It’s been more than six weeks since I published my last dedicated review, with a smattering of stories mixed in here and there. Call it the post-GABF slump.

Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve tried to hold myself to a loose goal of two, sometimes three, stories a week. But following my trip to Denver, I think I pretty much expended most of my beer writing energy for a while. Which has been just fine, however, since life has been a bit busy around The Captain’s abode, to say the least.

In addition to putting in some long hours at work, my wife and I have been anxiously preparing for the birth of our daughter later this month, and I couldn’t be more excited. 

It’s been a significant mental shift, and at times a bit tricky balancing my love affair with yeast with all the changes and new responsibilities that come with preparing to be a new father. Instead of brewing or bottling homebrew, I’m following IKEA-like diagrams to assemble cribs and glider chairs. Instead of heading up to The Blue Nile, Acadia Cafe or Town Hall to sample the latest wares, I’m attending baby classes at the hospital learning about proper swaddling techniques and how to securely fasten an infant car seat. Who knew babies needed to eat up to 8-12 times per day? Wait…so does that also mean…well, good thing I paid attention in the diaper class.

With less than three weeks to go, we are in the long-awaited final stretch…and when I say “we” I’m of course referring primarily to my beautiful wife who has been nothing short of amazing throughout this entire process. Pretty sure there’s a reason women were blessed with the ability to bear children as opposed to men. Because if I were in my wife’s shoes, I would have likely thrown in the towel months ago, considering my threshold for pain and discomfort is that of a soccer player flopping on the ground after stubbing his toe on a blade of grass. 

Pregnancy is an amazing thing…it’s difficult to put into words the emotions of love and total awe that I’ve felt watching our little family grow with each passing day. It’s exciting and scary all at the same time, and I’m trying my best to fully take in every moment of it.

Somehow amidst all the baby prep, I did manage to make my way out to this year’s Darkness Day at Surly, what proved to be another incredibly fun experience meeting new friends and enjoying some of the best craft beer in the country.

Not having much free time to run out with my fellow beer geeks in town and take in what seems to be a large number of bars tapping Darkness 2009, I decided to crack the wax on one of my bottles on Halloween night (seemed apropos) and sit down to immerse myself in this year’s vintage (or is it bintage?).

Poured into my 2008 commemorative snifter with a very deep and rich ebony appearance befitting its name. A nice mocha colored head briefly formed, but quickly retreated under the strength of the beer below. It’s cliche, but this beer truly does benefit from warming to near room temperature. I’d cooled the bottle down for an hour in the refrigerator to about 55 degrees, and the hop character, certainly much more perceptible in this year’s batch than 2008 (and closer to 2006 and 2007 versions), came off a little too dominant in the nose for my taste compared to the somewhat muted malt, I’m certain a result of the chilling. Not sure what varieties were used, but somewhat dank and earthy (guessing Fuggles), not citrusy or piney.

After giving the glass some time to warm, the aroma came right back into balance, providing a suitable segue to what is truly a spectacular malt foundation complete with flavors of molasses, coffee, roasted barley, and chocolate. More of the bittering hops in the finish, mingling with cocoa and a faint alcohol burn.

Aroma and flavor aside, one of the common denominators across many of Surly’s offerings that I’ve always loved and admired is the mouthfeel…whether it’s Furious, Bender or a huge beer like Darkness, there’s a trademark chewyness that you frankly don’t find in many other beers. Call it something like a “house flavor,” or simply Todd’s unique brewing stamp. Whatever the case, it completely sets Darkness apart from most other imperial stouts out there, making it a perennial front runner in my book as one of the best examples of the style.

So bottom line…what kind of beer are we dealing with here? I think an offering that surpasses nearly every expectation that’s been heaped upon it, delighting with nuanced complexity sip after sip. However, taking into account all my genuine superlatives in describing Darkness 2009, I’m ever so slightly partial to last year’s sweeter, more malt-forward version, which I realize is the distinct anomaly in the Darkness portfolio to date.

Rating: A