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Darkness - Surly Brewing Company

Not Rated.

Educational use only; do not reuse.

796 Reviews

(Read More)
Reviews: 796
Hads: 3,274
Avg: 4.42
pDev: 9.5%
Wants: 3,252
Gots: 1,186 | FT: 84
Brewed by:
Surly Brewing Company visit their website
Minnesota, United States

Style | ABV
Russian Imperial Stout |  10.30% ABV

Availability: Fall

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: ryantupy on 10-08-2006

Starting in 2014, bottled Darkness will be aged in whiskey barrels. This listing is ONLY for Darkness that is NOT barrel-aged. For 2014 Darkness go here:  http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/p ... 14/141724/ 

2007-Grim Reaper
2012 - Werewolf
2013 - Brewcifer
View: Beers (53) | Events
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
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Reviews: 796 | Hads: 3,274
Photo of beertooth
3.68/5  rDev -16.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3

2009 vintage 22oz red and black waxed bottle with a red and white two color screen print of a mummy on it. I split this with Ben(madorb) while we carved pumpkins. I poured my portion into a Cantillon Belgian tumbler.

A pitch black oil slick in a glass. The head and retention are both amazing. It looks like melted coffee ice cream and is leaving the stickiest lacing I've ever seen.

The nose is full of burnt sugar, dark fruits soaked in simple syrup, roasted malts, bitter chocolate, piney hops, a little alcohol. Think sticky and sweet.

The first sip is tooth destroyingly sweet. Liquid bitter chocolate, coffee beans, burnt malts, syrupy dried figs and prunes. I'm not picking up on the alcohol, but I know it's there because I'm starting to feel it. I can taste the hops more as it warms, but it's also getting stickier and cloying.

Mouthfeel is thick and creamy with a low level of carbonation.

I'm really hoping the syrupy sweetness really mellows out in the cellar because otherwise this will turn into a sugary mess. I'm still happy to have tried this year's vintage.

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Photo of LilBeerDoctor
3.68/5  rDev -16.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1200th rating! Draft (08 version). Pours black with only a small ring of head. Aroma of sweet malt and some bitter hops as well. Rather indistinct aroma actually. Flavor is very sweet and malty, but not the roasted malt that I'm used to in imperial stouts. It was a very odd experience, and I thought this seemed more like an ASA to me. Overall it was alright, but certainly on the sweet side. I would like to try this again though.

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Photo of morimech
3.71/5  rDev -16.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2009 Vintage

Appearance- Not quite black but a dark brown during the pour, appears dark black in the glass. A large brown head with excellant retention. Moderate amount of spotty lacing is left on the glass.

Smell- A large hoppy nose. Resiny and citrus fruit mostly. A little dark malt in the background. Smells more like a DIPA than a RIS.

Taste- Again this is dominated by the hops. Sticky and fruity. Bitterness is high even with several months on this bottle. Malt is a secondary player giving some roasted and chocolate notes. Alcohol does not really play a major role in the taste.

Mouthfeel- Not as big and thick as other RIS's. Still has good carbonation and texture.

Drinkability- With each passing year it seems Darkness becomes less of a style dominator. More of a Black IPA at this point. Hope Surly goes back to the 2007 recipe for 2010. I would take an Old Rasputin or Storm King over this.

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Photo of mullenite
3.73/5  rDev -15.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2009 Bottle I think

Tall dark tan head with really decent retention. Probably one of the best looking stouts I've seen.

Sweeter fruit flavors, not so much dark fruit but lighter fruits. There is a very slight roasted note lingering in the background of the smell that comes through a bit more in the taste.

Aside from the sweet fruits and roasted malt there is a very slight tartness on the back of the tongue and some port like qualities.

Thinner body but it's not bad. The carbonation was in the middle of all the stouts we sampled.

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Photo of jaxon53
3.73/5  rDev -15.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Ah, Surly Darkness. Second time around. Wasn't really a big fan of the '08 and '09, but trying to keep an open mind. Served this chilled, in a sniter, from a 750 ml bottle. I allowed this to warm a bit before sampling.

Appearance: Darkness pours out a deep dark black hole black. This is one black beer! You could hold a flash light to this thing and not see through it. The name fits it perfectly. A rather gentle pour yields about three quarters of an inch of coffee brown head. Head lasts for a bit. Head slowly faded into a thickish gob of foam. A rather generous amount of webby lace was left behind.

Smell: A beast of a brew. Alcohol hammers the nose first and just about clears the sinuses. Slight hints of chocolate, cofee, and molasses. Dark fruit- Prune? maybe some fig and raisin. Some hops are noticeable. Smells like it is sweet.

Taste: Here we go. Taste somewhat mimics the smell. Alcohol seems a bit more subdued. Again, a bit hoppy. Chocolate is there, coffee isn't. Hints of raisin and prune. Somewhat sweet. Finishes with more alcohol.

Mouthfeel: Mouthfeel is chewy and thick. Full bodied with lower carbonation.

Drinkability: Notthe most drinkable beer I've ever had. Alcohol and sweetness are a bit much. Give me a Kate over this any day!

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Photo of bamadog
3.73/5  rDev -15.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

I have resisted the Darkness for too long. I've had a long, unproductive and otherwise kind of crappy day, so I figure I need to do a little sumpin' sumpin' for myself on a day like this. Review is from notes taken on 9/21/2012 and poured from the bottle (2009 mummy) to a snifter.

Appearance: Pour looks a little thick and viscous on the pour, definitely warrants some "glugs," but I feel that I've seen thicker, most notably Hunahpu, but that's THE exceptional beer; body is of course black and opaque; starts with a 1/2 finger dark, creamy tan head that fades to a loose, incomplete head with a full swath of lacing dripping slowly down the sides of the glass.

Smell: Upon cracking this, there is a strong, smoky, soy sauce blast in the nose; it eventually settles a little bit and there is some pretty big and roasty maltiness there with a touch of burnt coffee, possibly espresso; I would swear there is a touch of vanilla lying about in there, as well as a touch of sweet, yet slightly tart, cherries; just a touch of alcohol lingers, but it seems really well blended in the nose.

Taste: You know, it's good, but I'm really not blown away like I was hoping to be. I'm actually reminded a little bit of 2010 DL -- big, smoky and almost salty/soy sauce (not in a bad way); bit of a buttery sweetness hanging out in the back and there is some slick, syrupy semi-sweet chocolate; touch of roastiness. I have to wonder if it's past its prime?

Mouthfeel: Body is indeed thick and heavy, but it's fairly slick and leaves just a little bit of grit on the teeth; thick, but loose and slightly sticky coating is left all over the roof of the mouth; belly does register some warmth.

Overall: I would be willing to try it again if it comes in to my possession, but it will be drank immediately instead of giving it the opportunity to age and develop. Sometimes cellaring works well and you get a whole new product, and sometimes, you get disappointed. Sipper, with big alcohol, may be tough to get through the whole bottle on my own, but I'll figure out how to make do.

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Photo of beerdrifter
3.77/5  rDev -14.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Picked this up in a great trade with Evan! 2013 vintage. Pitch black pour with a gorgeous two finger caramel-colored head with great retention and decent lacing. The nose is dark and roasty with hints of cocoa, dark fruits, espresso, licorice, and a subtle vinous character. The taste is earthy and vinous and pretty much mirrors the nose. Hints of cocoa, espresso, licorice, dark chocolate, black pepper, dark fruits, leather, tobacco, port wine, and smoke. The mouthfeel is medium bodied, with medium carbonation and a dry, bitter finish. Overall, definitely didn't live up to the hype. Pretty average and overrated...

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Photo of kojevergas
3.77/5  rDev -14.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Served on-draught into a stemgoblet in a cafe in a suburb of Minneapolis. I was extremely excited to try this per its reputation. Reviewed from notes.

**This review largely reflects the 2011 Darkness, but I did try the 2012 Darkness as well and found it more hop-forward

A: Pours a two finger beautiful tan colour head of excellent cream, thickness, and retention (considering the ABV). Colour is a solid black.

Sm: Brilliant mix of cream, coffee, chocolate, and nuts. A light strength aroma.

T: Heavy (yet subtle) chocolate, coffee, and wonderful cream lacing. Rich and complex. The alcohol does come through unfortunately, which jabs into the otherwise well-executed balance. It's surprisingly hop-forward for the style. Dark malt and caramel heavy. It's quite well built, though I don't think its ABV is warranted. It'd be better at a lower ABV so the flavours could come out. I do quite enjoy it otherwise.

Mf: Smooth, creamy, and wet, but too thick. More dryness and coarseness would be ideal; it feels more like a porter than a stout as is.

Dr: Hard to drink due to the ABV (and more importantly, how obvious it makes itself), but the mouthfeel makes it slide down easily. I like its subtlety. It's pricey and hard to find, but I do like it. I don't know that it's worth seeking out like some other Russian imperial stouts.


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Photo of Crosling
3.77/5  rDev -14.7%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Pours dark brown out of the bottle and appears black in the glass. Well looking tan head lasts well. Aroma is mainly awful, smells mainly of socks and super citrusy hops, no malt complexity. Flavor, however, is different and quite complex. Fully flavored with an incredible malt complexity. Sweet dark fruits, with layers of chocolate, roast and coffee character. Nice mouth feel. Very nice Imperial Stout.

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Photo of cetherid
3.78/5  rDev -14.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

had on tap at Jake Melnick's - Chicago


A nice dark black stout. The bar wasn't too lit so I couldn't hold it up to the light to see if brown/red hues coming through but it was still a nice looking beer. About 1 fingers worth of brown head.


not as strong as I thought it would be. I was expecting some deep coffee and chocolate notes but I was pretty surprised. I get some dark fruits, like prunes, deep roasted malts and a little hop aroma. I was hoping for something a little stronger, more prevalent.


a little disappointing here. Perhaps I just had too high expectations for a one day release beer? A very deep roasty beer, some dark fruit (mainly prune) taste to it. It was fairly sweet as well. Perhaps subtle chocolate notes in there. A little bitterness towards the end then kinda drys out the mouth a little.


definitely full bodied. Good amount of carbonation. A slight slick feel but relatively smooth going down. As said previously, a slight dry aftertaste as well but enjoyable on the mouth.


I wouldn't give this too high. Just an above average RIS for me honestly. Combine it with the price, availability, the hype and the overall flavor, I doubt I'd be seeking this out again. I have a bottle of 2010 at home and I'll probably let that age for a year or so and see what a difference cellaring the beer does.

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Photo of teamizm
3.78/5  rDev -14.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2010 bottle. Big thanks to Cardinal79 for bringing this to the bottle share.

A - pours a pitch black, much like the namesake with a 1 finger pillowy head.

S - roasty and dry nose with espresso and bitter chocolate. Some hops as well.

T - very roasty, surprisingly much drier than I expected. Nice floral hops as well - fairly unexpected.

M - For such a sought after beer, its a little thin. It lacks a bit of complexity, but I did enjoy the dryness.

D - It's a big beer, but fairly drinkable. This isn't necessarily a dessert beer as it isn't cloyingly sweet, could actually pair with a sweet bbq.

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Photo of aasher
3.79/5  rDev -14.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2010 vintage, courtesy of backfat (thanks Dave!).This beer poured a midnight, oily black that didn't allow any light to pass. It smells of deep, dark roasted malt and that's about it. The coffee is subtle, the rest of it was expected. I hoped this beer was the equivalent to Darklord but I was wrong. It is coffee, sweet, chocolate and roast. This is cloyingly sweet. The balance is questionable at best. God, I wanted so much more. It is very smooth though and drinks like a champ. It's drinkable, yet too sweet. The complexities aren't there.

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Photo of Deuane
3.8/5  rDev -14%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A 2008 bottle thanks to Erdinger2003. Shared with akorsak and Ffejherb.

A-Deep black with a medium tan head that receded to a thin ring that left decent lace.

S-Chocolate malt with hints of licorice and a bit of coffee. Mild spicy hops notes. A light bit of soy in the background.

T-Chocolate and light coffee up front. Rich, roasty malt with a smoky character. An odd flavour persists in the back that I just can't put my finger on.

M-Full bodied, smooth and quite slick. Nice lingering bitterness.

D-Complex and big bodied but compared to last years version I was a bit let down. I was hoping for the fresh hop/massive dark roasty malt bomb and this is not it. What happened? Nothing about this years offering really excited me. Good...but lacking.

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Photo of walshclimb
3.81/5  rDev -13.8%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Had a 3 oz pour at Firkin Fest, Minneapolis. Very interesting overall, but I think it needs to age more. Appearance is black with a thick tan head and continuous bubbly lace. Smells big and hoppy - pine and citrus. Big sweet malt flavor with a little less hop overtone than expected from the smell. Aftertaste is malty with hint of bitterness. Mouthfeel is very syruppy coating your tongue and keeping the sweet maltiness around. Overall, I am not sure. I enjoyed it, but I don't know how much more than a 3 oz pour I would want. Interesting, but needs to age maybe to mellow out. I would love to try it again in 6 months.

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Photo of jrallen34
3.81/5  rDev -13.8%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2010 bottle drank into my Darkness tulip...A dark as midnight night with a huge dark tan head. The head is amazing as it literally arises from beneath the beer foaming up a full four fingers. The head is two colors, dark tan on the bottom with a lighter color on the top. The retention and lacing are amazing...The aroma is muted from the 09 version in terms of the hops as they do not show through. Very malty, lots of sweet milk chocolate with a hint of grass on the back. Not what I was expected, but still pretty decent...The taste thankfully brings out more of the hops as this has a grassy hop backbone from start to finish. A lot of the sweetness is gone, only a little is left but as it warms the hops disappear too. This turns into a really boring beer, so disappointing.

The 09 version is so much better than this, the 10 is just a big let down.

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Photo of beerhan
3.83/5  rDev -13.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Sampled at a tasting, poured into a wine glass. 2010 Vintage.

A-Darkness, nothing else but a faint tan head.

S-Very roasty and incredibly dark cocoa.

T-A little smokey, malty. Hints of dark chocolate, very dry. Not at all sweet. This one reminded me of IST a little bit with this one taste surrounding it that I am yet to figure out what it is.

M-I love the feel of a thick stout. This one is pretty close to perfect. Slight carbonation and nice and chewy. I dock it a little because I sampled this in the summer and it was a little too rich for the time.

O-I feel that this beer was just a little too dry and roasty. Out of the bigger stouts out there I feel that this one could use some more time to age before trying again. I would love to try it again but not fresh.

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Photo of Rifugium
3.83/5  rDev -13.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

2012 vintage.
*sigh* Another overhyped beer.

Looked like a stout should: dark brown-black pour, with a small tan head that sank to a ringlet and left some splashes of lace on the glass. Aroma was typical as far as stouts go, dark roasty malts, some cocoa bitterness, with notes of herbal hops and anise. Same story on the palate, dark malts, dark chocolate, herbal hops, light woody notes, and a touch of dark fruits and licorice; slightly lingering resiny bitterness in the aftertaste. Good, but not very full in flavor like a good stout should be. I'm not really understanding the hype over this beer...you get about the same effect as you would from a Storm King, and I can get that off the shelf any day of the week. Not full-bodied, but on the heavier side of medium. A decent stout, but pretty standard overall.

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Photo of auroracrisis
3.83/5  rDev -13.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from the bottle into a pint glass. Got this one from Mistofminn in a trade, thanks again!

Poured black and thick with a big head. The head was probably three inches on my first pour and as the brew was drank down it had little lacing. I think the lacing was due to the glass it was in which had been in the dishwasher.

Smell was a bit underwhelming. Earthy hops and roasted coffee with sweet chocolate. I was hoping for something that just jumped out of the glass at me but it wasn't happening for some reason.

Taste was unlike any RIS I have ever had. Opened up with lots of earthy hops which moved into sweet chocolate and roasted coffee. As the beer warmed I could taste a bit of alcohol but not much.

Mouthfeel was alright. I'd say light to medium body for an RIS. Wasn't bad but wasn't great.

Drinkability was good. Not something I could drink pitcher after pitcher of but it was solid. I had no problem finishing the 22oz on my own.

Overall, I would say this one was a great beer but didn't live up to the hype. Maybe it's better on tap? Not saying it's a bad beer but it's not mind blowingly good or anything. I enjoyed it though. Thanks Brad!

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Photo of smm
3.83/5  rDev -13.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 3.5

Vintage 2009 bottle I picked up last year and have been saving for either something special or whenever October rolled around again.

Appearance: Black like night. Thin foamy tan head.

Smell: Sweet, very very sweet. Raisins and Alcohol, I was expecting some chocolate but there isn't any.

Taste: The taste is quite close to the smell, dark and fruity, a bit hoppy. The hoppiness really lingers which I wasn't expecting.

Mouthfeel: Amazing, very very mellow. Theres a bit of zip on the tip of the tongue from the hops, very low carbonation, but really well balanced. Leaves you with the feeling of having a tablespoon of syrup in your mouth.

Drinkability: I think one bottle will be enough for me. The abv doesn't really weigh it down while drinking it, but the sweetness is a bit too much.

I enjoyed the 2009, but I'd like to see how it has changed in 2010. If the sweetness dropped down a bit I would love it.

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Photo of butlerj
3.85/5  rDev -12.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

If Pepsi and espresso could somehow produce offspring, (with Mr Vodka, the pizza delivery guy, showing up for a little tag team action during the conception,) this year's Darkness would be the spawn.

It's kind of rich to be drinking 24oz of it all at once, but the flavor is good.

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Photo of Nashvillain
3.86/5  rDev -12.7%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2010 Version, Gold Wax and a fucking VAMPIRE on the front.

I really do think the appearance of the actual beer is amazing, but I love that label art. The beer itself pulls a pitch black into the glass and lets NO light through. Darkness is right. Head retention is decent, leaves a perfect lacing behind.

Smell is booze, licorice, faint coffee, booze, roast, a light milk chocolate, and booze.

Taste is heavy handed on the licorice with chocolate and booze providing backup. I can't say it's not good, but I just don't get as much out of this as I thought I would. Definitely thankful to get a bottle either way though. There may have been hops here at one point which would make everything that much more interesting, but they're gone now for sure.

Overall a good beer but not as great as expected. Maybe it's meant to be had fresh at which point I'll alter the review but for now the only thing legendary about this beer is the label.

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Photo of dgilks
3.86/5  rDev -12.7%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Inky, oily, deep and penetrating black. Big, creamy tan head. Very nice.

Heavily alcoholic nose. Very big. Sweet and very rich. Moderate roast and coffee.

Big. Sugar, sugar, sugar. Chocolate is there as is some roast and caramel.

Full body with moderate carbonation. Okay.

I just can't do these beers anymore. It is just a big diabetes bomb of sugar and alcohol. Seriously lacking in complexity and character to round out the malt and add balance.

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Photo of EgadBananas
3.88/5  rDev -12.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Bottle courtesy of HopsSchnapps! Thanks man!

Cracked at midnight last night, but couldn't finish. Going at it again!

Black. Void of light. Pours with a dark brown finger of head. Smells of char, roast, chocolate and an intense coffee. Tastes more chocolaty. Still some charred notes and roasted notes. Slight hops on the finish. Body is full, creamy and luscious. Finish is so clean and smooth it's scary.

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Photo of ccrida
3.88/5  rDev -12.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2008 vintage, cellared since release. Poured into my Delirium Tremens snifter, Darkness is dark, thick, with a dark tan head leaving lots of lace.

Smell is on the sweet, malty side.

Taste is fairly sweet malt, chocolate, modest roast, nice hop bitterness as well as still some spicy, herbal hop flavor. Obviously way dialed down compared to how it is fresh, better integration by now.

Mouthfeel is pretty silky, on the thick side.

Drinkability is fine. It's a well made RIS. Certainly not worth any great expense or hassle to acquire though. I traded mine with a local for some limited release HOTD, dollar for dollar, which was fair.

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Photo of BeerTruth
3.88/5  rDev -12.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

younger35 was kind enough to pick up a bottle of this for me. A great trader and a great frined, even though he's a Raiders fan. Thanks a bunch man, you're a true beer advocate.

750 ml multi-color wax dipped bottle poured into a snifter. 2008 vintage. Served at about 50 degrees.

Pours a complete onyx black with a powerful two finger dark brown head that remains for quite sometime. After a good five minutes or so and lots of clingy spiderweb lacing on the sides of the glass, a creamy layer of goodness rests atop the black hole underneath. Smell...whoa hops. Sticky pine, bitter pink grapefruit, and raw gritty earth up front in the nose. Underneath all those hops is the dark stuff. Coffee grinds, sweet molasses, and heavy roasted malts add to the complex aroma. So much going on in the nostrils, time for a sip. Taste begins with burnt caramel, candy sugar, and smokey dark chocolate. Some booze, figs, and oily hops midway. Not nearly as much hop flavor on the tongue than were in the smell, but they're still there. Finishes with a gooey brownie batter, raspberries, and spruce. Do I dare say there's too much going on for the taste buds to function? Perhaps. Big, bold, and chewy feel with a full body and subtle carbonation. The one problem I find with the mouthfeel is the powerful bittering hop sting. Overall the 10% abv is hidden quite well, but Darkness is still a sipper. Needless to say, this is a super complex, big ass beer and definitely one of a kind. Good? Of course. Exceptional? That may be a stretch. Surly continues to produce some crazy beers, what's next??? Thanks again Dan.

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Darkness from Surly Brewing Company
98 out of 100 based on 796 ratings.