This weekend was a big weekend in Minnesota….I mean Wisconsin. The good people at Surly Brewing held their 11th annual celebration of Darkness, their renowned Russian Imperial Stout. Because of the popularity of the event, they moved it from their brewery in Minneapolis to the Somerset Amphitheater in Somerset, Wisconsin. Moving the celebration to a location more suitable for a festival like environment was probably a wise choice! The different attendance packages Surly offered included on-site camping – love that option for an event like this! Let everyone have a great time and minimize the potential for trouble. They also provided shuttles from Minneapolis for those who couldn’t do the camping thing. Nice move, Surly!
This year, Surly released for the first-time ever three bottles Darkness variants! Aside from the OG Darkness, they released a Bourbon Barrel-aged Cherry Vanilla Darkness, a Rum barrel-aged Coconut Darkness and a Fernet Barrel-aged Darkness. I’d love to try the Rum BA Coconut Darkness! For those who are wondering (including me), according to Wikipedia, Fernet is made from a number of herbs and spices which vary according to the brand, but usually include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, and especially saffron, with a base of grape distilled spirits. Sounds interesting!! I think I’d like to try that variant as well!
Aside from the Darkness release party, Surly arranged for a few of their closest friends to come to Wisconsin and pour some of their darkest creations. Some participating breweries included Burial (North Carolina!), Trophy Brewing (North Carolina!), Toppling Goliath (Iowa), Half Acre (Chicago), Mikerphone (Chicago), Cigar City (Tampa) and Sixpoint (Brooklyn)……a nice touch and some fantastic pours, I’m sure!
If a Darkness release and a Stoutfest wasn’t enough, Surly outdid themselves with a tasty metal music lineup (Saturday headliner: Carcass), other extreme music (Friday headliner: Sick of It All), a community bottle share, and food trucks to keep everyone happy.
Also for those who love the Darkness label artwork (count me among that crowd), this year’s Darkness art was designed by St. Paul-based artist Michael Iver Jacobsen. Michael drew a minotaur brooding at the center of his labyrinth.
I had a chance to do an email interview with Jerrod Johnson, head brewer at Surly a few months ago. He gave me a preview of Darkness Day (see the question about the variants) along with some insights into the how and why of Darkness:
- What was the inspiration behind the creation of Darkness?
Jerrod: The Surly Nation loves two things: Surly beer and truly dark metal music. Darkness is basically our loving tribute to them.
- What do you feel is unique or separates Darkness from it’s RIS peers?
Jerrod: Darkness is a huge imperial stout that uses the highest quality ingredients. Unlike many imperial stouts, we add a massive amount of aromatic hops. This both balances the intense malty sweetness of the base beer and adds mysterious notes of forest and pine. The hops fade over time, so if you like it hoppy, drink it fresh
- What do you feel barrel aging does to Darkness?
Jerrod: Barrel aging brings out more complex malty notes from the introduction of small amounts of oxygen in the barrel, creates vanilla and oak notes, and adds a perceived dryness that helps to balance the sweetness of the stout. The character of the original liquid, in this case rye whiskey, also carries over into the beer.
- Have you considered any additional variants? Other barrel types?
Jerrod: Yes, we’ve created several variants on a very limited scale, mostly as single firkins or infusion kegs. Vanilla Darkness aged on Red Oak, Cherry Darkness, and Fernet BA Darkness all turned out great. We have exclusively used rye whiskey barrels for our BA Darkness releases but are experimenting with other types of barrels.
Thanks to Tiffany Jackson from Surly for connecting me with Jerrod! Tiffany is the PR and Communications Manager at Surly and she has been great to work with!
I appreciate the time, effort, and thought that Surly put into this year’s Darkness Weekend! They really put their customers first in creating a top experience. Count me amongst those who will put the 2019 Darkness Weekend on my calendar!!
There are many release events around the country that try and provide the best experience for their fans…funny how most of them are Stout related!! That being said, I’m not sure if any of them outdo Surly’s Darkness Weekend! Some may come close or equal it, but outdo? I doubt it.
Let me know what your favorite release event is and why!