Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Whale A Week: Surly Darkness 2013

Surly Darkness 2013

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.

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.

And then our next vintage is 2013!  This year they continued the 1500 wrist-bands for Darkness day, again selling up to 6 bottles per person for $20 apiece.  And continuing with my lameness, I didn't get out to Darkness Day again.  The bottle art this year was done by Josh "Jawsh" Lemke, (the artist behind the Surly Eight label) and features the demonic horned Brewcifer.  I actually haven't tried this vintage since it was released so was excited to taste it after a couple of years cellaring.  I was out of town when this one came out and I believe I sent my wonderful mom out all over town to find me a couple of bottles for my hoard...

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 and should be taking the BJCP test based on his job with this tasting.  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: Sweetness and malt aromas right away.  Slight oxidation coming off as oak or tannin.  An alcohol zip on the nose.  Mild coffee and a subtle chocolate as swirled.  Slight minty hop.
Joshua: Mild oxidation, grapeseed and sherry.  Cabernet fruitiness and brewed coffee.
Calley: Cardamom.
Matt: Toffee, sherry, astringent, rubber-band

Eric: Deep and dark--nearly black.  Fine medium tan head that stays around for a while. Opaque even up to the lights.
Joshua: Slightly darker tan foam.
Calley: Head lighter than expected.

Eric: Sweetness up front but balanced by hopping.  Very malty.  Some cocoa (milk chocolate?) and light coffee flavors.  Black cherry as well.  Mouthfeel is fairly thick and coating, but not syrupy.  Some alcohol warming on the back of the throat.  Balanced to the sweet side, but has some bitter and roast to back it up.  Mild oxidation adds complexity without detracting.
Joshua: Chocolate covered Indonesian espresso bean.  Wet cardboard oxidation.  Berry juice tang.  Dark malt extract.  Mouthfeel syrupy but not too thick.
Calley: Molasses flavors.  Mouthfeel light for a stout.
Matt: Weird after-flavor (cardboard).  Dark fruit--hints of prunes.  A touch hot.  Sherry/Port flavor.  Hints of flowery hops.

Eric: The balance on this version is probably the best of the bunch, making this my favorite Darkness of this series of tastings so far. More roastiness makes this a legitimate stout, but still not a very roasty beer compared to some (Old Rasputin).  4.5
Joshua: 4.5
Calley: Aged better than the 2012.  3.875
Matt: More complex than 2012.  Good balance of sweet, roast, and bitterness. 4
Sarajo: "I like it."  4.5

Overall Rating: 4.275  (Thanks Calley for making us have a crazy overall score!)

This one was great!  Just one more in the series to go: the 2014 Barrel Aged Darkness!  Stay tuned for next week and feel free to drink along and add your own comments to this blog.

My friends Rob and Ron from Limited Release camped out for the Darkness Day 2013 release and documented the whole experience for your viewing pleasure!  Check it out below if you dare!

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