CBG Visits Surly Brewing for Darkness Day 2011

On a cold day in October, almost 24 hrs before the release. People begin setting up camp, bundling up, and preparing for a cold night in line. While this may sound like the latest iPhone release, it’s the latest beer release from Surly Brewing just outside Minneapolis Minnesota. Darkness Russian Imperial Stout 2011.

Stub and Herbs Taplist

We arrived at our hotel 10 minutes away from the brewery the around 8pm and decided to grab some food and then hit the pre-release party that is thrown at a local bar Stub & Herbs for their tapping of Darkness 2011 as well as most of the other Surly beers that would be available. Other then the Surly beers they had some incredible selections such as Deschutes Abyss 2010 and 2011, Stone IRS Bourbon Aged 2008, KBS 2010, and many others. We sampled many less from the list then we wanted, then called it a night. Before hitting the hotel we drove by Surly at 1am to see how the campers and line were coming along. Probably 100-200 people in line by this time. They were grilling, listening to music, and toasting some great beers. Based on this we changed our arrival time from 7am to 6am.






After only 4 hours of sleep we got ready and headed to the line. Parking was easy with Surly having people on hand already directing you to lots where to park. Unloaded the car and casually walked to the back of the line. The first 1200 people in line got a wristband for the chance to buy 6 bottles of Darkness, and I was sort of worried we might not be in the first 1200, this was at 6am and the festival didn’t open until 11am. We started to crack open some beers and share with others around us, as we usually do at these types of events. About 8am they started to walk the line, check ID’s, and hand out the wristbands. We got our wristbands which guaranteed us our 6 bottles each. Shortly after a forklift pulled up right next to us and dropped a keg of Mo’s Bender. A version of Bender brewed with coffee, cocoa nibs, and vanilla beans, then aged on cherry and birch wood. This was a real treat to have them put kegs out for all in line to enjoy. Later a keg of Damien, a beer made from the second runnings of Darkness, appeared down the line a bit from us.

At this point we decided to walk the line and see how things were going in other sections of this massive line. So first we opened our bottle of 2010 Dark Lord and filled our glasses. Then walking the line offering Dark Lord to many people, we got a chance to find out that about 7am was the cut off for the people who didn’t get wristbands. So anyone who arrived after 7am would have to wait until 4pm to have a chance to buy any left overs of Darkness. We walked to the front of the line as well, and grabbed some breakfast from the food trucks which had some great food. Just before 11am the Surly crew announced they were about to open the gates and let us in. See the video below.

Right past the gates they were set up to do face painting and make you up as a Zombie (This years monster theme on the Darkness Bottle). A bit further down was the new location for the food trucks within the gates, then the stage right before the brewery and beer tents. We walked right into the bottle line and got our bottles within 15 minutes. The line organization was incredible, and flowed real smooth and quick. Inside the brewery while you walked through the line you were treated to random clips from classic black and white monster movies projected onto the wall. We grabbed out bottles, dropped them off at the car, and headed back in to relax and grab some of the limited cask releases as well as food and listen to the bands.

The Chef Shack Pulled Pork Nachos

To help speed the lines for pours they required tokens for each cup. Tokens were a separate table. Each token was $4 and 1 token per pour regardless of what it was. 12oz of Darkness, Furious, Bender etc, and even the cask drafts like Tea Bagged Furious or Bourbon Barrel Aged Darkness. I believe this helped lines move very fast, even the special cask taps you only waited maybe 15 minutes. The organization of the entire fest was phenomenal and really made the entire experience great. Outside beer was not allowed on the festival grounds; however, this was not a problem since once you got in you were sampling the great Surly offerings. Outside the gates where the line once was people continued to relax and share other brews, but those inside were relaxing with the latest Darkness offering and others.


Cask Beer Tent

About 3 hours after the gates opened there was no longer a line for bottle purchases, all 1200 or close to it had gone through the line. A smaller line began to form about this time for the 4pm non wristband sales. We got in line at the cask tent for the 2:30 tapping of the Bourbon Barrel Aged Darkness. Once they tapped it took less then 10 minutes to get our cup. We toasted to the entire days experience and decided to wrap up our Darkness Day adventure.

This was our first Darkness Day and I have to say it was a great time and worth the trip. The entire fest was well organized and a very relaxed environment. The line to get wristbands was not chaotic, and people respected each other. Surly showing its appreciation by dropping off free kegs throughout the line was a treat for all. Something that I’m sure didn’t cost the brewery much to do, and had a great impact on the crowds appreciation for Surly and all they offer to us beer geeks. The festival grounds inside the gates was very spacious, plenty of food vendors and beer tents serving. The cask tent also had seating for over 100 people to relax. The only thing I didn’t like was how early we had to get there to get a wristband. Mainly because I’m not a morning person.

Overall the people were great, the staff very helpful and accommodating, and just a great festival. Surly we thank you for a great time and for our Darkness and will be back again next year. Oh and if you had to clean up some Chicago Beer Geeks cards right by the door for bottles, sorry about that. Pulled out my wallet to get my cash and they all fell. Didn’t want to get trampled trying to pick them up.

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Founder of Chicago Beer Geeks also Founder of Windy City Stangs, a Chicagoland Mustang Club. I work in the IT industry but also do some DJ work at local bars and clubs.


  1. Great write-up Dan! I will definitely have to tag along next year!

  2. I wish I lived in Minnesota when I started hearing about this. Sounds like a fun idea that a brewery would have a pre-release party. Also I keep hearing about the beer and I would love to try some if I am ever in the area.

  3. Minnesota knows how to throw a party..the complimentary kegs of Damien and Moes Bender were a real nice touch. I think Surly set the standard for hospitality..these were some of their rare beers they gave out to the masses in line..very cool.It was insane to see so many people camp out over night..nice job capturing the vibe from a kick ass day Danno!

  4. Met you guys in line while waiting for BA Bourbon Darkness. You gave me your card. Nice write up. Hope to see you guys at some local CHI events.

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