Surly Darkness is the most in-demand beer in the Midwest.
Like Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper, it’s the kind of beer people camp out for. It even comes with its own holiday -- Darkness Day -- celebrated every October at Surly’s Brooklyn Center facility.
But this year’s a little different.
Darkness will be distributed to Surly’s outstate markets -- Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin -- and for the first time, to North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska. Such an occasion calls for a larger spectacle, and Surly has just the thing. The Paint the Town Black campaign began Monday and will continue through Darkness Day 2016 on October 15.
Paint the Town Black is led by a trio of devilishly dark limited-time offerings. First is Furious Black, a velvety take on Surly’s flagship, Furious, which debuted on September 26. Resembling Bent Paddle Black Ale, it’s a softer take on the biting Furious with a stronger malt backbone. Taking its name from the Harry Potter character Sirius Black (the Surly brewers are nerds), the black ale will run on local taplines until it's replaced by Damien.
An obvious reference to The Omen, Damien is getting its first bottle release. For the past five years, Surly has brewed two beers with the grain used to make Darkness. Since Darkness is an imperial, it requires a ton of grain to make. But there are unused sugars in those grains -- enough to make a second beer. That’s Damien. Son of Darkness.
Previously only available at Darkness Day on tap, Damien used to rate around 9% ABV, but this year is a more traditional 6.5% -- about half the gravity of Darkness. About 12,000 bottles of Damien will be sent out to liquor stores on October 3 as the second phase of Paint the Town Black. It will also be available on tap.
To fully understand Damien, you need to know the beast that begat it. As the offspring of Darkness, it has a similar oaky wine richness to its forebearer. But there’s much less alcohol and sweetness. As an ale (and not a stout), its body is crisp, though there’s a big mocha froth that follows it out of the bottle.
Then, there’s the pièce de résistance. The reason any of these gargoyles exist in the first place.
Head brewer and founder Todd Haug considers 2016’s Darkness as the most refined annual release from Surly yet. Despite its intimidating 13% ABV, the beer goes down silky. There’s some latent booze taste, but that’s overpowered by notes of raisin and plum and caramel malts. It’s an exquisite brew -- one that’s complex and resplendent -- which makes it all the more impressive that they managed such balance in the biggest Darkness batch they’ve ever brewed.
Darkness will be distributed starting October 17. Unlike in previous years, the barrel-aged version won’t be on shelves for a few months. Lead brewer Jerrod Johnson wanted to focus on getting as many bottles and kegs of Darkness into production without setting aside too much for the rye barrels. Johnson estimates the barrel-aged take will debut in early 2017.
All three Surlys are extremely limited, and none of the unholy trio will last very long. All three beers came from Darkness, one of City Pages' top 100 dishes last year, and that’s where they’ll return before November.