Blue Collar Brew Review – Surly Darkness Russian Imperial Stout

Surly BreweryI pretty much knew what the local bottle shops had on their shelves and took it upon myself to take another trek out to Cardinal in Joliet. I’ve heard rumblings that Bell’s Hopslam was just about due and I thought a revisitation of tasting of that 2013 or 14 beer would be in order for this week.

Once inside the store, I asked the guy at the register, “Hopslam?”


Crap! Now what was I going to do? I sauntered off to the shelves and began scanning. Through the Belgians and the sours and all the way down the line. I settled on a couple of bombers of an imperial stout from Left Hand Brewing. They were modestly priced; couldn’t pass it up. Yeah… I could do a stout, what with all this blistering cold weather we’ve been having in the area.

I placed the bottles on the counter and got more info on Hopslam. They told me not to worry, they were expecting 20 cases from the distributor. The beer would go live for sale at noon Friday.

While I handed over my plastic, the other guy at the counter reached up on the top shelf behind him. “Ever had this?” What he held in his hand was bottle of Surly Darkness. I made some stupid OMG geek comment and in the blink of an eye, with total disregard to my financial situation, I said I’d take it. Another OMG gasp as I saw that the price was over 25 bucks! Sorry, limit one per customer. Crap, again! But maybe I’m better off.

Without putting any of my selections back on the shelves, I bought the Darkness as well. I could hear the exhaust gasses coming out of my credit card as the guy scanned it.

Darkness bottleThe rest of the day, I struggled with the idea of storing the Darkness, or sharing it with the family, or passing it around at a homebrew club meeting, or just drinking it for review on Saturday. Since I’m not really that big on storing beer over long periods I decided to “share” the single bottle of Darkness with you all tonight by writing about my experience.

I spent some time doing research, looking at opinions, stats, ABV, IBUs others’ reviews. Surly Darkness is a beer of legends, ranking high on everyone’s list as a taste you must try.

The bottle for this year’s edition had the top coated in a thick red wax, similar to the Great Dark Lord of Munster, Indiana. It took a bit of chiseling with my pocket knife to free up an area where the opener would catch. Once the bottle was uncapped, I poured the beer not really knowing what to expect.

Darkness foamThe beer poured a very dark brown. It wasn’t dense black like used motor oil but dark enough, a nice dark brown. The head came up to over an inch with a nice brown color. No light shone through the glass. The aroma was of dark chocolatey malt and perhaps a tad bit of dark fruit.

The first sip was incredible and not what I was expecting. It was a blast of huge bold flavors on the palate that painted the colors of the spectrum. There was a lotta stuff going on in this beer.

The mouthfeel was very bold and covered the inside of the mouth with a thick coating. No alcohol could be tasted, no bourbon barrel, hardly any hops, just a very rich and nice, smooth, somewhat chocolatey taste without it overstating the chocolate. Dark roasted malts are there but muted. There was no harshness at all. It was almost like popping the top on a squeeze bottle of Hershey syrup and filling up your mouth. But yet again, the chocolate flavors were muted as well. But the drinking experience of this beer gave me that wonderful Hershey feeling.

In the mouth, the beer isn’t heavy, it’s just big and bold in the flavor department. The beer was nicely sweet, not cloying. There were dark red fruit flavors there but I couldn’t discern which ones they were. That burnt roast malt taste that usually comes with a Russian Imperial are not here. It was as if all the roughness was sanded off to a smooth finish.

The Surly website has Darkness as a seasonal beer available in October. It also states that there are 85 IBUs in the beer, but I’ll be damned if I could taste any hoppiness. Then there’s discrepancy about the alcohol content. The Surly site claim 9.6% but shows a bottle with an old label. RateBeer claims 9.6% as well, while the other guys claim it’s 10.3%. What of it. It’s damn near impossible to taste the difference of .9% in a beer this big. In my opinion.

I can’t get over how wonderful this beer tastes. It has all the trappings of big, bold Russian Imperial stout yet comes off like a giant, tame black bear that likes to be petted. If you’ve ever tried New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk, Darkness far surpasses it in smoothness, drinkability and taste.

Dark Lord is another story completely. Although there seem to be many similarities between the two beers, one can only do justice to both beers through a side by side taste comparison. Plus, I also understand that Dark Lord’s recipe varies from year to year. This Surly Darkness is, in my estimation, similar to the 2012 Dark Lord with the exception being the ABV: 15% vs. 9.6%.

Darkness glass

Darkness is a most magnificent big stout with a silky smooth and sweet taste. No bitterness and no harsh burnt malt flavors. It’s a slow easy sipper for the cold months and a world class drinking experience. If you live out here in the midwest, Surly Darkness, as well as many of their other beers are available in certain areas. Be prepared to cough up the cash, though. One bomber of Darkness is almost as expensive as 2 bombers of Dark Lord. But then again, you don’t have to buy a ticket at the brewery just for the privilege of buying the beer.

Darkness is phe-nahh-men-al!

Surly-Darkness-2013The SixPackTech summary for Surly Darkness Russian Imperial Stout:

Style: Russian Imperial / American Double Stout
Taste: Out of this world with flavors that will gently tuck you in bed.
Smoothness: Ridiculously easy to drink.
Drinkability: One bottle is not enough. Two are too many.
Bang for the buck: Reserved judgement. You have to taste it.
Amount paid: $25.99 per 750ml bottle.
Get it again? Hell yeah, when I have the money.
ABV: I’ll go with 9.6%.
Brewer’s website
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Jeesh. (sniff) Yeah, heavy. (sip) Blecch. Noooo thank you. It’s heavy and bitter and dry. Like it’s thick. (Hey come back! I thought you liked chocolate.)

Surly Darkness Day 2012 – very similar to Dark Lord Day

Speaking of Darkness… here’s Dave Chappelle’s Charlie Murphy vs. Rick James skit – if the language offends you, don’t watch it.





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