nearly black in the bar light.  Nearly opaque appearance.  Medium tan head--lighter in color than expected.  Head is quite persistent with small to medium sized bubbles.
Joshua: Motor oil after a 500 mile rally.  Surprisingly light head, darkening to tan where thick.
Matt: Dark and oily.  Head is lightly colored--more cream than brown.
Calley: Lace is thin.  Head a bit lighter.

Eric: Very sweet and cloying up front.  I get flavors that remind be of blackberries (sweet, slightly tannic, a bit of tartness.)  Some oxidation leads to a mild papery flavor midway through the taste. Some alcohol warming but not hot.  Balance is to the overly sweet side with not enough hop or roast bitterness to balance the beer.  A bit of harshness on finish but not quite to the point of calling it astringent--almost a lingering tartness.  Not very much roasted grain/coffee/chocolate for the style.  Body is medium but with a mouth-coating effect nevertheless.
Joshua: Malt bomb--tastes like straight malt extract syrup.  Less complexity than I expected from Darkness.  Slightly tart.  Strong dark crystal malt or caramel.  Low hop bitterness.  Low roast bitterness.  Mild alcohol burn.  Mouthfeel with oatmeal smoothness, thick with low attentuation.
Matt: Very sweet forward--nearly honey-like.  Sweetness tastes a bit like refined sugar, almost like drinking simple syrup.
Calley: Very sweet in the beginning.  Underattenuated?  Back sweetened?  Mouthfeel is watery and syrupy at the same time.  How is that possible?

Eric: This seems more like an aged Belgian Dark Strong/quad to me than an Imperial stout.  Just very little of the roast and dark grain that I like in any stout.  This is so overly sweet that it just coats your tongue and won't stop until you drink some water.  I remember (and Untappd tells me) that I rated this higher when fresh 4.5.  This tasting I initially rated this a 4, but after it warmed and seemed even sweeter I cut it down to 3.75.
Joshua: Needs complexity and balance.  4
Matt: Sweet and lacks complexity.  My mom could drunk off of this.  Cloyingly sweet. 3.5
Calley: Seems unfinished.  Would have expected more backbone after this much aging. 3.75
Sarajo: I taste something weird...cinnamon?  Hits me like a kinda flat Coke. 3.75

Overall Score: 3.75

This was an interesting tasting.  We came out expecting this to be amazing and complex but were all startled by how overly sweet the beer was.  Pretty much all of us were on the same page all across the board here.  I think the beer could have used more hop bitterness and more roast/dark malts to add complexity and cut that sweetness.  Not our favorite vintage so far in the series.  The crazy part was that Joshua's homebrewed RIS had all the character that we were missing in this one, and our entire panel rated his higher.  This being the first of his homebrew's I've tried, I was heartily impressed!  

This particular year my friends Rob and Ron from Limited Release were able to take their cameras to Darkness Day and document the crazy action there.  Click the video below for a 20 minute romp into debauchery, lack of sleep, and hypothermia.

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