Upland Brewing Co. of Bloomington, Ind. has developed a reputation as a quality beer producer since its inception back in 1997. Over the last 20 years, Upland has grown from a local brewpub to a large regional operation, distributing its beers to 17 different states.
One of the successes that has helped put Upland on the map on a national level is their sour program. In 2006 a simple trade of a few cases of beer to a local winery for a used barrel started in motion what has become a widely sought-after lineup of sour beers. Many of the Upland sours are released through a lottery system which requires pick up at the brewery. For the past few years I contemplated entering said lottery but, each year the lack of family or friends in Indiana to pick up the bottles kept me from pulling the trigger. A few bottles here and there have popped up at bottle shares I have hosted or attended but for the most part, I have yet to really get my hands on any Upland sours. Until today.
Darken is a brown ale inspired by the Flanders oude bruin style using; pilsner, pale, Munich, aromatic, chocolate, wheat and rye malts along with some candi sugar to make up the malt bill. In addition to the elaborate malt bill several spices are also added to the beer including star anise, ginger, grains of paradise, black pepper and coriander.
As I pop the bottle and fill my Teku the beer is just a couple of tics shy of black with edges that turn rusty copper when held to the light. A surprisingly thick khaki colored head that sticks around for a while. It takes a few whiffs of the glass before I am able to start picking out individual aromas. The tart acidity and overwhelming vinegar bouquet I expected is not there. In its place, I find notes of cherry, plum, fig and oak. The vinegar character is there but it is not the dominant component. For that matter, there is no real dominant character in the bouquet. It is a series of subtle notes that blend into a pleasant-smelling beer but not an overly impressive or assertive one.
As I take my first sip of Darken the first thing that makes an impression is the creamy mouthfeel. Again, not what I expect from a beer that “is inspired by an oude bruin.” A few sips in and I am again having to hunt for individual flavors. This is not necessarily a bad thing as there is definitely a lot there but nothing jumps to the foreground. The plum and cherry from the aroma are there along with light balsamic, red wine, crackers and biscuits. The spices also peak through and add interesting accompaniment to the malt driven flavors. The acidity is just enough to balance the sweetness and the vinegar like acetic quality is present enough to be noticeable but doesn’t overpower the rest of the beer. It has a pleasant clean finish that does not linger on the tongue for long. As I reach the end of my lace covered glass I realize I put down a 500ml of a 9.1 percent beer in a very short amount of time. Darken is very drinkable and I would have no problem putting down a couple of pours if I came across this on tap.