Brewing in Minneapolis, Surly has released many popular beers including Abrasive Ale, Coffee Bender Brown Ale, Furious Red Ale and Hell Lager, just to name a few, but none have gained the reputation and the elusiveness as Darkness Russian Imperial Stout.

Lines form outside the brewery the night before “Darkness Day” as people anticipate the annual release of the beer. This last release day was on Oct. 21, 2017 and allowed 1,500 people to receive a wristband that enabled them to purchase up to six 750ml bottles of Darkness at $20 each. The wristband also came with the opportunity to try a few draft-only Darkness variants including Salted, Cherry, Mole and Vanilla aged on red oak.

Originally brewed in 2007 and first bottled and released in 2008, it wasn’t until 2015 that Surly began barrel-aging the ever popular stout. The 2017 barrel-aged version of Darkness is a beast of a beer, a Russian imperial stout clocking in at 12 percent ABV. It is brewed with English yeast, hops that include Amarillo, Simcoe and Warrior alongside a plethora of malts that include 2-row, Golden Promise, Aromatic, Chocolate, Black, 50/60, Special B, Roasted Barley, Oats, Brewers, Crystals and DME. After brewing, it is aged a minimum of three months in barrels that previously held Woodford Reserve Rye whiskey.

Poured from a capped and gold waxed 750ml bottle, the color is just about pitch black with a very thin band of deep brown around the edges where the light penetrates. The head is dark tan and dissipates quickly, leaving a thin film. Aromas are bold and I receive ample amounts of milk chocolate, sweet malts, raisins, light bourbon and spice. Taste is complex and well-balanced, albeit the body is a bit thinner than I would have expected. Flavors abound with caramel, vanilla, sweet chocolate, molasses, dark cherries, an unlit cigar tobacco and a bit of wood.

Carbonation is ideal for the style and the balance is beautiful with all ingredients getting their fair share of time to shine. The mouthfeel is a touch thin but doesn’t really take away from the overall goodness and enjoyability of the beer. Finish is good, leaving just a little sweet vanilla and molasses on the palate.

Surly Barrel-Aged Darkness (2017)
BREWERY: Surly Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Minneapolis, Minn.
STYLE: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 12 percent
IBU: n/a
PRICE: $20
AVAILABLE IN: 750ml Bottles
While this lived up to most of the hype, though in my opinion, no big beer like Darkness ever lives up to all of the hype it receives. It's a well-balanced beer and very rich and sweet with vanilla. The body is a little thinner that I wanted but actually didn't bother me that much, as the flavors were bold and the complexity was well done. A definite sipper and not for the craft beer greenhorn, as this beer might have put down a weaker person.
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