Darkness | Surly Brewing Company

BA SCORE
98
world-class
875 Reviews
DarknessDarkness
BEER INFO

Brewed by:
Surly Brewing Company
Minnesota, United States
surlybrewing.com

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/

Labels:
2007 - Grim Reaper
2008 - Devil
2009 - Mummy
2010 - Vampire
2011 - Zombie
2012 - Werewolf
2013 - Brewcifer
2014 - Harpy
2015 - Bat
2016 - Cerberus

Added by ryantupy on 10-08-2006

BEER STATS
Reviews:
875
Ratings:
3,787
Avg:
4.42
pDev:
9.28%
 
 
Wants:
3,313
Gots:
1,512
For Trade:
137
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Reviews: 875 | Ratings: 3,787
Photo of BuckeyeNation
4.78/5  rDev +8.1%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Bottle #211. 2007 release. Necrosis black that crowds the sides and bowl of the glass so completely that light doesn't stand a chance in hell. Nothing is visible except... Darkness. The coffee colored cap looks as though it won't fade completely until sometime tomorrow, and there's a surprising amount of lace that can only be described as eye candy. I'm well aware that glassware shouldn't be taken into account when assigning an appearance score, but Darkness in a Darkness snifter is perfection.

Believe it or not, the hops can still be appreciated in the nose after almost a year. I guess that means they were added with a heavy hand back in '07. They're far from numero uno, though. As expected, ridiculously roasted malt is a rompin' and a stompin' all over the joint. Dark chocolate is at least twice as strong as black coffee. I've smelled better, but the nose is good. Damn good.

Believe the hype. My first impression is that Darkness tastes like no other RIS. I'm not sure I'll be able to explain why that is... but it is. My second impression is that a tremendous amount of green hop flavor and bitterness has survived. This stuff just might give Old Crustacean a run for its money when fresh.

Even though the malt backbone is massive, this beast isn't anywhere near as thick and syrupy as Dark Lord (which might make it more drinkable). Some of the bitterness could also be coming from barley that has been fire-roasted to within an inch of its life. The result is a flavor profile that includes chocolate liquor, blackstrap molasses and large splashes of Sambuca and espresso.

If Darkness was limited to those flavors, it would still be exceptional beer. The fact that candied citrus peel and resiny pine sap are added to the mix puts it over the top for this hophead. I can see how some might not like the emphasis on the little green cones, but then this is Surly... what the hell did you expect?

With each eager gulp, I am making Darkness prove every one of the final three scores. Believe me, it more than lives up to the challenge of a critical palate, especially since the flavors become even better integrated as the beer picks up a few degrees. The alcohol provides warmth (not heat) and plenty of power. This is massive beer for massive beer lovers.

My first inclination was to give the mouthfeel a less than perfect score. However, as the middle portion of the bottle approaches, it will not be denied. The melted ice cream-like viscosity that was almost there initially is now there in spades. Carbonation is on the generous side, but it's so soft and so well-buried that it adds just the right amount of energy and lift.

Darkness is a masterful creation from a masterful brewer. I allowed a few doubts to creep in prior to cracking the crown, but I doubt no more. In an amazingly short period of time, Surly has entered the upper echelon of craft breweries with such all-out masterpieces as Furious, Bender and CynicAle. Darkness is simply the shiny, juicy cherry on top. A huge thanks to feloniousmonk, the consummate BA, for the best extra in the history of extras.

*originally reviewed on 10-08-2008

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Photo of billab914
4.42/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Opening up something special for my 30th birthday tonight. Mummy vintage poured from a 22oz bottle into my Portsmouth tulip. It poured black in color with a huge, active, mocha colored head taking up nearly half of the glass. The head faded after a bit but it left some decent lacing on the glass as I drank it.

The aroma has a sweeter, fruitier flavor to it then the typical imperial stout. It almost has a chocolate covered cherry and molasses flavor to it. The roasted, bitter, coffee flavors are more in the background, but they are there. Alcohol is present as well but it doesn't feel out of place.

The taste is similar to the nose with the sweeter chocolate, cherry, molasses, alcohol flavors being the most present. The roasty and bitter flavors are pretty mild in it. It finishes on the dry side with a moderate dark chocolate bitterness coming through. It's definitely different then any other imperial stout I've had, but it's also very good.

The mouthfeel is on the heavier side but not as thick as say Dark Lord. Carbonation is moderate for the style. Drinkability is good, I really liked the flavors it had. It really has a chocolate covered , booze soaked, cherry flavor to it that I really enjoyed. Very drinkable and delicious beer overall.

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Photo of russpowell
4.36/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

Cheer to Buebie, thanks Brian!

Pours a brown tinged mahogany with 2+ fingers of fluffy mocha colored head. Superior head retention & lacing

S: Hints of cherry & oak, plus cocoa powder

T: Dark fruit & chocolate & a touch of licorice up front, plus charred grains on the edge of the throat. Rich dark chocolate & dryness dominate as this warms, along with grainy bitterness on the roof of the mouth. Finishes dry with cocoa powder, a touch of vanilla, cherry, raisins & just a hint of Bourbon

MF: Slick, oily, sticky with low, near nil carbonation

Drinks a might bit, slow, the dryness & complexity slow me down some. Still, a very good RIS indeed. Well done Surly!

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Photo of mdaschaf
4.47/5  rDev +1.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Big thanks to Shane for bringing this down to share with me. 2010 Vintage, review from notes.

A: Pours black in color with a nice two finger tan head on top. The head lasts for a little while leaving a foam cap on top. Thin lacing forms all around the glass.

S: Tons of dark fruit on the aroma, cherry and plum dominate. There is some chocolate and cocoa mixed in as well. Exactly what I am looking for.

T: This beer tastes great, more dark fruit (cherry, plum, raisin) mixed with chocolate and minimal roast coming forward. There is a touch of honey and caramel.

M: Medium to full bodied, extremely smooth with moderate carbonation.

O: Very impressed, probably my favorite non BA stout. It drinks so easy that it would get me in trouble if I had a lot of it. Definitely a beer I will try to get more of.

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Photo of mikesgroove
4.92/5  rDev +11.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

What can I say really about this whole situation. I was lucky enough to acquire this bottle through a very fair trade from a good friend. When I see how much these things go for and the hype surrounding it, it is hard for me to justify it sometimes. I have found several instances where these beers are just complete letdowns. This here was not the case. It was absolutely wonderful and I really think it is worth its reputation. That being said, I new this would be the only bottle I would get so I saved it for a very special occasion and split it with a good friend at Barley's last night for my 30th Birthday. I figured it would be a fitting place, fitting time, and fitting company to open such a rare and sought after treat. Served in multiple sampling glasses at various temperatures up to room temp, this was definitely a wonderful experience. Bottle # 295.

Appearance - So we finally get to pour this one out. Opened the double dipped, wax topped cap and pour out this black as night liquid. Deep dark notes of black, to which no light could penetrate dropped into the glass with each tip. A mushrooming head of tan foam then came up over the top, reaching a height of at least two fingers before starting to break up into a rocky and cratered field. Even at its lowest mark it still carried about a fingers depth of lace with it and the side glass webbing was extremely nice. Overall this was a monster looking beer, however I cannot say it was a five, only because I have seen Dark Lord and the Abyss offer me a slightly fuller poor.

Smell - The aroma was to die for, literally. Everyone of these big RIS are much different then the one before, and everyone one is so unique, but I think once you take a whiff of this one it becomes very clear that this is in a whole different category. Gone are you rum soaked dark fruit and bourbon barrel, oak infused aromas, this was an entirely different beast. Rich and very sweet cocoa aromas are bringing themselves up to greet you first, with a gentle nudge of alcohol underneath. Wonderfully rich coffee then comes in to deliver the next blow. It was more of a roasted coffee bean aroma to be honest, like when you first open up that drawer at starbucks. A veritable assault of floral hops then comes out of nowhere. Grapefruit and pineapple hints mixing in with molasses and vanilla, what was this. As it warmed that sweet and creamy chocolate and coffee just really stole the show, with drops of vanilla just making this one drip with sweetness.

Taste - Now, we dive in to get a taste of what this wonderful liquid could be hiding. The first thing you notice is uber sweet chocolate and coffee. Just that wonderful taste that you want to have in a big stout, but the second that you get used to it, it gets cut like a knife, infused with grapefruit and orange peel. Puckering the lips as fresh grass and lemon hints seal it up and dry the mouth instantly before falling down the back of your through and opening up the scarred taste buds to welcome rush of vanilla. Beautifully complex, the rich notes of smoke and molasses intermingle and marry a wonderful peat like darkness that just sits there for a second before it too passes, getting whisked away and leaving behind only the faintest hint of grapefruit like bitterness soaked in vanilla and coffee. A wonderful voyage of unexpected tastes and bright surprises, wit ha virtually hidden alcohol content that makes it oh so smooth.

Mouthfeel - An speaking of smooth, wow, this was one smooth stout. A little bit less full then the rest of the big boys, but again this was a different type of monster, something entirely different then you milk shake like consistency you would typically associate with the style. This had a light, more carbonated feel to it. A much drier beer, especially in the finish, the flavors exploded out of it more then soaked in and sat there. As it warmed up it really did get a good deal thicker, but still stuck to its roots, setting it apart from the heard.

Drinkability - As for an almost 11% ABV Russian Imperial Stout, this was something I could have drank all night long. It was just tremendous in its complexity with a unrivaled smoothness. The alcohol was nowhere to be found, and the dry, hoppy finish only encouraged me to go back and try it again, and again, and again. It was a sad moment when this bottle was finished, as I really wanted just a little bit more. It was like beer crack for me, really just that good.

Overall I would have to say this really lived up to the hype for me. It was a phenominal beer, much different then anything I had before it, and was a nice breath of fresh air in the category. I was impressed by the floral hoppiness that was brought into this, especially in the finish as it really hid the alcohol well and let you have a nice, and not super filling experience out of it. Overall would I like another bottle, absolutely! Would I travel to Minnesota to get it, if the wife would let me, in a heartbeat!

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Photo of Slatetank
4.48/5  rDev +1.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Thanks to bmoyer0301 for breaking this out recently -enjoyed cellar temp in standard pint.

This is a beautiful stout, looks thick and black as it is poured with some espresso-like crema for head with ultra tight bead. The aromas of brownie batter and baker's cocoa's semi-bitter/semi-sweet scents with mild dark fruit from the yeast which is plummy. The stout has a light sweet hop odor with more berry tinge with the dark toasted malt nose as it is swirled. The feel is rich, viscous, sweet fruit and little drying as it is moved around the mouth. The mellow spiciness of this gives some complexity and the texture is generally creamy with a pretty mild alcohol influence.

Darkness has a taste of bitter cocoa which is familiar for Russian imperial because it has a lightly bitter nutty taste up front with some astringent coffee-like dark mallt elements and raisiny dried fruit aspect. There is a earthy woody and almost light anise taste which comes forward as it warms with mild burnt malt quality as it finishes. This is an extremely drinkable beer for the abv, I found myself having to regulate my gulps and respect the big stout for what it is. I enjoyed how easy it goes down with an almost burnt marshmallow-like caramel essence that bring out a bit of concentrated dark sugar flavor. I was extremely appreciative to Brad for sharing this with us a stout worth savoring

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Photo of womencantsail
4.08/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Review #300 comes courtesy of mikesgroove. Thanks again Mike for hooking it up with this one.

2009 Vintage

A: The pour is viscous, black, and wonderful. It fills the glass with a fluffy mocha colored head on top of the thick liquid below.

S: Generally with an RIS (or any stout, really) you don't expect citrus and pine hops to be the primary aroma, but that's just what we have here. The malt and other traditional RIS aromas don't come through quite as much as I would have liked. Still, the malt and chocolate and coffee do come through at times.

T: The hoppiness is still present on the tongue, but not quite as intensely. A good roasted malt background with some hints of coffee and chocolate. Perhaps a bit of dark fruits as well, which go interestingly with the hoppiness.

M: The body is nice and full and the beer feels quite creamy on the tongue. The carbonation is at a moderate level.

D: D: The booze is hidden very well by the myriad of flavors that are present. I wish, however, that this was more RIS like and not basically a black DIPA.

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Photo of mdfb79
4.64/5  rDev +5%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

From 09/25/10 notes. Got to try an 08 and an 09 side by side; big thanks to Lunch and Huhzubendah!

a - Both pour a dark brown with one inch of brown head and light carbonation. 09 seemed a little bit more carbonated.

s - 2008 vintage smells of hops, chocolate, vanilla, roasted malts, coffee, and dark fruit. I thought the 09 vintage had more vanilla to it, and a tiny bit of alcohol. Both smelled great.

t - Tastes of roasted malts, dark fruits, chocolate, vanilla, and coffee. Very enjoyable. I thought the 2008 vintage was slightly better and did not have as much coffee.

m - Medium to full body, more towards full, and low carbonation. Very creamy and smooth; mouthfeel is great.

d - I've been looking forward to this beer for quite a while and it did not disappoint. It had a complex, balanced smell I enjoyed a lot and a great mouthfeel. It was also hoppier than I expected. I think I enjoyed the 08 a little bit more than the 09, but both were great. Can't wait to have this one again.

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Photo of orangesol
4.35/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I am going to update my scores on this one. I just recently had an '08 courtesy of Deuane and I liked it a lot more than the '09 below. I have included my old scores at the bottom of the old review. Cheers!

---
Thanks to whoever brought this to the Inaugural "Imminent Liquidation Bottle Share" Event. 2009 bottle poured into a taster glass.

A - Pours deep black with a small half finger tall tan head, dissipating down to nothing at all, leaving light lacing down the glass.

S - Some sweet chocolate, a light does of hops, dark roasted malt, earthy wood, lactose sweetness, and some light smoke. It has good overall balance. Not the best I have smelled but far from the worst.

T - Lots of dark roast up front giving way slowly to a mix of light hop bitterness, sweet chocolate, dark roasted coffee, light smoke, and some astringent wood helping to dry the pallet after consumption. Finish is dry with some lingering roast. Not exactly what I was expecting. I may have to get a bottle of this for myself and revisit this one.

M - Heavy body and flavor with moderate carbonation. A bit too thin in the feel for my liking with some lingering dark roast in the finish.

D - Drinkability was not too bad. Well this was a bit of a letdown. I am not sure if it was just this bottle or what but I expected a lot more. I will have to get a bottle for myself to make sure.

Scores:
3.5 , 4.5 , 4 , 4 , 4
Grade: A- 4.08

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Photo of TMoney2591
4.23/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Served in a snifter at The Barley House.

Who'd've thought that one of my personal whales would beach itself 'round here? Hey, I'm not gonna argue. Its pour verifies its name, as nothing but straight darkness sits in the glass, a finger-thick tan chapeau sitting jauntily on top. The nose comprises raisins, rum, blackened oats, figs, chocolate-covered strawberries, roasted malts, light molasses, and a very slight fusel scent streaming from the base. The taste holds notes of roasted malts, chocolate syrup, molasses, maple syrup, figs, oak, brown sugar, light orange flesh, and a touch of Belgian yeastiness. Honestly, the last two were a bit surprising, but definitely can't be considered detracting, as they add a refreshing complexity to a usually brutish style. The body is pretty hefty, with a light moderate carbonation and a chewy feel. Overall, I was not at all disappointed by this, though the one thing I would note is that it's a tad lighter and fizzier than I expected. But this was a minor issue at best, smothered by the overall tastiness.

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Photo of vfgccp
4.66/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

A - Amazing looking stout. Full, thick, creamy khaki head with sheets of lace. Pitch black body with no highlights to speak of, even when backlit.

S - Raisin, booze, spiced rum, oatmeal, whoppers, vanilla malt milkshake, almond, touch of licorice.

T - Milk chocolate, oatmeal, nutmeg, brown sugar, caramel, cream, vanilla, bourbon, charred oak, molasses, rum soaked raisins, licorice, black cherry.

M - Outrageously smooth. Creamy full body.

O - A killer RIS that lives up to its reputation.

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Photo of Huhzubendah
4.7/5  rDev +6.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Thanks to ahalloin for sharing this at my most recent tasting.

2008 vintage. Eerie photo of the devil on the label. Eek!

A: Very dark, big beige head and great lacing.

S: Big roasted malts with a very present hop profile, much more so than I am accustomed to. This beer smells awesome.

T: Hops are surprisingly present and delicious. Rich roasted malt with bitter chocolates. Wow, this is amazing beer. This beer stands among the best imperial stouts I've had the pleasure of drinking.

M: Really smooth. ABV hidden extremely well.

D: I need to attend Darkness Day to really test this beer's drinkability :)

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Photo of Alieniloquium
3.92/5  rDev -11.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

750 mL bottle poured into a snifter. 2011 bottle. Reviewed from notes.

Appearance - Black with nice lacing. Small khaki head.

Smell - Roasted chocolate. Sweet caramel in there too. Fruity with some licorice.

Taste - Sweet, for sure. More than I expected. It blends well with the roasted malts, though. Licorice and dark fruits. Ashy bitter malt finish.

Mouthfeel - Heavy and sweet. Medium carbonation.

Overall - Lots of sugar in this guy. Not to Dark Lord levels, but sweet. It's what Dark Lord should be.

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Photo of stakem
4.43/5  rDev +0.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Big thanks to CaptinRedBeard for opening this at his tasting on 11/13/10.

2010 bottle poured into a snifter appears black in color with some lighter brown coloration around the edges. A dark creamy brown head appears and retains fairly well. As it slowly recedes, it leaves a spotty amount of lace along the glass.

The aroma of this brew includes a pleasant blend of citrus hops that are a little herbal with chocolate and a sweet grainy scent. A minor indication of some yeast character is present but is faint in comparison to the chocolate maltiness and hops.

The taste of this brew includes citrus hops that have a bit of herbal quality as well. Quite a solid base of chocolate that is more of a bitter dark chocolate than milky sweet. The hops provide a bit of mineral touch that is earthy with a light indication of yeast.

This is a super smooth brew with a creamy full feel that is lightly carbonated. A pleasant alcohol warmth hits the back of the throat but not with the intensity you would expect from something with more than 10% abv. Once this brew warms it has some coffee bean quality that is also citrusy. This is a must try stout, awesome to try right now.

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Photo of johnnnniee
4.45/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a solid black with a good size tanish head that sticks with us for a while. Smell is the usual suspects, coffee, chocolate, a bit smokey, but with some grassy hop aroma in the distance. Taste is a bit hoppy with roast coffee, chocolate, some dried fruits. Full body, oily/creamy mouthfeel, ample carbonation. Left a slight ash aftertaste in my mouth. Great RIS I wish it were more widely available.

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Photo of smakawhat
3.56/5  rDev -19.5%
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.

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Photo of feloniousmonk
4.78/5  rDev +8.1%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

My Darkness sits in a Duvel tulip glass, the roasty brown espresso-tinged head filling the top, and the actual beer as black as the darkest night, saturated with sin. Tannish lace stays long on the glass. This bleak cast may scare away the timid, those less ready to tango with the Stygian side, but the nose entices me in, and am undaunted as I step into the dark.

A blast of coffee hits first, married with copious cocoa, bitter and sweet stand side by side, neither in dominance. Hints of dark rum, molasses, black pepper and anise are mixed in this aroma of this heady brew, and it only gets richer the more you drink it in the nose. Sweeter elements eventually take charge, but it's still a deep, almost spicy blend.

To taste: Massive mouthfeel, thick, gooey, and absolutely delicious. Chocolate is in full force, but matched once more with earthier aspects, the coffee, the spice, the slick black strap. Incredibly pervasive on the palate, this stout commands every inch of the senses, sending tasty tendrils up in each crack in the cavern of the mouth. Plenty of hops at play (80 IBUs), bobbing just below the malt.

Sip, gulp, swallow, and the parade of flavors begins again, dancing along the tongue, like some malefic ballet. Dark fruit sensations rise up and leave the mind searching for the connection. Dark cherries, berries, raspberry? ....but completely covered in a shell of chocolate. The lip smacks, the tongue scrapes up remnants of this rich elixir, not to miss a drop of deliciousness.

To state "full-bodied" would be an act of redundancy. This is huge, long, and out of the ordinary. Ends smooth and dryly, a pleasing finish, still loaded with flavor, never dying away completely.

Puts many a RIS to shame, though I'd love to sit down and do a comparison among others. To the great credit of Darkness, the alcohol content does not really stick out until nearing glasses end, and the less attractive aspect is that the beautiful dark, rich flavor leaves you craving more, ...although you probably shouldn't. (It's 9.5%, give or take.)

I entered the heart of Darkness, and peered into the abyss...found it satisfactory to my soul, and I believe I will take this midnight ride again and again...in moderation...

and to think, there is a bourbon barrel version on it's way...oh, sweet mercy!

Hey, Todd, which metal album should have been thundering in the background while I drink this?
And thank you for brewing this beer, to my knowledge the only Russian Imperial Stout from a Minnesota brewery, outside of the brewpubs.

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

2013 vintage (Brewcifer). Poured from a wax-topped bomber into a snifter, the beer is jet black, almost oily, with a thin, filmy, frothy half-inch head that settles into a filmy surface coating. Nose of black strap molasses, licorice, coffee, baker's chocolate, woody notes, and hints of vanilla. Flavors of rich, heavy molasses and smooth dark chocolate forward. Perfectly balanced. Oaky highlights, with vanilla notes, too. Roasted characteristics throughout, with coffee bitterness in and out of the palate, also. Very layered palate and deep throughout. Velvety smooth body, with a chocolate bitter and roasted aftertaste. Wow! The finish is slick, smooth, and fairly heavy on the linger of rich and heavy. Great beer! Wow!

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Photo of MasterSki
4.23/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

For my 1000th review, I had to choose whether to go with something extremely rare or something nostalgic. Since my last few milestone reviews were Belle Vue Sélection Lambic, Kaggen! Stormaktsporter Rauch, and Cantillon Loerik, I figured it was time for a change of pace, so I picked the first beer for which I traveled to a release party.

This review is an aggregate of all four bottled vintages. Thanks to hoppymeal, northernbrews, and hophobo for supplying vintages '07, '08, and '09 respectively.

(And no, I've never had '06, nor would it be appropriate for this review as it was growler/tap only.)

A - All vintages of Darkness are essentially reference quality Imperial Stout when it comes to appearance. Pours yield a few fingers of dark tan/mocha foam over top of a pitch black body that reveals a sheen of brown at the top of the glass when held up to the light. The head slowly dissipates leaving behind a thin cap and splotchy fingers of lacework. Earlier vintages have slightly worse retention, but all look quite excellent and sufficiently evil.

S - On the other hand, the aroma varies markedly by vintage. The most hop-forward at this stage is '09, with some floral, earthy, leafy, and slightly citrus hop character still present after a year. You can tell '07 was similar when it was bottled as it also features some faded herbal hop notes. The '10 is far more understated in this area, with a floral character that is roughly as potent as the three-year old '07 vintage. Whatever hops were present in '08 are long gone (and they were there, as I remember them when I had it fresh on-tap). Malt character always features sweet dark fruits, figs & prunes, and baker's chocolate, but roast character ranges from fairly intense in '07 to almost non-existent in '08.

T - The taste mirrors the aroma fairly accurately, but there are a few unusual disconnects. '07 features present but well-attenuated hop and char bitterness, as well as dark chocolate and dark roast coffee. '08 tastes largely of cherry cordials, milk chocolate, and dates. '09, even with its still-present hop aroma, is surprisingly high in caramel, molasses, and dark fruits. There is some fairly potent roast character but this is sweeter than I remembered. '10 is most similar to (aged) '07 with roast espresso notes, earthy and herbal bitterness in the finish, and understated sweetness.

M - All vintages are quite similar in this regard. A smooth, creamy, medium-full body that is big enough for the circa 10% alcohol, soft medium-low carbonation, and some light warming alcohol after a few ounces.

D - This is a definitely a sipper, particularly with the sweeter vintages. The 750ml bottles are probably best shared 3-4 ways, and the sugar levels can reach critical after having much more. I find this more drinkable than Dark Lord, but significantly less so than something like Ol' Jack Frost.

It's quite interesting to chart the (d)evolution of the beer and the cautionary tale it can teach about transitioning from small-batch brewing to large-scale production. I'm actually fairly confident the malt bill hasn't changed significantly over the years - what DOES seem to change is the timing and size of hop additions. I wish I'd taken notes on fresh pours of each vintage on-tap, but I do remember that while '08 and '09 both smelled brutally hoppy when first tapped, the hop character vanished from '08 in only a few months. On the plus side, the cloying nature that the '08 displayed after a few months is largely gone, and while certainly sweeter it's actually quite pleasant.

The score is representative solely of the bottles as they tasted circa October 2010.

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Photo of Hopheadjeffery
4.5/5  rDev +1.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

First tasted in 2013 in a Rastal Teku from a 750 ml bottle. Most recently tasted in a 12 oz snifter from cask at Firkin on October 25, 2016. Smooth and rich with cocoa, vanilla, charred oak and dried fruit aromas and flavors. Highly recommended.

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Photo of drabmuh
4.18/5  rDev -5.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2008 bottle. Beer is black with a thick brown head of small bubbles that leaves a lot of lacing on the glass.

The aroma is sweet and some roastiness. Smells good.

The beer is sweet and has a definite chocolate bitter / semisweet flavor to it. There is a nice maltiness to the beer that is really nice. Beer overall has a medium body and as it warms there is more caramel in the palate. Drinkability high and mouthfeel is high. I'd be interested in the other vintages.

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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 ShanePB
3.05/5  rDev -31%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Vintage 2009, black wax. Poured into a tasting glass, courtesy of an anonymous BA at Imminent Liquidation. Thanks for the opportunity!

A: Darkness is no understatement - pitch jet black with a very minimal mocha colored head. Quick dissipation, not bad.

S: Nice aromatics, some lactose, sweet notes of milk chocolate, roasted caramel malt elements. Well balanced, nothing dominating or show stealing. All in all, it's still a nice display of flavors.

T: Holy hell, this is not as inviting as the aroma. Really sweet milkiness up-front that is palate coating and sticky. It won't go away. I can't get any other flavors to compete with this taste left in my mouth. Some overly sweet chocolate notes try to break through but it's not enough. Where's the roast? The malt base? SOMETHING! Nothing. Disappointing.

M: Pretty thin for the style, definitely does not have the creaminess or full-bodied mouth feel I am looking for. The carbonation is on the lower end, which helps this from becoming a complete mess.

I'm not quite sure if it was just this vintage or if something went wrong in this bottle but it tasted soured, but I don't think there were any reports of infection, so I'm just assuming this was how it was meant to be. I'd gladly taste another vintage to see what the heck was going on here. Thanks again though to whoever brought the bottle, not your fault, but just a let down for a beer I've almost traded a lot for -- or even dropped some $$ for on the 'bay.

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Photo of GreesyFizeek
4.69/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

2012 vintage courtesy of stillmatic2232 at the Ithaca Luminous release.

Pours a dark, abyss depths-like black. 2 inch head mocha head, good lacing in the glass.

Smells like dark roasted malt, some dark fruits, chocolate, and espresso.

The taste is similar. One of the biggest expressions of dark fruits- raisins, plums, dark tart cherries- I've had in a sout. The roasted malt and chocolate keep the dark fruit flavor from being too cloying. Some espresso bean flavors as well.

Thick, syrupy mouthfeel, sweet start, bitter finish. No alcohol presence, despite the imperial ABV.

Amazing stuff, really glad I finally got to try it.

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Photo of VeganUndead
4.85/5  rDev +9.7%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Enjoyed a 2012 vintage with a friend after letting it age for 2 months, this is the second best imperial stout I've ever had imo, only falling short to Abyss. Really excited about the 2011 I've got in the cellar, going to have to think of an excuse to open that some day. Cheers

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Darkness from Surly Brewing Company
4.42 out of 5 based on 3,787 ratings.
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