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A poster displayed the bottle art for the special-issue Surly beer.

Leslie Plesser, Special to the Star Tribune

Nightlife: "Darkness Day” brings Surly lovers to light

  • Article by: Michael Rietmulder
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • October 31, 2013 - 3:20 PM

Aside from some of the larger beer festivals, Darkness Day has become one of the state’s biggest annual beer parties. Each year Surly unleashes its highly sought-after Darkness with a massive party at its Brooklyn Center brewery, filled with food, live music and of course, plenty of beer.

There’s a feverish desire among aficionados to get their hands on this decadently rich Russian imperial stout, which has led to huge overnight lines. Now in its seventh year, those lines have swelled from a couple of beer crazies to the legions that swarmed the brewery last Friday, a day before the official event. Darkness Eve has taken on a culture of its own and the chance to buy a few bottles of the chocolate-y, raisin-hinted stout the next morning is only part of the appeal.

“If I left without buying any Darkness, I would still be thrilled,” said Levi Loesch, who has been to the last six Darkness Days. “Just hanging out, drinking beer, giving it away, trying stuff that other people brought — that’s the event for me.”

Loesch took his place roughly 100 people back from the front of the sprawling line that stretched along 48th Avenue N. and wrapped around Lilac Drive. An avid homebrewer, Loesch brought six kegs of his sour beers, offering samples to passersby, many of whom offered him various beers they had brought in exchange.

After dark, the street turns into a tailgating shantytown, with tents, fire pits and tables displaying stashes of exotic beers to be shared. “You have to bring something special,” said Mark Sheriff of Columbia Heights. “You can’t be bringing what you can get at the liquor store. Everyone brings stuff that is hard to find.”

Sheriff and his buddy Dan Larsen were first in line when they arrived at 10:15 a.m. on Friday, but were kicked out until the afternoon, as Surly asked fans not to start queuing up until 3:30 p.m. But Sheriff wouldn’t even stick around to purchase the six-bottle allotment he would be entitled to for waiting in line.

“I actually have to work tomorrow morning, so I’m not even going to buy Darkness tomorrow,” he admitted.

Although John Borgeson said he would be sure to buy his share of Darkness, the Minneapolis resident looks forward most to the bottle-sharing that is part of Darkness Eve. He has a card table lined with limited Surly releases, including Darkness bottles he’s saved from past years. Earlier that night he did a vertical — beer-geek speak for side-by-side tastings of the same beer brewed in different years — of Firestone Walker’s Parabola, a limited Russian imperial stout not sold in Minnesota.

“The great thing about the craft-beer community is we like to share the experience of the different beers we’re tasting,” the 44-year-old said. “The graciousness of people is amazing.”

Getting in on the bottle sharing requires little more than a friendly demeanor and a beer of your own. But some fanatics prearrange trades, often via popular websites Beer Advocate and Rate Beer. Finn Jacobsen set up a pair of Darkness Eve swaps with guys from Chicago and Madison, Wis., who have access to select brews not available in Minnesota. One deal had him trading limited Surly releases Wet, Pentagram and SeVIIn for two cases of Zombie Dust, a popular pale ale from Indiana’s Three Floyds. “I’m pumped,” Jacobsen said with a convivial chuckle. “Everybody’s happy. It’s a win, win, win situation. I win, you win and the world wins.”

Erik Orwar didn’t have any trades planned before he drove up from the Chicago area to experience his first Darkness Day this year. But he has a longtime trading partner in St. Louis Park’s Ryan Schlais. After exchanging multiple beer shipments, the two met for the first time last weekend.

Mike Saboe is an annual early arriver. The first year, he was “just one of the crazy people” in line. Now he’s the brewmaster at buzzing Iowa brewery Toppling Goliath. Over the years, he and Toppling Goliath owner Clark Lewey have gotten to know Surly masterminds Omar Ansari and Todd Haug, who broke ground on their Minneapolis destination brewery this week. We assume that Saboe does not have to spend 19 hours in line to snag a few bottles these days. But Saboe enjoys the Darkness Eve revelry.

“Even back in 2007, there was like 10 of us outside, but it was the camaraderie of that,” he said last Friday, clutching a bomber of Alpine IPA from Nelson. “People that you’ll meet for the first time in your life, it might be the only time you meet, but tonight they’re your best friends.”

Boom getting bigger

Minneapolis’ Boom Island Brewing Co. is on the move. But don’t worry, the Belgian-informed brewery is heading just down the street from its current north Minneapolis home. The new space at 2014 Washington Av. N., and a new 15-barrel brewhouse, mean Boom Island will be able to open a taproom and increase production. An early 2014 opening is in the works, as are 12-ounce bottles. In other brew news, Indeed plans to boost production for the second time, from 6,400 barrels to 12,000 next year — nearly four times the 3,200-barrel capacity it had when it opened last year. Meanwhile, Summit has acquired a 40,000-square-foot building and a 3.5-acre plot adjacent to its St. Paul brewery. The building will house offices and a new canning line, which will be used for select brands.

Marvel wins Iron

Last weekend North Loop cocktail den Marvel Bar won the four-week Iron Bartender competition thrown by the Northstar Bartenders Guild. Marvel’s Keith Mrotek and Jesse Ostendorf knocked out the liquid-nitrogen-loving Pig Ate My Pizza crew in the semifinals before besting La Belle Vie, which narrowly advanced past Eat Street Social. Throughout the cocktailing tourney, Mrotek and Ostendorf displayed precision and creativity, not to mention a little playful judge-pandering in the final rounds. Congrats and thanks for the Cheetos.

 

Michael Rietmulder writes about bars, beer and nightlife.





 

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