5:15 a.m. and 37 degrees…
The chill in the air was already seeping into our bones as our group of six rolled up to Surly Brewing in the still of pre-dawn, eagerly awaiting our first taste of this year’s vintage of Darkness. Not a single soul was standing in line on the street, save for a few tents pitched on the nearby lawn and a lone RV parked near the front gate.

We planted our flag in the ground at the head of the line, set up our chairs, and opened the cooler filled with rare and difficult-to-find beers…Russian River Consecration Batch One, Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous, Alesmith Speedway Stout, Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, Ballast Point Sculpin, Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza, and The Bruery Saison Rue. Within minutes, we were joined by a couple bleery-eyed guys who had driven up from Chicago that same night, and after the obligatory Vikings/Bears and Twins/White Sox taunting, we cracked a few bottles and happily shared some beer with our new friends.

Darkness Day 2009 was successfully under way. 

6:15 a.m. and 38 degrees…
A snaking line of fellow craft beer lovers quietly formed down the street as we set up our bean bag boards and started in for what would be a nearly six hour slog before the doors opened at noon.

Thermoses of hot coffee and bombers of good beer were passed around to folks huddled together in winter coats, mittens, and warm blankets. There was a quiet understanding amongst those of us in line…we were a small tribe of beer lovers, gathered from near and far enjoying each other’s company and generously sharing resources to ensure everyone’s experience was a good one.

The cool morning slowly pressed on.

8:05 a.m. and 41 degrees…
I took to our small propane camp grill as the sun broke above the horizon, churning out brats and cheddarwurst like a short-order cook. 

Several Surly staff and volunteers began rolling in to prepare for the day, including owner Omar Ansari who generously wheeled out not one but two kegs of Coffee Bender for the crowd to enjoy. Unbelievably fresh and potent with intense notes of cold-pressed coffee set upon a rounded backdrop of caramel, cocoa and silky oatmeal. A perfect way to usher in the morning.

9:45 a.m. and 42 degrees…
The tasting table magically appeared out of nowhere 50 feet down line from us, and we quickly brought a number of our bombers to share. Glasses were happily filled with the likes of Port Brewing Santa’s Little Helper, Alesmith Anvil, New Glarus Unplugged Old English Porter and Wisconsin Belgian Red, Three Floyd’s Dark Lord, Captain Lawrence Xtra Gold, and countless others.

Several friends bellied up to the table, including Shawn and Mike from The Beer Genome Project, Brad from Hop Cast, and fellow Twin Cities home brewer Nate (thanks again for the empanadas). We all quickly forgot about our frozen feet and numb fingers with each sip of incredible beer.

11:30 a.m. and 44 degrees…
The line weaved several blocks down the road, nearly 800 people holding tightly onto their own special pieces of real estate like burrowed ticks. Volunteers began checking ID’s and passing out wrist bands. A palpable sense of excitement rushed through the crowd as the kilted bag pipers emerged, tuning up their instruments to ring in what promised to be an incredible afternoon filled with Surly’s finest.       

12:01 p.m. and 45 degrees…
The line quickly poured in through the gates, trampling over the bedding of straw that had been strewn over the muddy ground in front of the stage set up for the afternoon’s line-up of bands. Logistically, the operation was a smooth one, very well-organized to ensure everyone got into the brewery and received their allotment of Darkness in an orderly fashion.

After purchasing our bottles of Darkness, we bought a handful of beer tokens and got a pour of this year’s vintage…utterly divine, and noticeably different from last year with less dominating molasses and sweet malt flavors. Perfectly balanced, likely the best batch yet (more extensive review to come).   

1:30 p.m. and 45 degrees…
We mingled outside the brewery, sampling several other fresh Surly beers including Wet, Fest, and Tea-Bagged Furious on cask. The first band of the day, Kruddler, ripped through its aggressive set, a perfect soundtrack to the prolific craft beer enjoyment taking place yards away amongst the Surly faithful. It’d been a long, cold day for our small group, thankfully filled with new friends, incredible beers and many great memories. We left a happy bunch, already looking forward to next year.

Huge thanks to Omar, Todd and all the Surly volunteers for the beer, the time and the effort that went into making it a great experience for everyone.