Surly Brewing Company

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Russian Imperial Stout
Ranked #6
Ranked #140
4.51 | pDev: 8.65%
Surly Brewing Company
Minnesota, United States
Notes: This listing is ONLY for Darkness that is NOT barrel-aged, which excludes all of the 2014 bottles, all of which were aged in whiskey barrels. 2014 has a separate entry (http://www.beeradvocate.com/beer/profile/13014/141724/). Any subsequent years that have barrel aged variants, indicated by gold wax and lettering, also have their own separate entries.

This massive Russian Imperial Stout brings waves of flavors; chocolate, cherries, raisins, coffee, and toffee. We add a touch of hops to make this delicious brew even tastier.
85 IBU

MALT: 2-Row, Golden Promise, Aromatic, Chocolate, Black, Special B, Roasted Barley, Oats, Brewers Crystals, DME 50/60.
HOPS: Warrior, Amarillo, Simcoe.

2007 - Grim Reaper
2008 - Devil
2009 - Mummy
2010 - Vampire
2011 - Zombie
2012 - Werewolf
2013 - Brewcifer
2014 - Harpy
2015 - Bat
2016 - Cerberus
2017 - Forest Witch
2018 - Minotaur
2019 - Tree Monster
View: Beers
Reviews: 940 | Ratings: 4,128 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of folkstar
4.69/5  rDev +4%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Shared this with a friend on my back porch as evening descended on Little Rhody. Pours pitch black with a beautiful head of tight-bubbled foam which dissipates after a few sips... aroma is quite pronounced, little creamy and a lot of roastiness. Nice so far!

Taste is very roasty with some notes of dark fruits and slight sweetness that never overpowers. Mouthfeel could not be more perfect - this is carbed just right and despite the 12% ABV it does not coat the mouth and never becomes cloying or sticky sweet.

Overall a very enjoyable heavy-hitting stout, so glad I got to try this!

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Photo of wmscottsimpsonjr
4.2/5  rDev -6.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Black with tan head. Mild chocolate on top of malt with toffee, dark dried fruit, and a decent helping of American/citrus/pine/grass hop character. Not too sweet, not too bitter, with a luscious mouthfeel.

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Photo of beergoot
4.51/5  rDev 0%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

2019 Version (bottled 09/04/19)

Opaque ebony body topped with an exquisite dense and creamy light tan head; dense and sticky rings of foam descend the glass. Gentle aroma of milk chocolate and vanilla. An immensely pleasing taste of cocoa and bitter chocolate; somewhat nutty; caramel and honey; dully sweet with an undercurrent of bourbon. Heavy, soft and billowy; marshmallow mouthfeel; dense with residual sugar body; smooth velvet; some alcohol warmth.

Near perfect visual appeal, a rich yet subtle aroma, and an incredibly balanced and flavorful taste with an unforgettably thick and creamy body -- that sums up this beer. A most heavenly Russian imperial stout. Hell, an exquisite stout no matter what the style!

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Photo of VashonGuy
4.45/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

I've been waiting a long time for a chance at Darkness. I finally picked up a bottle this summer in Durango Colorado, of all places. I suppose I could sit on it for a while, but it seemed like the perfect beer for a dark December night in rainy Seattle.

It's dark, oh yeah. There's a good tan head, but it doesn't last long. The taste/smell are notable first for what's not there. There's no bourbon, no chocolate, no coconut, in fact there's no sweetness at all. In an era of tarted up over sweet stouts (hello, CBS), Darkness is refreshingly basic ... it's a very fine mix of roasted malts and hops. Now the roasted malts do have some dry cocoa flavor, but this is not like drinking a Hershey bar. I get dark fruits (raisins, sort of), but again it's not sweet. There's a hefty dose of hops that give the beer a kick. The 12% ABV is somehow hidden.

I had the 2018 vintage. By the way, this does remind me of Old Rasputin.

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Photo of Sandis
4.44/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2019 version poured into a snifter. This year is as creamy smooth as any prior version. For me, this beer is like a less sweet Dark Lord which is a good thing.

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Photo of GrumpyGas
4.68/5  rDev +3.8%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

12oz draft poured into a tulip glass boasts a deep, dark, walnut brown body and floats a proud 3/4" head of cinnamon brown mixed bubbles that eventually falls to an edge-hugging ring and leaves falling sheets of spotted lacing.

Aromas of licorice, molasses, raisin, prune, leather, coffee, ash, and a hint of booze.

Those aromas open up in the taste to welcome cocoa and chocolate, roasted barley/toasted white bread, vanilla, and even a hop bitterness.

Mouthfeel has a full, creaminess that leaves a chalky residue reminiscent of cocoa.

Overall a solid imperial. Happy to have it on draft.

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Photo of superspak
4.36/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

750 ml bottle into snifter, bottled on 9/25/2019. Pours dense pitch black color with a 1-2 finger dense and rocky tan head with amazing retention, that reduces to a large cap that lasts. Thick foamy lacing clings on the glass, with a fair amount of streaming carbonation. Amazing appearance. Aromas of big dark chocolate, cocoa, coffee, caramel, brown sugar, molasses, toffee, raisin, prune, cherry, fig, date, apricot, orange, grapefruit, citrus peel/rind, wood, peppercorn, pine, roasted nuts, toasted biscuit, and dark bread/crust; with lighter notes of licorice, smoke, charcoal, leather, tobacco, herbal, floral, grass, and yeast/roast/toasted earthiness. Mild increasing booze as it warms, but not overwhelming. Damn nice aromas with great balance and complexity of dark/black/roast/bready malts, citrus/earthy hops, and fruity yeast notes; with big strength. Taste of huge dark chocolate, cocoa, coffee, caramel, brown sugar, molasses, toffee, raisin, prune, cherry, fig, date, apricot, orange, grapefruit, citrus peel/rind, wood, peppercorn, pine, roasted nuts, toasted biscuit, and dark bread/crust; with lighter notes of licorice, smoke, charcoal, leather, tobacco, herbal, floral, grass, and yeast/roast/toasted earthiness. Light-moderate pine, citrus peel/rind, herbal, floral, woody, grassy, peppery, roast, charred bitterness on the finish. Lingering notes of dark chocolate, cocoa, coffee, caramel, brown sugar, molasses, toffee, raisin, prune, cherry, fig, date, apricot, orange, grapefruit, citrus peel/rind, wood, peppercorn, pine, roasted nuts, toasted biscuit, dark bread/crust, licorice, smoke, charcoal, leather, tobacco, herbal, floral, grass, and yeast/roast/toasted earthiness on the finish for a while. Amazing complexity, robustness, and balance of dark/black/roast/bready malts, citrus/earthy hops, and fruity yeast flavors; with an awesome hop/char bitter/sweet balance; and no minimal acrid/astringent flavors after the finish. Medium carbonation and fairly full body; with a very smooth, creamy/silky/velvety/bready, and fairly sticky/chalky/resinous/rindy balanced mouthfeel that is great. Mild increasing warmth of 12% after the finish. Overall this is an amazing Russian imperial stout. All around amazing complexity, robustness, and balance of dark/black/roast/bready malts, citrus/earthy hops, and fruity yeast flavors; very smooth and dangerously easy to sip on for the huge ABV with the modestly bitter/charred/resinous/drying finish. Nicely soft, and not overly bitter/charred. Definitely needs a bit of age for the freshness. Perfectly balanced between super rich dark/black/roasted malts, citrus/earthy hops, and fruity yeast. Mild residual sweetness with lingering hop/char bitter dryness. A highly enjoyable offering, and amazing spot on style example as expected. Reminds me of Old Raspy a lot on the fresh hop intensity.

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Photo of WoodBrew
4.33/5  rDev -4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

I tried a bottle of this at the brewery whilst in town for a work conference with my co-workers. The beer poured an opaque dark and had thin tan head that did not leave much lacing. The scent had dark fruit and roast notes. The taste was nicely balanced and easy to drink with roast malt base and dark fruit and raisin highlights. The mouthfeel was medium in body with smooth carbonation. Overall its a solid beer.

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Photo of NextBestThing
4.75/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

2016 version, Hades Cerberus bottle art which is superb. No abv indicated on the bottle, this is evidently a 12% RIS.

Aggressive pour yields a one-inch head of creamy tan foam. Body of the beer is predictably pitch black. This is a great looking beer and after you blow through a little bit of it you'll observe some really unique lacing out of a clean snifter.

Nose is heavy chocolate, some tobacco and maybe a little molasses. Detect no alcohol which I rarely do from beer anyway.

This is a great beer. I do get the chocolate and faint tobacco at the front palate, but what really blows me away is the superb sweet molasses radiating at the back palate. I did not expect this and certainly did not expect the extent to which it explodes after each sip or slurp. Fantastic.

Needless to say this beer is very thick and viscous, absolutely on-point for the style. Reasonably carbonated. Again, excellent.

What a great beer. I normally won't drink an entire 750 ml bottle of a beer as substantial as this one but I couldn't help myself this time. I find this a vastly superior beer to any other standard RIS I have personally ever enjoyed, and find it as satisfying and interesting an experience as top shelf barrel-aged stouts. Recommend without reservation, really wish it was accessible locally.

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Photo of EMV
4.5/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2010 Vintage (Vampire artwork)... poured from a black waxed bomber into a Dogfish Head tulip

L: Dark, dark mahogany pour.. nearly black with thin off-white head. Nice ring of lacing.

S: Rich and roasty... cocoa, dark fruit, aromatic wood, and burned sugars.

T.F: Smooth and creamy. Sweet and rich up front... strong chocolate and roasted sugars. Plum and baked raisin with a little vanilla mixed in. Complex and subtle... better as it warms, and the ABV is well hidden. A bit warming... more complex roast goodness at the finish.

O: An outstanding RIS, and even after 9 years in the cellar this is mellow but still fantastic. The only RIS I've had that I think is clearly better is 3 Floyd's 'Dark Lord'.

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Photo of Rristow
4.73/5  rDev +4.9%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.75

Tasted from bottle aged 4 years. Pours black with thick beige head. Aroma is raisins, cocoa and molasses. Thick and chewy. Lots of cherry on the flavor. Some coffee, cocoa, raisins. Awesome RIS.

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Photo of Harrison8
4.37/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours black with a finger of dense, khaki foam. Head retention as a whole is moderate, with the final ring lasting a long while after the pour. Aroma is roasty, toasty, nutty, caramely, bready malts with heavy raisins, molasses, brown sugar, and toffee. It smells sweet, and nears on a sickly cloying level of sweetness straight out of the fridge. As it warms, the heavy raisins and dark fruits subside a touch, and with the gritty roasty malt bitterness, reaches a more favorable balance. Flavor profile is raisins, plums, molasses, brown sugar, toffee, caramel, and smoke. Malts hit notes of roasty, toasty, nutty and caramely adding depth and darkness. Initially at fridge temperature, the balance is skewed towards a cloying level of sweetness, but as the beer warms, melds into a more favorable balance. A bit of residual malt bitterness helps taper the sweetness off the tongue at the end. Mouth feel is medium-thick, and turns to thick as the beer warms. It has a silty, very fine granular texture that adds to the weight of the experience. Overall, a stout with depth that remains dynamic every degree or so of temperature change. At the colder temperatures, it’s not much to talk about it, but as it nears the suggested serving temperatures, it really opens up and reveals its personality.

Served in a 15.5oz Speigalau tulip from a 22oz bottle. 2016 vintage reviewed in May of 2019.

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Photo of FriedSlug
4.63/5  rDev +2.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

Thick, chewy, roasty beer with lots of vanilla, cherry, raisin and dark chocolate. The beer finishes bitter. Shell is the same as the taste. Since this is 4 years old (2015 version) I am not getting much coffee but really good anyway.

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Photo of teromous
3.86/5  rDev -14.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

From the neck: "10/27/16"

Appearance: The body is pitch black and the head is thick, large, frothy, creamy textured, and light khaki colored. It has amazing head retention and lacing. It is picture perfect.

Aroma: The beer smells like alcohol, a strong wood scent, chocolate, coffee, and burnt sugar.

Taste: Up front there is a bitter woody flavor with a hint of pine and carbon. This is met with some coffee and alcohol in the middle.

Mouthfeel: The body is thick and full but it feels soft on the palate. It almost feels foamy or fuzzy across the tongue.

Overall: The beer has a lot to offer. It is a very rewarding beer to drink because it keeps pushing character in both aroma and flavor onto the palate or into the nose. I would recommend it and I would drink it again on occasion.

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Photo of GreatStoutman
4.59/5  rDev +1.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

The sum of all parts is pretty excellent. Really complex stout with waves of licorice, tobacco, dark fruit and sweet toffee. Little bitter finish rounds it out.

This 2016 was not as thick as the big boys of today, but drank really nice.

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Photo of TreyIsWilson
4.38/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A - Pours motor oil black with a two finger tan head. Decent amount of soapy lacing.

S - Aroma is coffee, dark chocolate, roasted malts and cherries.

T - The taste is dark chocolate, coffee, cherries, raisins, plums, molasses, black licorice and light char.

M - Full body with medium carbonation. Creamy mouthfeel with a soft crisp finsih.

O - Super tasty stout. Great balance of flavors and super drinkable at 12% ABV.

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Photo of DenverHopHead
4.16/5  rDev -7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On tap; poured into a snifter.
Appearance- jet black, thick consistency. Thin tan head that was fairly long-lasting for an RIS in a snifter; moderate lacing.
Smell - dark chocolate, roasted malt, coffee, raisins and molasses!
Taste - some chocolate covered cherry, light toffee, with a boozy, winter warmer style coffee; rich and bold flavor!
Feel - full-bodied, and slightly boozy; a definite sipper!
Overall- certainly a cinch up your big boy pants style RIS; better take it slow and steady with this one!

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Photo of colts9016
4.53/5  rDev +0.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I was happy to receive this beer through a BIF last year. Today was a great day I am going crack it open. The waxed cap gave way to a hiss and then the Russian Imperial Stout found its way to my nostrils, the smell was intoxicating. The beer is 50 degrees and served in a tulip glass. The pour on the beer produced a two finger head with exceptional retention. The head medium tan dissipated slowly leaving heavy thick lacing on the glass. The color of the beer is SRM 38 dark brown nearly black. The beer is opaque. The beer has a beautiful appearance.

The initial aroma is dark roasted malt, dark chocolate, and coffee. Next, I smell dark cherries, figs, anise, burnt sugar, toffee, herbal, bready, earthy, and malty sweetness.

The flavors in the beer are raisins, dark chocolate, coffee, tart cherries, herbal, spicy floral, resin, anise, char, a touch of smokiness, bready, earthy, malty sweetness, toffee, and a hint of soy sauce.

The body of the beer is thick and dry.

The mouthfeel of the beer is full, medium-low carbonation, and a full finish.

This beer is incredible. You crave more of this goodness as the character in the beer begins to unfold. The beer has a beautiful balance and harmony like many great beers. I am glad I have the opportunity to drink this beer. As the beer warms up more, the flavor becomes more pronounced.

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Photo of LXIXME
4.43/5  rDev -1.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

2016 version. I found this at a liquor store just north of Minneapolis and I am drinking it now because it's -35 degrees outside and getting colder. Thanks Fargo, ND for amazing drinking weather.
Smallish dark brownish tan head sit above a super dark coal black beer. Burnt malts, licorice, and I think maybe a bit of prune coming through in the nose. Dark rich malt with light licorice taste laced with very light hints of prunes, raisins, and undetermined attributes. I loved the aftertaste that was really dry without being really dry, caught me off guard in a weird way. The thing I liked most about this beer was that it had a great stout taste without shoving coffee, chocolate, or barrel aging down your throat. Don't get me wrong, I love those too, but this was a great beer that doesn't need to rely on those tricks.

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Photo of JamFuel
4.43/5  rDev -1.8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

On tap at Mikkeller & Friends in Copenhagen.

Pours jet black with a little halo of chocolate colored foam.

Smell is roasty with notes of coffee, cocoa, molasses and a hint of cinnamon and licorice.

Taste is powerful and roasty. Big hits of coffee and dark chocolate kick things off and are complemented by notes of dried fruit, molasses and cinnamon. Long finish, nd the chocolate becomes even more prevalent with warmth.

Mouthfeel is medium to ful, creamy and well carbonated.

Overall, just a terrific stout, powerful but balanced.

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Photo of Strix
4.42/5  rDev -2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Pours pitch black with a brown head.

Roasted notes, slight cocoa note.

Roasted grain, cocoa, dark fruit. No trace of alcohol. Flavors were nice, but not what I would call flavorful really.

Super rich and smooth mouthfeel.

Yeah, this was nice. But I don't know that it lived up to its white whale status. I'm not going to go stand in line for it, as I probably couldn't pick it out of a lineup.

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Photo of NathanBeets
4.5/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Jet black beer in a glass. Dark khaki head with a 2 finger head (aggressive pour). Laces the glass well.

Smell of dark fruit, chocolate and dark malt.

A bit raw on the tongue (because of freshness to my knowledge). Still an outstanding brew at the moment. Will only get better with time.

Fudgy mouthfeel as the beer warms.

Reviewing as fresh 2018 version.

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Photo of johnnyrasputin
4.87/5  rDev +8%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

My quest is to try as many Russian Imperial Stouts as I can before I die, and find the best one. This one is now in the top two. Outstanding flavor. Kicks your ass like any superior RIS should. Worth every dollar I paid.

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Photo of The_Mancannon_of_Slothrop
5/5  rDev +10.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Pours a thick viscous black with a tan finger head that leaves substantial lacing. BIG aroma of dark (almost baker's) chocolate and cherries. A huge, complex flavor profile includes figs, raisins, dank earth, tree bark, light roast coffee, and dark chocolate. Smooth, silky, full body with moderate carbonation. The best example of the style I've ever had. Absolute perfection.

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Photo of VABA
5/5  rDev +10.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

A-Pours a very dark opaque color with a generous head and lacing
A-Aroma has chocolate, coffee, cherries and raising hints
T-The taste follows the nose with a nicely balanced chocolate, coffee, cherries and raisin flavors. The chocolate flavor stands out more as the beer warms to room temperature
M-A medium bodied moderately carbonated beer
O-A very well balanced stout with a strong kick

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Darkness from Surly Brewing Company
Beer rating: 100 out of 100 with 4128 ratings