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Written by Michael
There is a Darkness in the world of beer. It clings to the dusty bottles, hidden in the back rooms and basements of the nation. It lingers around liquor stores, stirring up urges to sample edgy varieties, to venture into wild, uncharted lands. And it binds, it brings those together who share the passion and ties them together over a cool pint of brew. While I suspected this Darkness, this presence, in the beer community, I didn’t realize just how strong it was.
In the few days leading up to Christmas, my father and future brother-in-law and I made a trip out to a local liquor store. I had heard rave reviews about this fine establishment, so trekking through the drifts of snow seemed like a small price to pay to check it out. While I am used to the Chicagoland’s very commercial, but incredibly stocked Binny’s, I was still impressed upon opening the door. The small store made incredible use of its beer section. It seemed only to lack the quantity per item that Binny’s boasted, but failed not on selection or variety. My dad was shocked, not realizing the roots of the beer world grew so deep just a few miles from his door. We all wandered about for several minutes, our arms soon overwhelmed with bottles of brews we had yet to try. Setting them down on the counter, we struck up a bit of a conversation with the young, friendly proprietor. I described The Perfectly Happy Man and he seemed intrigued, wishing us well on our new venture into a world he knew and loved.
Eventually, talk became more beer-specific. We spoke about our likes and dislikes, products we would love to try and beer that even Binny’s couldn’t stock. Surly Brewing Company became a point of conversation, as a Minnesota-born beer, and he began describing a fine, limited beer they release at Halloween, a Russian Imperial Stout. It sounded good, and naive as we were, we asked if he had any for sale. He paused, awkwardly contemplative, looking each of us directly in the eyes. “I think I can get you some,” he said, heavily mysterious. We looked at each other, not sure if we were doing something illegal or something life-changing. Without another word, he pushed his way through a back door and reappeared moments later, a brown paper bag in hand. “Don’t tell anyone where you got this,” he said, with a pleading urgency in his voice. Then it hit us. This man, whether simply a nice guy or infused with a bit of the holiday spirit, had just stolen from his own treasure trove, his personal stash. He elaborated, telling us Surly Darkness had been released long ago and he had been ‘sold out’ for quite some time. We thanked him profusely and paid him well and found our way back to our car. It was the first story of such, for us, and it was invigorating. We had come to a place yet undiscovered, we had stumbled through the door accidentally and now found ourselves in a new world, the tightly knit underworld of beer. We had acquired something more priceless than paid advertising or a buzzing stream of website traffic. We had acquired beer that was nearly impossible to get.
The next couple of days became Darkness focused. We were so anxious to sample this most illusive of beers, that we wanted the absolutely perfect moment. We didn’t want it too early, we didn’t want it too late. We didn’t want it with food, but didn’t want to be too full on Swedish tea ring or Christmas cookies to enjoy it. Finally, the right moment came, the perfect sampling mood, and we partook.
Expectations were, undoubtedly, high. Darkness didn’t let us down. The brew poured an incredible black, the full glass practically disappearing into the black table on which it was set. Its opaqueness was capped by a head you could walk on, dark brown, almost like frothed coffee. The few seconds after completing the first pour were interesting. The head began at a slight line across the top, but then grew rapidly, like the little toy dinosaurs that expand in water. It exploded to three fingers or better and retained through the duration of my tasting. The puffy head left a trail as well, lacing down the sides of the glass like tire tracks on a dirt road. The smell was complex, almost too complex for my uneducated nose and I took it in less than I should have, so anxious to take that first sip. It was dark, oh was it dark. The rich, full-bodied flavor was overwhelming. It was sprinkled with vanilla and cherries and a heavy dose of coffee beans. While the flavors were unique and memorable, the part that sets this beer apart was the way it went down. It would have been much less enjoyable, so robust the flavors of toasty burnt malt, but for the unbelievable smoothness. It was liquid velvet, coating the inside of my mouth and throat all the way through to a bit of a sour, burnt finish. It was incredible. I had never had a beer like it before. The blend of tastes, texture and visual appeal made it an experience I will remember for years to come. However, even better than the beer, was the community we entered, one of stored secrets and whispered appeals for mouth-watering brews. One of camaraderie, friendship and common enjoyment of a beer well brewed.
Grade: ASurly Darkness,