Darkness - Surly Brewing Company

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2,898 Ratings

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Ratings: 2,898
Reviews: 778
rAvg: 4.5
pDev: 9.33%
Wants: 3,030
Gots: 1,104 | FT: 85
Brewed by:
Surly Brewing Company visit their website
Minnesota, United States

Style | ABV
Russian Imperial Stout |  10.30% ABV

Availability: Fall

Notes/Commercial Description:
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

(Beer added by: ryantupy on 10-08-2006)
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Ratings: 2,898 | Reviews: 778 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of Jones153
3.5/5  rDev -22.2%

Photo of EwaldEichstaett
3.5/5  rDev -22.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2

Got a bottle of this beast and was extremely excited to try it out. Split it with a lucky buddy.

Pours pitch black with no light penetration what so ever. Average sized dark brown head.

Damn this beer smells good! and strong! As others have noted it is very sweet, roasted, fruity, chocolaty, smokey and generally dark and damn strong.

The taste is the same thing. It is almost overwhelming. The flavour is good, sweet chocolate, strong coffee, toffee, caramel and fig flavours abound. Overall, the beer is much too sweet. I think that is the major problem.

Feels nice and smooth on the tongue, coats your mouth nicely, the alcohol is also extremely well masked.

The aroma and taste go right into your head and assault your temples. I had a headache halfway through. I really wanted to like this beer more than I did... It is also way to expensive; I would not buy it again.

Photo of prtwin2a
3.5/5  rDev -22.2%

Photo of Beerandraiderfan
3.53/5  rDev -21.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2009 vintage: Pours out black, you know the story. A dark fruit aroma, plum, prune, fig, raisin.

Taste, reminiscient of dark lord, but a little thinner. Sweet, dark sugar. This really is right up the alley of a traditional RIS, sweet, not super thick, no coffee, chocolate seemed to be on the lacking side for any kind of stout. Boozy, didn't pick up any vanilla, lots of wood, probably oak, oak was all over this.

Was comparable to tenfidy also. Not my favorite RIS, but definitely solid. But I'd rather have coffee bender, abrasive, furious or wet. This would be no big deal if it was in a can.

Photo of tarheels86
3.53/5  rDev -21.6%
look: 5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

750mL 2010 vampire ed courtesy of beeranddogs. Pour pour is clear ruby to deep brown looking opaque black in the glass. A massive mocha head erupts with infinite retention and bit webby, sticky lace. Aroma isn’t all the massive or even pleasant: salty olives, brine, lots of wood. As it warms the only thing that comes through is oxidized red apple slices. The taste is dry oak, spicy oak, slightly hot alcohol, sweet molasses and prunes. Palate is very soft, not too syrupy, ending somewhat chalky and powdery. Comes across as very basic and mediocre. How this is in the Top 100 and Midnight Sun Berserker is not baffles me. There are just so many better imperial stouts out there. 12/12/2010 6/5/7/4/13=3.5

Photo of smakawhat
3.55/5  rDev -21.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3

4 oz. pour into a small snifter at Churchkey DC. Vintage 2011.

A real nice dark cocoa brown head is presented, falls slowly. Manages to leave a real nice whispy puck and collar while finishing. Body color gives a slightly good oily sheen, but nothing filimy, and the body color is nearly jet black (I'll go walnut black)

Nose hits with mild char, faint milk chocolate, incredibly soft bodied and silky smelling, like whipped up mocha. Unfortunately there's something also medicinal on this as well.

Taste goes to sweetened coffee, and warming hot cocoa. A very noticeable taste of confectioners sugar, maybe even some maple. It's nicely balanced though between all these palate flavors, maybe even some faint hop bitter on the finish. Palate matches the sense of smelling velvet and rich silk. But incredibly sweet tasting though and mostly just "noticeably sweet" which makes it a bit one dimensional.

Overall though, it reminds me too much of CBS on tap but nowhere as impressive, and has that noticeable sugar sweetness which gets to me a bit. It's an impressive beer, but I just don't enjoy drinking this at all compared to others I've had.

Photo of Jesse13713
3.55/5  rDev -21.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3.5

A huge thanks to Aw Yeh for splitting this beer with me. Our first beer of the night as we set out to relive childhood memories and complete A Link to the Past in one night.

Appearance - Well the first challenge was actually sawing through the quarter inch thick black wax. Poured into a Great Lakes Christmas Ale snifter. A delicious chocolaty foam head foams up immediately as it rises to the brim of the glass. The beer itself is pitch black; no way any light is shining through this one.

Smell - Rich in its chocolate malt profile. Slight hints of coffee as well. Light barley and hops are present in the background. Smells slightly sour due to fruit scents.

Taste - A very complex taste. I didn't know where to begin when trying to identify it. A slightly bitter swallow filled with chocolate and slight ethanol. The aftertaste is a very sweet chocolate and dark fruit that could even have some honey in it as well. A slight sweet bourbon note as well. I don't get many hints of coffee in this, but when I do; it is very faint. Slight spices linger on my tongue at the finish. The taste is almost unplesant at times though, due to how complex it is. I don't feel as if the flavors blend together very well at times.

Mouthfeel / Drinkability - A little hard to swallow at times because of the ABV, but it is definitely a tasty beer. There is no mistaking that this is a Russian Imperial Stout. Filled with hints of dark fruit, honey, spices and chocolate.

Photo of mcallister
3.55/5  rDev -21.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Finally tryiing some of this. Dark nearly black with a slight bricking quality. A pillowing rocky head of mocha has very good length, sponge like in appearance.

Full of citrusy hops leading in the orange rind category. Too citrusy for my liking in an RIS. Big chocolate with caramel and toffee and loads of dark fruits, black licorice and mollasses.

Good very tasty beer yet very out of whack and almost cloyingly sweet with an odd hop flavor to citrusy for the style in my opinion. Chocolate covered hops, fudge and cocoa. Hops are juicy and resiny with that orange peel sense. Blackberry, juicy plum, mollasses, black currant, bitter finish but overpowered by the cloying amounts of residual sugar.

Don't really like the huge hops and the out of whackiness. I will save my other bottles a few years and try again once the hops surrender some.

Photo of papat444
3.58/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

***2009 Vintage (Mummy)***

Big thanks to Masterski for getting me this rarity.

Poured from a bomber and split with my wife.

Appearance: Pours a thick body, kind of almost plops in with a thin ting that grows thicker as the pour intensifies.

Smell: Alcohol soaked nuts, raisins and figs. Whiffs of cocoa and chunks of chocolate but much more on the sugary, dark fruits side.

Taste: Raisins, figs, nougat, discreet chocolate and a tinge of black licorice. A bit of coffee as it warms but this resembles a barleywine almost. Not exactly what i'm looking for flavor-wise.

Mouthfeel: Boozy a bit, slight;y bitter and you eventually get in a groove but this doesn't feel like the strong RIS i'm looking for.

Overall: Have to say i'm a bit disappointed by this one. Compared to DL, this one is not as good. Flavors were good but for me, not worth the hype IMO. I'll take a DL instead.

Photo of crossovert
3.58/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 3 | feel: 5 | overall: 2.5

2008 Vintage. 750ml black and gold waxed and capped brown bottle. 55 degrees. Not my 1000th review but my 1000th beer tried!

It pours a thick black with a voluptuous tan head. The head is sandier and not as dark as most Russian Imperial Stouts. It holds like a marvel for a 2 year aged brew of this strength. It refuses to recede but as it does it coats my snifter with thick lacing.

The smell is absolutely wonderful. I was at a brewery today smelling the fest wort, and this one has a lot of that fresh wort smell, that honey-oatmeal like malt sugar smell. Also in there is chocolate, coffee, slight roastiness, rum, and that classic stout smell with a bit of fruitiness. There are raisins and dark cherries in it as well as some caramel and a slight nuttiness. The sweetness can be smelled though there is also a cutting bitterness and sharpness sin the smell. The alcohol is present merely as an addition to the complexity of this brew.

This one is pretty intense in the mouth, a sweeter, fruitier RIS. It smacks you initially with some caramel covered cherries and raisins, then another wave of vinous raisin/grape, and finally a bitter coffee/chocolate finish. The alcohol flashes itself, though not completely, it is a palate exhauster form start to finish.

Though a bit cloying, the mouthfeel is pretty epic for the style, it is smooth and thick with a present but not overbearing alcoholic burn. This is the "liqueur" beer as it holds a bit more sweetness and complexity tan your average Russian imperial stout.

Overall if they were to tone down the sweetness on this one it would reach epic levels of enjoyability, the nose is right on.

Photo of vissai
3.58/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

The 2010 Vampire
Poured into 3 ounce tasting glasses. Poured a very viscous black. Gave it a violent pour and it lead to a very faint, mocca head. It smelled immediately of cinnamon and raisins. The taste didnt hold any cinnamon but the raisins continued to shine, almost tasted like burnt raisins. Very sweet. The sweetness continued to shine and amplify with every sip. The barreling didn't really come through with this one for me, expected more oak. Mouthfeel is okay, very carbonated. I think a year of cellaring will make this one into a hell of a beast. Drinkability was nice, but again a little less carbonation and I could have drank a lot more. Looking forward to tasting some older vintages.

Photo of starrdogg
3.58/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Served on tap at ChurchKey. 2011 vintage. Thanks to the folks over there for bringing in all of the great Surly beer!

It pours black with a pretty significant brown head and nice lacing. The smell isn't quite what I expected, there is very little roast or coffee and instead the aroma is more sweet and chocolate with a little bit of alcohol. The taste is also much sweeter than I was hoping for. Chocolate is the primary flavor here and there even seems to be a hint of dark fruit. For my palate though, it's just a little too sweet and could've used some more roast to balance it out a little. Mouthfeel was medium bodied, not as full as your average RIS, but very smooth. I was really hoping that my second experience with Surly Darkness would be more impressive than the first, but this beer and I just aren't on the same page. It's not a bad beer, but I really don't understand why everyone goes crazy over it, it's too sweet and doesn't have a whole lot else going on.

Photo of BS68280
3.58/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3

Big thanks to Joseph for opening this one up (finally getting the review up here). Poured into my DFH signature glass. I had this after DL and I have to say they are two different beasts, but i was fairly underwhelmed by this one.

A: Pours just as black as I have seen, with a foamy khaki tan head.

S: Way more hops than i was expecting out of an RIS. Earthy hops, with hints of dark fruits behind it. It smells alot more like black IPA than an RIS.

T: Right along with the smell. No surprises here. The earthy hops lead the way and kind of took away from what otherwise was a great RIS. Dark chocolates, and dark fruits follow, but i can't get over that much hops in my RIS.

M: Full bodied, thick.

D: Didn't really love this one, I don't think i could finish a bottle off myself.

Photo of ffejherb
3.58/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2008 bottle consumed on 11/16/08, courtesy of Deuane.

A - As the name implies, this RIS boasts a pitch black body with an attractive milky tan head that receded into a bubbly ring of patchy retention that left lots of lace around the glass.

S - Lots of milk chocolate malty goodness with hints of black licorice and mild coffee. There also a bit of smoked meat in the backend, giving the aroma an almost gamey (ie. foul... as in chicken) character. It's a bit subdued, but it's still quite odd.

T - Dark fruit and chocolate up front, with a bit of a smoked character resembling meat or gravy. Some coffee and licorice notes are also present.

M - Full bodied, thick and rich with a slick, oily texture and minimal carbonation. Alcohol presence is pretty mild for a RIS. Finish is moderately bitter on the palate.

D - Complex RIS with an interesting flavor profile. I'm still trying to wrap my head around this style. I tend to gravitate more toward oatmeal and coffee stouts, personally. I found this one to be slightly over-rated.

Photo of Traquairlover
3.6/5  rDev -20%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

22oz bottle poured into a snifter. 2009 vintage. Thanks to bmanning for sharing this bottle with me. I had a hard time with this review. This beer was much, much different than I expected (or indeed expect from any RIS). Although I can see why some BA's love it so much, I would be very put off if other breweries try to replicate the style of this beer. It really seemed like a DIPA that used roasted malts and a longer than usual boil to simply be darker than usual, but still remain essentially an IPA like drinking experience. It wasn't different enough from expectations to give it bad scores exactly, but I did not find it a great example of an RIS.

A = Dark mahogany, coppery tan medium sized head with a mix of foam, small bubbles and a few large bubbles. Decent retention.

S = Strong, strong citrus smells of grapefruit rind and lemons, hiding under that is some burnt coffee, very light smels of roasted coffee beans and cocoa powder, after a good swish I pick up uncooked bread dough. Even with those other scents though, the entire experience is one of floral "C" hops with everything else playing second fiddle. It seems like it must have been heavily dry hopped or something. Rather than simply using hops for their bittering properties and letting bitterness from hops meld with forceful malt flavors such as coffee, chocolate, tobacco, etc., this beer seems to simply be all about hops smells and flavors.

T = The tastes of this just continue the jarring mental disconnect I get between what this beer looks like, what I look for in an RIS and what I am in fact getting. There is just a crazy mix of flavors, though, it's like drinking a mocha coffee drink that has been randallized using Pacific NW piney/citrusy hops varietals, bringing flowers, grapefruit, lemons zest, light resiny pine. Hidden behind all this are more of the flavors I would expect to stand out more. There is definitely the coffee and chocolate notes one often finds and also some dark fruits. All in all it is kind of like a black IPA on steroids rather than a strong bitter stout.

M = Medium-heavy full body, decent carbonation to keep the beer interesting and flowing in the mouth, good mouthcoating.

D = This just wasn't all that drinkable for me. I enjoy both sweet imperial stouts and bitter imperial stouts. I really do not particularly care for extremely strong C hops flavors clouding up the issue though. I drank my glass, but really did not particularly want another one. I may see about trying this again if it has been aged some, but I do not think I will seek out a fresh bottle.

Photo of HopHead84
3.6/5  rDev -20%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

2009 batch shared by Alex on 12/19/2009 and poured into a snifter. The beer pours black with a two finger light brown head.

The nose is aggressive green, piney, and grassy hops with light citrus notes. Beneath the hop onslaught I find a fairly standard RIS, with a moderate roasted quality and notes of dark chocolate.

The flavor is pine resin hops with an upper moderate level of bitterness. I detect chocolate and a light roast, as well as some astringency. The hops are very aggressive, and they seem to clash with the traditional RIS flavors at every turn. This is a return to the hoppiness of the 2007 vintage, but the hops seem to clash here, where they melded nicely in the older vintage. What I have before me is a rather strange beer that isn't particularly drinkable or enjoyable, apart from the hoppy novelty factor.

Photo of zoolzoo
3.6/5  rDev -20%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2010 Vintage

A: Extremely oily black pour. Im really surprised by the mocha head that quickly forms, and climbs to the top of the glass. Some activity from carbonation, head dissipates into nothing.

S: Wood, smoke, caramelized sugar, milk chocolate... burnt aromas, maybe a bit over charred. Some underlying hops here as well.

T: Initial chocolate and charred malt dumps right into some serious dark fruit. Deep purple, dark red flavors...the core of this beer is sweetened dark fruits and weird piney hoppage. Secondaries include licorice and roasted coffee. Pretty good, somewhat complex... unfortunately as I feared, too sweet.

M: Carbonated heavy cream

O: A worthy stout, though it doesn't measure up to its own impressive looking bottle art.

Photo of onefiveseven
3.6/5  rDev -20%

Photo of Setmup10322
3.6/5  rDev -20%

Photo of 0110x011
3.6/5  rDev -20%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 5 | overall: 3.5

Pours pitch black into a Darkness snifter. One finger, dark tan head lasts a good while, with spotty lacing. Nose is an interesting mix of chocolate, earth, plum, raisin and piney hops. Surprisingly sweet and fruity on the palate. A bit of chocolate and vanilla, and pine from the hops, but the overall flavor is dominated by an almost cloying, sugary sweetness. Mouthfeel is very nice, creamy and soft. ABV is nearly invisible. The sweetness makes one glass enough for me.

If this were available for $6.99 at BevMo, I'd say it were a tasty, unique beer. But considering the acclaim and rarity, I think it strays too far from the style.

Photo of TheGordianKnot
3.6/5  rDev -20%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2010... Poured into NB globe...

A- Pitch black, absolutely dark as shit. Nice inch and a half of caramel colored head. Dense, thick, stable- takes ten minutes to settle.

S- Dark roasts, dark fruits, and booze! Sweeter than I thought it would come across. Black cherries really pop to me, oh and booze!

T/M- Booze. Minimal roast, some chocolate is very prominent here, though I couldn't find it in the nose. Again with the dark fruits, plums and black cherries galore. Licorice plays a background role, but overall I will say I thought this was a bit downplayed compared to what I thought it would be. Not entirely full bodied, but its fairly heavy on the palate. Not much carbonated remains dissolved because its not lively.

O- I want this fresh before my final decision is made up, but as it stands, it was pretty disappointing. It was way more sweet than anything, somewhere between ItT and DL. Tone down the booze and sweetness, then I'm on board...

Photo of veinless
3.6/5  rDev -20%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Last of the big Surly box I got from KeefD in our trade, thanks again man.

Vintage: 2010 (vampire)

Pours jet black with a large three-finger foamy mahogany head...impressive. Big curdled yogurt-like bubbles on top retain for a long time too. Lace is decent and spotty.

When I opened the bottle I thought I smelt spoiled milk and got nervous, but that scent is now completely gone. Deep milk chocolate is the dominant aroma with toasted malts behind it. The toasting is very mellow and not nearly to the point of charred or anything like that. Light fruit lingers behind everything, with only a bit of dark fruit present at all. I like it, but expected more.

Boy is this beer sweet, almost cloyingly so. It tastes like sugar water on first sip, with some lemon or citrus notes at the start. The taste is light and summery almost at the start, and I enjoyed it after a couple sips considerably more than I did at the start. The lightness eventually moves to a once again mellow toastiness; light coffee notes that weren't present in the nose come out here. Abv is hidden completely, and isn't noticeable even as a warmer.

Mouthfeel is fluid and sticky, but thinner than you would think. Definitely not a thick, syrupy beer. Carbonation isn't really present in spite of the large head. Drinkability is tough to gauge - the start and finish don't really go together well, and it feels like a jolt to the system with each sip, but the beer is definitely tasty and well crafted. I thought the hiding of the abv was well done, as booze added to the sweetness present would have been unpleasant. Overall I wasn't blown away, and I much prefer Surly's IPAs, but this was a more than solid offering from a very impressive brewery.

Photo of BattleRoadBrewer
3.63/5  rDev -19.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Zombie 2011, as part of an Imperial Stout tasting on DL day 2012.

Appearance: Nice pour with persistent fluffy dark tan head. Colored the glass nicely with a faint yellow sheen, but didn't leave any notable lacing.

Nose: Very vinous, loaded with dark fruitiness, black currants, cherry, raisin. Bump because it's a clean fermentation, big alcohol is not evident.

Flavor: Fruity, not nearly enough roastiness, reminiscent of very high cacao content chocolate bar.

Mouthfeel: Way too watery for an imperial anything.

Overall: Tonight's tasting pitted Darkness and Dark Lord against half a dozen competitors and found these two wax topped whale beers sadly lacking. Instead of standing in line at Darkness day, skip the line and grab a Furious or Bender to enjoy great Surly brews, and an Oskar Blues Ten FIDY for an awesome RIS in a can.

Photo of jbahma
3.64/5  rDev -19.1%

Photo of beertooth
3.65/5  rDev -18.9%
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.

Darkness from Surly Brewing Company
100 out of 100 based on 2,898 ratings.