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Darkness | Surly Brewing Company

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855 Reviews

Brewed by:
Surly Brewing Company
Minnesota, United States

Style: Russian Imperial Stout

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 10.30%

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/profile/13014/141724/

2007 - Grim Reaper
2008 - Devil
2009 - Mummy
2010 - Vampire
2011 - Zombie
2012 - Werewolf
2013 - Brewcifer
2015 - Bat
2016 - Cerberus

Added by ryantupy on 10-08-2006

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Reviews: 855 | Ratings: 3,644
Photo of Benish
4.12/5  rDev -6.6%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2016 release.

Appearance: poured a pitched black color with a beautiful rich brown head.

Aroma: almost mainly rich malted milk chocolate.

Flavor: very sweet and chocolatey-like. Could almost compare it to drinking chocolate milk but with a more roast character. It was slightly hoppy at the finish, leaving a somewhat annoying bitter aftertaste. The flavors are one dimensional, really not much more I could taste.

Mouthfeel: very thick and creamy. Full-bodied and rich.

Overall: everything was above par but the flavors could be way better. Not something I would ever buy again for $20.

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Photo of Cburnette23
4.24/5  rDev -3.9%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Haha.... I'm really actually very surprised by how good people think that this beer is. It's not. Don't get me wrong, it's a decent beer, good in fact, but it's nothing special or even great. If you're looking for great, then go try a truly great barrel-aged beer, like Central Water's Barrel Aged Belgium Quad-ale. Now THAT is a beer deserving of the praised lavished upon this decent but rather run of the mill smokey-dark imperial. Yes, there is enjoyment to be had from this one, but in my estimation, it's more hype than reality that gives this beer it's persona of excellence.

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Photo of CarlosSpicyWeiner
4.5/5  rDev +2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

One of Minnesota's nicest russian imperial stouts. This one is really thick with a heavy feel to it. Lots of chocolate with some creaminess. Rich with molasses and dark fruits.

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Photo of gregy55902
4.52/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I always enjoy going to Darkness Day Eve at Stub & Herbs not for the darkness itself, but for all the other rare beers they would get (BCBCS, for example, and the unexpected free bottles of KBS last year). Nonetheless, I'm cracking this 2016 bottle to honor Todd Haug who recently stepped down as brewmaster at Surly.

A - Pours into my B&B XL snifter with a deep motor oil color and sexy tan head with oily-looking bubbles and lacing in the glass. Some of the foam glued itself to the side of the snifter, and it won't budge. Intimidating for sure!

S - A multitude of fudgey chocolates, anise, a hint of dark fruits (dates?), caramel sweetness and hops on the nose.

T - Follows the nose. Very good. It is a bit on the sweeter side and is definitely a dessert beer, but the nice fudge/anise combo makes for an excellent dessert. The earthy hops make an appearance here as well. I imagine that this stuff could be aged for years! Marshmallow candy aftertaste that can only be described as utter decadence.

M - Sweet but not cloying, thick but not sludge-like. Lower carb which is appropriate for the style. Alcohol is there but it is kept in check by the sweetness.

O - I think this batch is great. While I admit to passing over this beer for others simply because it is produced in my area, it is world class and would hold its own against any other RIS produced today. It is quite unique and definitely deserves the following it has achieved over the years. Thanks Todd (the axe man) and Omar for making it happen - let's see where the future takes this operation.

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Photo of Schimms
5/5  rDev +13.4%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

750 mL bottle - 2016 Cerberus

L: Beautiful dark with a slight reddish tint. Poured into a large snifter yielding about a 1 inch tan head that dissipates over a couple of minutes.

S: Strong, sweet raisin, juicy dates.

T: Everything promised by the smell enhanced! Raisin/date, coffee. Great taste left on the tongue. Complex sweet dates and roasted coffee blended perfectly. After it warms up - more prevalent nutty taste. After taste is pleasant. Alcohol is there, but hiding behind the curtain - careful with this one - it sneaked up on me quickly.

F: Chewy, smooth. Perfect carbonation.

O: Perfect Russian Imperial Stout. Up the same level with Bell's Expedition Stout and Old Rasputin. Amazing complexity. Can't wait to see how this cellars and develops!

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Photo of Nic1985Ace
4.59/5  rDev +4.1%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

2016 Poured on draft at Hopleaf in Chicago

L: Pours pitch black with 2 fingers of tan head, good retention

N: Gettin chocolate, candied dark fruits, roasted oats.

T: Nice sweet maltiness up front, follows nose with dark fruits, but finishes with a nice toasty bitterness.

F: Good medium to thick mouthfeel. Flavors coat your mouth and linger on the tongue.

O: Great RIS, well balanced, worth seeking out!

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Photo of JebBeerFish
2.94/5  rDev -33.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

2015 bottle.

A: 1/4 head on gentle pour.

S: very mild bitter chocolate, a little molasses.

T: A pleasant, mild dry, bitter chocolate rudely interrupted by hops. Does mild dark chocolate with piney resin sound yummy to you? If so, then this may be your beer. I like my Cherios and milk without salt, and my pancakes and maple syrup with out soy sauce, so sadly, this will not be a beer to which I will return.

O: unpleasant.

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Photo of bbtkd
4.02/5  rDev -8.8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Surly Darkness 2016 from a grumbler. Pours thick and black with a four finger brown head that left real nice lacing. Nose is coffee, fruit, and chocolate. Taste is bitter throughout, with a hint of coffee, fruit, and chocolate. Mouthfeel is decent. Overall - though I sought this out due to the cult status - not a fan, due to the bitterness. It did improve as it warmed. I'd like to try the BA version.

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Photo of Furlinator
4.28/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Vintage 2013.

Pours pitch black with a half-inch khaki head that remains as a thin ring on top and leaves faint spots of lace. The smell is of cocoa and dark fruit. The taste follows with cocoa, ripe dark fruit, subtle earthy hops and faint coffee. Smooth, full texture.

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Photo of MOVERTON1284
4.5/5  rDev +2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2013 vintage, so aged 2+ years when consumed a a share. Very solid stout that was strong but not overpowering. Very good balance overall and pretty easy to drink.

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Photo of kitch
4.64/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

A 200ml pour on draft of the 2015 version at Mikkeller Bangkok into a mini stemmed Mikkeller tasting glass.

Appearance: It was pretty much pitch black with a half finger beige head that dissipated fairly quickly, leaving sparse lacing.

Aroma: Chocolate, vanilla, roast and hints of dark fruit.

Taste: Dark fruit, plum, prune, chocolate, roast, vanilla and caramel.

Mouthfeel: Rich, creamy, full bodied with light carbonation.

Overall: This was really good. Really nice aromas and great flavours. It’s a sipper, but the dark fruit, chocolate and caramel works well.

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Photo of Marius
4.55/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

On tap at CBC 2016, day 2. Pitch black with a beige head. Very nice rye whiskey notes (the first beer I think, where I am able to identify the rye whiskey exactly), chocolate, molasses, coffee.

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Photo of chinchill
3.73/5  rDev -15.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Large shared 2008 bottle. (Thanks Dan).
Similar aroma to the FFF Dark Lord I had a few minutes earlier. Seems just a touch sweeter and a bit less complex.
Thick, oily body with light carbonation.

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Photo of brewskifan55
4.25/5  rDev -3.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

2012 version. Taster glass. Thanks for the share, Shannon!

A: Rich black with a half finger tan head that lingered.

S: Molasses, dark fruits (dates, raisins, plums) chocolate.

T: Dark chocolate and dark fruit flow in like a werewolf in heat, tearing your taste buds into a helpless victim of pleasure as a light hop bitterness and smooth cherry/vanilla rip out your throat. In other words, fuckin' YUM!

M: Thick, creamy and carbonated to full moon standards.

O: Only once in a blue full moon do you get to taste something this good. An RIS with teeth.

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Photo of Hootie159
4.5/5  rDev +2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pitch black. Nice dark head that keeps pretty well. Classic RIS smell. Roasted chocolate. Sweet. Some dark chocolate bitter as well to balance. Like the smell, very good; classic. Nice mouth coating with a thickness. Strong carb.

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Photo of wulfie85
4.42/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.25

One of the great non-barrel aged stouts around. Very chocolately on the palate with roasted and bitter chocolate aromas as well. Great, thick mouth feel and black look as well.

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Photo of Rimbimhoot
4.44/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A: Very dark brown with light brown head
S: Roast, sweet dark fruit, dark chocolate, cherry, licorice, coffee
T: Dark chocolate, cocoa nibs, roasty, cherry, dark fruit, caramel, hop bitterness, orange
M: Full and creamy
O: Probably a top 10 non BA stout

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Photo of Zoomslowik
4.46/5  rDev +1.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

L- Nearly pitch black, a couple of fingers of tan head.

S- Chocolate. Dark fruits, some vanilla and molasses. Seems like a hint of hops as well.

T- Similar to the nose. Chocolate early, sweet fruitiness on the finish. Nice balance.

F- Very thick, coats the mouth well and lets the flavors linger.

O- Very good stout with a unique flavor.

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Photo of rodbeermunch
2.92/5  rDev -33.8%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 2.75 | overall: 3

Well it pours black, so the Darkness name is fitting. Aroma hits all kinds of dark fruit booziness and bitterness.

Taste was also quad like, all that dark fruit booze. Take Dark Lord, thin it out, swap sweetness for bitterness and rotting dark fruit, you get Darkness. Roasting of the malt no doubt contributes to the bitterness here, but things like coffee and chocolate malt are just obscured to the max here.

Frankly Surly makes a lot better beers for way cheaper.

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Photo of Beginner2
3.88/5  rDev -12%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

Sorry, guys.
There are things to like about this beer.
But, is it possible that your ratings are have been bamboozled by the alcohol?

While Darkness has all the smells and initial sensory attack of a barrel-aged very strong stout, it loses me when the alcohol hits me in the face. (I kept this plugged for 4 days and it was not as bad on the 4th, but my buds remember an extreme event.)

Fortunately, someone gave me two bottles and I will keep the second for, say, 2018 and will be glad to revisit this review then.

Until then, beware of purveyors who play to our lesser instincts.

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Photo of Scott17taylor
4.74/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Pours black with small head that dissipates quickly.
I get aromas of dark chocolate, roast, fig, and piney hops.
Delicious, dark fruit, chocolate, and a pleasant hop bitterness. The dark fruit dominates with the chocolate comin throw mid palate. The hops play really nice. Just an incredible beer.
The mouthfeel is fairly thick with a nice warming as it goes down.
Overall, this is an outstanding stout. Put it on your list, it's absolutely worth trading for.

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Photo of TongoRad
4.87/5  rDev +10.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Right off the bat- dear lord, this is gonna be powerful; I can smell it as I'm pouring. Immediate sniff: holy crap, this is a hoppy stout! I love hoppy stouts!

Aroma is multi faceted with lots of complexity; I seem to get a different angle with each smell. Initially I get lots of dark chocolate roast, citrus oil and pine resin. This immediately begins morphing into prune, toffee, tobacco, smoke and ash, spices (nutmeg and vanilla), blackstrap molasses, espresso, even a touch of almond. It's amazing- all of these really heavy duty aromas taking turns with each other, yet the sum of the parts never overwhelms. If there is a constant throughout, it's the bitter dark chocolate.

And on the palate it's smooth, rich, and surprisingly tightly knit. Again, an amazingly harmonious blend of flavors for such a powerful beer. Toffee and dark fruits provide a solid platform from where the other elements nimbly move about. The spices play an incredible role as a conductor, too, seemingly present whenever I get the chocolate, espresso, nuts, citrus peel. Bitterness and alcohol are exactly where necessity deems them to be, keeping the whole thing sharp and exciting, but even not coming close to stealing the show. Great jumping crawdaddies!: power and finesse going hand in hand. This is a freakin' masterpiece of a beer, and I must admit that it bests my greatest expectations.

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Photo of SebastRain
4.79/5  rDev +8.6%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Serving: 750mL bottle from 2015 (bat), poured into a snifter glass. Aged approx. 5 months.

A: Pours thick, dark black body. Faint, light-brown head with excellent head retention.

S: Big nose with notes of licorice, rasins, cocoa powder, vanilla, cherry, sweet chocolate.

T: pretty darn sweet with huge chocolate, vanilla, raisin, licorice, plum, excellent complexity. 

M: Rich & thick. Sweet finish, lasts and lasts. Really pleasant. Very little boozy feel.

O: the best non-barrel aged stout I have ever had.

This beer is a must have.

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Photo of Taybeh
4.61/5  rDev +4.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

from old notes...i try to make sure to track Darkness down on tap every year, and though imp stouts aren't my favorites, this one, many years, is a killer. I still remember finding the '11 version at 11:30 pm at an Uptown bar of that year and wondering if it could get any better.

This is the non-b/a/ '14 edition (not the one available in bottles which is aged in rye whisky barrels), on tap at the Lyndale tap, into a snifter with a thin khaki head that subsides after a minute. Nose is a little elusive, but a lot there and it works well for me...suprisingly juicy, with cherries, and some leather, and some dark chocolate and espresso. Great waves and layers of flavors on the tongue, especially as it warms. The end is really great...ties everything together with a earthy and grassy hoppy kick...sticky and very substantial but also a lively mouthful.

Also had the 2015 non-b/a, but I preferred the 2014.

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Photo of majorbase2
4.27/5  rDev -3.2%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.25

Pours a dark brown, nearly black color with a large, thick, dark brown head. One of the darker heads I've ever seen. Good retention, with moderate lacing.

Licorice, chocolate, and roasted malts.

Big, huge roasted chocolate notes that literally seem to melt on the tongue. Quite a terrific sensation. Licorice and dark fruits start to creep in as it warms. Cherry, prune, raisins. Definitely some bite from the alcohol. A chewy, viscous dark fruitiness coats the tongue following each sip. A good touch of bitterness on the back end. Very complex yet balanced.

Full bodied with the perfect amount of carbonation. The definition of a sipper. A good amount of bite from the alcohol renders this difficult to chug. The chocolate flavors work well with the beer's thick, chewy mouthfeel. Creamy, and goes down smooth. In looking at some other reviews, they comment on alcohol not coming through, which I disagree with. I feel alcohol makes itself known here.

Another excellent brew by my favorite home state brewing company. If you are a RIS fan, this is an absolute must-have.

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Darkness from Surly Brewing Company
4.41 out of 5 based on 3,644 ratings.
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