May 2, 2019

Surly Barrel-Aged Darkness

I’ve been lucky enough the past couple of years to have the opportunity to sample (and thoroughly enjoy) Surly’s annual Darkness release. both releases have more than lived up to their reputation and then some. The big Russian imperial stout is typically released with great affair at the brewery’s Darkness Day extravaganza. Music and barrel-aged variations of the stout are available to those who attend.

I’ve never had the chance to make the trip and, more than likely, chances of doing so in the future are slim – as is the case with the majority of craft beer drinkers. I’ve been enjoying beer for a long time and, long ago, accepted that there are special releases that will never grace my tastebuds with their white-whaleness. What I’m getting at here is that I never expected to have the opportunity to sample any of Surly’s barrel-aged versions of Darkness, let alone anticipate a complimentary bottle aged in rye whiskey barrels to arrive on my door step.

And, yet, there I was a few days ago, staring in disbelief at this particular bottle of Barrel-Aged Darkness. Words like flabbergasted, confusion, joy, excitement joined a myriad of thoughts like “is this a mistake” and “uhhhhhh…” in my rattled brain.

The original Darkness was surely a bucket list beer for me. This barrel variant is beyond that. And with that mentality, it obviously had unrealistic expectations to live up to. So, instead of opening the bottle the day it arrived, I put it in the cellar for a few lunar cycles in order to clear my mind and temper the delirium.

The big Russian stout is good. Darn good. The rye whiskey doesn’t overly dominate, but instead provides a smooth peppery rye presence while the wood imparts vanilla, anise and latent oaky notes. All of that plus espresso, anise, molasses and chocolate wash effortlessly over the palate, heading into the long lasting finish with a teasing hop bitterness.

Darkness and its barrel-aged compadres are always adorned with imagery of evil, mythical creatures that may drive fear in some. The drooling minotaur on this label is a bit misleading in that regard. This is a big, bold beer for sure, but evil? It’s more suave like Al Pacino’s portrayal in “Devil’s Advocate. This is a smooth, decadent beer with incredible flavor and dynamic presentation. Not a beer to be feared.

This is a review of a promotional sample.