Tasting 7 years of Surly Darkness in one sitting – how it's changed over the years

We tried seven of them in one sitting.
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It's a Surly Darkness lover's dream come true – and we got to participate. 

This is the 10th year Darkness, a Russian imperial stout, has been bottled. It was actually first brewed in 2006, but only released in growlers and kegs – so it doesn't really exist anymore.

And if you haven't been a Darkness fan from the beginning, there's a good chance you haven't had them all. 

So when Surly invited us to their Brooklyn Center brewery for a vertical – tasting seven years of Darkness, side by side, to see how they have changed since being bottled – we jumped at the chance. 

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And boy did some of them taste different.

That's the cool thing about beer (and wine). Although the Darkness recipe has stayed pretty much the same over the last decade, the characters in the beer can change over time due to various factors

The few dozen of us invited to the brewery got to try Darkness from 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. And because tasting beer is highly subjective, most of the people at my table had something different to say about each year. 

Let me preface this: It wasn't easy to taste the differences between each year on their own. But after sipping up and down the vertical a few times – and drinking plenty of water in between to cleanse my palate – different elements started to jump out, and I was really able to compare them.

How Darkness compares across the years

For the most part, the older beers tasted more bitter, while the younger beers seemed to taste sweeter, covering up any bitterness. 

As I sipped through the years (multiple times), I was finally able to start picking out different aromas and tastes. 

Like Darkness 2008: I tasted and smelled a lot of cherry flavors, while other people picked out meat and tobacco characters in the brew. 

Darkness 2012 tasted a lot like dandelions to me, but I didn't notice how prominent that flavor was until I went up the vertical and then sipped them in reverse.

Then there's Darkness 2014. It was my favorite year of the tasting – and the only year of Darkness that has all been barrel aged. And that right there was why it was my favorite (and also the easiest to tell apart from the other years). 

Both 2016 and 2017 are both very similar – they were sweeter than the earlier years, and only slightly bitter tasting. 

With Darkness 2017, it was much easier to pick out the flavors the Russian imperial stout was meant to taste like – chocolate, toffee and a little cherry flavor.

Oh, and no sign of the booziness that is the 12 percent ABV beer. 

The group's favorite? There wasn't one

A show of hands at the end of the vertical showed there wasn't one year everybody loved or one everybody disliked, and each person seemed to have a different reason for liking each year. 

While some of my favorites were 2014 (obviously) 2011 and 2016, a bunch of other people in attendance liked 2008 and 2012 – the two years that were probably my least favorite of the bunch.

That being said, if you handed me a bottle of Darkness – any year – I would be so grateful, and enjoy every sip. Because if I hadn't tasted these beers in a vertical, I'm sure I would have loved them all – including 2008 and 2012 – equally.

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