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The Beer Circle » American Brown Ale, American Wild Ale, Imperial IPA, IPA, Russian Imperial Stout, Surly Brewing Co. » Event: Surly Brewing Company at Churchkey

Event: Surly Brewing Company at Churchkey

Last weekend at Churchkey, Washington DC’s famous beer bar, Surly Brewing Company out of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota was on display with 10 offerings available. Surly’s Founder Omar Ansari even flew in to mingle with patrons, talking about anything from why Surly doesn’t can Darkness to future plans for the brewery. I got out of work a little early and grabbed a seat by the windows to hunker down and get my share of Surly goodness.

I know that typical tasting rules dictate that you start lightest and move to the darkest beer, but Surly Darkness was just staring at me and I have no self control.

Darkness 2011
Appearancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The pour is fittingly black with at least a finger of thick brown head. The lacing really coats the glass nicely with a creamy head that seemingly lasts forever.
Smellwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The aroma starts continues the wonderful experience that is Surly Darkness. Roast mixes with the chocolate and molasses in amounts that you'd expect from a good RIS. A slight booze character ties is all together.
Tastewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Deep, dark, delicious chocolate just dominates the taste. Overall it is sweet, but not cloyingly so as sometimes experience with big Russian Imperial Stouts. The roast really helps out here. It is subtle but as the beer warms and the booze sticks out its head, the roast lends a nice balance.
Mouthfeel/Drinkabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Darkness rests really thick on the palate, yet still boasts a nice amount of carbonation. The finish is not as dry as I had anticipated, but a warming alcohol sensation is noted. This is just so drinkable it's on a different level compared to other big stouts.
Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The 4oz glass cost $4, which is on the lower end of the spectrum when it comes to rare beers in the District. It, along with Five, were the most expensive of the evening, but they were both still worth it.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
This rare Surly offering blows me away each time I have it. Really stands alone without the help of barrel aging. A must try for big beer lovers anywhere

Beer Stats
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 10.30%
BA Score: 97
RB Score: 100

Next I went for Five, Surly’s 5th Anniversary beer that I attempted to procure a bottle of, but disappointingly failed.

In honor of FIVE glorious years we bring you a 100% Brettanomyces fermented dark ale aged in red wine barrels. Flavors of sour cherry, tobacco, oak and classic “brett” barnyard funk balanced by dark Munich malt chewiness. Enjoy immediately or age at cellar temperature for a couple years.

Five
Appearancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Amber red pour, not unlike soda, with a finger of white head. The retention is great, lasting well into enjoying the beer, but the lacing is just OK.
Smellwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
This was ordered directly after Darkness 2011...and I was surprised to smell a ton of smoke and roast coming out of Surly Five. Perhaps my nose was looking for it, but it really dominates here. I'm not really getting anything sour, but perhaps some wine notes are making their way up. What I mean by this is that I was expecting something more sour and I'm wondering if having Darkness first killed my sense of smell, or if it's just a really roasty wild ale. Definitely some funk, but it's all taking a back seat to the roast. It's pretty strange.
Tastewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The taste really follows the aroma, but finally I get some characteristics of an American Wild. Only a slight roast kicks the beer off and is taken over by some notes from the barrel aging (still not exactly sour, or vinegary), and some barnyard funk-like tastes at the end.
Mouthfeel/Drinkabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Light body with lower than average carbonation. It hints towards being too light for my palate, but that could be a product of the kinds of beer I had before and after this one, sadly. Clean finish and pretty drinkable.
Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
As I said before, this was with Darkness as the most expensive of the night at $4 for 4oz. I would say this bordered on being too expensive.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Not at all what I had expected. Still trying to figure out what I just drank. I wasn't a huge fan, but I didn't hate it. Just not in any way what I expected coming into it.

Beer Stats
Style: American Wild Ale
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 7.50%
BA Score: 87
RB Score: 99

Being satisfied with my trip into the more robust end of Surly’s spectrum, my palate craved some hops. Luckily, I had a nice array to choose from. It was actually a pretty difficult decision whether or not to start with Furious or go straight to Abrasive. This time I utilized my self control and started with the American IPA Furious on-tap and cask, “teabagged” with Centennial hops.

Furious Tap
Appearancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Furious pours clear yellow to orange with a finger of wispy white head, which leaves behind only spotty lacing.
Smellwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The aroma is more bitter than the cask offering. Overall it's piney, with some light grapefruit type aromas also coming out. I would categorize this as being more harsh than the cask offering as well.
Tastewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The tap offering boasts a better taste. It's more bitter, with the citrus fruits like grapefruit being at the forefront. Overall it is a bit light, but certainly more bitter than Teabagged Furious.
Mouthfeel/Drinkabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Light body with a good amount of carbonation, much more dry a finish, and crazy drinkable.
Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Down to $3 for 4oz for this one. The tap version was absolutely worth that price.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
A solid IPA, but nothing out of this world to separate it from the pack with this style. Tasty, hoppy, very drinkable, would buy it again. Overall, it was better on-tap than on cask.

Cask (left), Draft (right)

Beer Stats
Style: American IPA
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 6.20%
BA Score: 96
RB Score: 100
“Teabagged” Furious
Appearancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Hazy yellow orange pour with a finger of bubbly white head. The retention isn't as good as the on-tap offering was, but the haziness of the body makes up for it.
Smellwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The aroma is a littler more sweet, with the fruit playing a bigger role. Citrus mostly with only a slight pine note.
Tastewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
When I think about a word to describe the taste...it's muted. Fruit forward, dry and bitter as an afterthought. Mostly all citrus. It does have a clean finish.
Mouthfeel/Drinkabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Heavy body for an American IPA, with a below average carbonation (obviously, this beer was in the cask!). Sort of bitter with a dry finish. It was stil pretty drinkable, however, you just didn't get a lot of flavor.
Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The 4oz I had of this cost me $3, which I think was too expensive. Probably would only recommend this if it were free.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
A bit disappointed. The hops in the cask don't really add any real discernable difference in flavor, sadly. It was good, just not as good as the tap version. Probably would skip this next time.

Beer Stats
Style: American IPA
Serving: Cask
Size: 4oz
ABV: 6.20%
BA Score: 96
RB Score: 100

While the cask disappointed me, Abrasive was only offered on-tap. I was quite excited when I put my order in.

Abrasive
Appearancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Orange pour without much head rising up, leaving only spotty lacing. Bubbles lazily work their way to the top of the brew, but the head retention and lacing is a bit lacking.
Smellwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
OK, maybe I'm crazy, but I smell onions here. I've heard that certain hops can give off an onion-like aroma, but I had yet to experience it. That and citrus play nicely (I don't hate the onion smell, just was surprised to say the least), and are a part of an overall floral aroma. Certainly hop forward, a nice fruit base holds it together.
Tastewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
I'm getting slight onions on the taste, too. Big citrus and completely focused on the bitter end of the hop spectrum. While the hops do punch you in the face, the citrus and fruits create some sort of balance...but by balance I still mean damn hoppy.
Mouthfeel/Drinkabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Abrasive has a light body with a nice amount of carbonation. The sheer bitterness of this beer does hurt its drinkability, but the hops don't coat the mouth and stick around for too long which sometimes really hurts beers like this overall.
Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
This is an absolute bargain at $3 for 4oz. I would have bought a bunch of it if I didn't have so many others to go through.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
This was really good, but it does nothing to make itself stand out in the land of big IPAs (unless you count onions). I would absolutely try this again, however. Don't pass it up!

Beer Stats
Style: Imperial IPA
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 9.00%
BA Score: 98
RB Score: 100

And finally a side by side of Coffee Bender (which along with Darkness were the only Surly beers I had previous tasted, albeit the bottled and canned versions), and Bender “teabagged” with Willamette hops in the cask. I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize there was a Bender that didn’t have coffee in it. I was pretty mad at myself when I realized I had ordered a cask Brown Ale, neither of which are draws for me.

Coffee Bender
Appearancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Clear brown pour with less than a finger of white head. A small amount of lacing is yielded from the small amount of retention.
Smellwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The aroma is all coffee. Wait is that something else? Nope, coffee. Honestly, I love it. Roasted and bitter.
Tastewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
TLight malty taste up front leads to just a blast of coffee in the middle, which follows all the way through the finish and lingers on the palate for a good, long while. I seem to be getting something that resembles vanilla at the very backend, wasn't expecting that.
Mouthfeel/Drinkabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Coffee Bender's light body has a nice amount of carbonation. Crisp overall, the coffee obviously leaves an extremely dry finish.
Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
The 4oz of Coffee Bender put me back $3, which I thought wasn't bad.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
This is more like drinking a cup of coffee than a beer. Don't put this down too late at night or you won't be doing much sleeping. I do wish there was a little something else, the coffee wore on me after a while.

Beer Stats
Style: American Brown Ale
Serving: On-Tap
Size: 4oz
ABV: 5.10%
BA Score: 93
RB Score: 98
“Teabagged” Bender
Appearancewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Very hazy brown pour with hardly any head. It really looks a little strange sitting in the glass, probably the deepest Brown Ale I've come across.
Smellwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
A bit harsh, but otherwise nothing more than a malty brown ale aroma. Basic hops and sweet malt. Pretty average.
Tastewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
TContinues the average trend. All malt, perhaps some fruit with a slight hoppy finish. I came to the sad realization that this really isn't a very good beer without coffee added. The flavor sort of drops off really early on in the process.
Mouthfeel/Drinkabilitywww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Medium body with low carbonation, as you would expect from the cask. Served room temperature, like it should, and goes down really easily. I just wish I enjoyed it more.
Valuewww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
$3 was too much for 4oz of this. I would say, again as I did for Furious on cask, unless it's free skip it.
Overallwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.comwww.dyerware.com
Guess I should have done my research. This was the definition of average to me.

Draft (left), Cask (right)

Beer Stats
Style: American Brown Ale
Serving: Cask
Size: 4oz
ABV: 5.10%
BA Score: 93
RB Score: 97

Overall this was a great event. I got to try beers I had previously only heard of, and was pretty impressed with most of the beers. I would say Darkness stood above the rest, but I learned that I could go for any of their IPAs without being let down. Now that I’ve had a few more of their offerings, I wish Surly was more widely available over on this half of the Country. I guess I’ll just have to find a way to visit the brewery myself!

A big thanks to Churchkey for hosting, Omar Ansari and Surly for making the trip, and even follow beer bloggers over at Proper Hops, who sat down for an interview with the Surly Founder (You can get a glimpse at my dutiful note-taking at around 16:28!)

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Written by Russ Beck

Russ can trace his beginnings in craft beer to sitting in Zeno’s Pub in State College drinking various craft beer options from across Pennsylvania. Since then, he has never faltered in finding new brews, whether they’re rare, delicious, or hopefully both. Russ will be writing on a large variety of subjects, including but not limited to: reviews, homebrewing, and how to take labels off of beer bottles. He’ll drink just about anything, but prefers a nice Stout, IPA, or Weizenbock. Find Russ Beck on Google Plus

Filed under: American Brown Ale, American Wild Ale, Imperial IPA, IPA, Russian Imperial Stout, Surly Brewing Co. · Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,