This year, we decided to venture north and brave the elements for our first Darkness Day bottle release. In October every year, Surly Brewing near Minneapolis, Minnesota, releases bottles of Darkness to the general public. If you are willing to wait in line, you have the ability to purchase up to 6 bottles of this delicious Russian Imperial Stout. Surly also throws a killer party on the day of the release. As big fans of Surly, Darkness, and bottle releases in general, this sounded like the perfect event for us.
A good friend of ours had been to the release in the past and had made friends with a guy from Minnesota. Our friend put us in contact with this person through Facebook. Mike was a very organized planner and we used an Event group to plan our food supplies, and meet up information ahead of time.
Surly allowed customers to line up at 3:30 PM the afternoon before the release, so that is the time we planned to get in line.
Steve and I pulled up to Darkness at 3:32. There was already a huge line, probably 150 people deep at this point. We found Mike and his camp, which thankfully was near the front and began to get settled in for the next 20 hours. Mike had gotten to Surly around 1:00 PM and had been lingering around a great location near a business. The business owner had graciously allowed a few people to park on their property which couldn’t have turned out better. There was no need to lug every single item to our campsite this way. We could just grab what we need when we needed it.
Let’s talk about camp
The Surly Darkness camps are not like any other bottle release camp I have ever seen. Almost every group has a table, a fire pit of some sort, and a grill. Many people set up tents. Some were for 2 people, other tents were clearly for ice fishing, and the granddaddy of all tents, was this hulking blue one that probably slept a family of 12. Some people even brought their dogs, which were allowed in the party the next day. Our camp consisted of 3 8-foot tables, a 10 x 10 canopy, a large fire pit, Mike’s truck, a grill, and tons of coolers. The tables remained up front near the street while the fire pit and surrounding camp chairs were circled back near the building.
Darkness Day has its own rules. As you open a beer, you can either leave it on your table or walk around and offer it to others waiting in line. As you are walking around, you are supposed to bring something to share. You can pour for others or set it on the table and leave it for that group. By the time we decided to call it a night, we probably had 50 open bottles on our table and 15 or so that we had yet to open.
Between 3:30 – 2:00 AM, we drank beer, grilled sausages, sat around the fire pit, and just talked. Last year, we were told that the temperature dropped to about 12 degrees and remained there for a majority of the day and night. We were fortunate to have seasonally warm weather. It remained in the 50s until after 8:00 and then only dropped to the high 30s throughout the night. With our chairs by the fire, some extra layers, and a blanket, most people were comfortable to slightly chilly. My nose was the only body part that I couldn’t quite keep warm.
Between 2:00 – 6:00 AM, everyone was in varying states of sleep. I woke up about every hour or so, looked around, chatted with anyone who was also awake, went to the bathroom, and then nodded back off. Steve ended up tending the fire most of the night and didn’t sleep nearly as much as I did.
At 6:00, Caribou arrived with free coffee on a donation basis. Surly donated all proceeds to their Surly Gives a Damn Charity. A
donut vendor also set up shop. I can’t tell you how delicious a bacon donut is when you have slept outside all night. It just seems to taste that much better.
Around 7:00, Surly representatives told us to begin tearing down our camps. By 8:00, we were in line to receive our wrist bands. Once Surly started passing out wrist bands, that process went very quickly. I would say that everyone had a wrist band within 20 minutes. We then headed to our car for about 20 minutes to warm up before joining back with our group and drinking some more
beer before being able to purchase our bottles at 11:00 AM.
At 11:00 AM, everyone is allowed to join the party. There are food trucks set up, a heavy metal band that rotates throughout the
day, and beers on tap. Darkness was offered, as well as Damien (which is made from Darkness remnants), Bender with Cacao nibs, and 3 cask varieties. We had 11:00 wristbands to purchase our bottles, so we chose to do that immediately. Inside the brewery, Surly had a fog and light show while you waited to buy beer. Buying beer was very quick for us. Since we were in the first group, we were in and out within 15 minutes. After dropping our bottles off at the car, we headed back to join the party.
Surly gave out 1500 wrist bands, but the party was run so well, that you couldn’t tell there were 1500 people there. The beer lines moved quickly. There were plenty of places to sit or stand and everybody was willing to talk and share a space.
On to the things you really want to know, what went well, what didn’t, and the random.
What Went Well
It was amazing to me how well this event was run and organized. People were friendly and shared great beer. Surly volunteers were on hand all night. Port-o-Johns were plentiful and didn’t end up getting disgusting at all. Buying beer was done quickly, as it was cash only and everyone took their allotment.
When lining up to get wrist bands, there were 3 people handing them out, so you could go to any of the 3 and grab a band. They weren’t all the same time, but everyone was allowed in at 11:00, so it didn’t necessarily matter what time you could buy beer, unless you had something else planned.
Omar was around and visiting all night. He came to our camp early on to share beer and then joined us around 6:00 in the morning. He just sat right down in one of our chairs and started chatting. When your owner is willing to join the masses andbrave the cold just to hang out with customers, you are doing something right.
The beer was delicious. Damien was probably my favorite, followed closely by the Applewood Cynic Ale cask. Damien was a robust, dark stout. It had a bit deeper flavor and a thicker consistency than regular Darkness. The Applewood tasted like an Apple Brandy aged beer. The apple presence was prounounced, but in that delicious cider sort of way. It wasn’t overly sweet and you could definitely distinguish that it was a beer and not a cider.
Camps – I don’t have enough to say about how wonderful it was to have camps. As the night wore on, there were tons of camps that didn’t even have any people at them. They were either in tents or in their vehicles. But the camp held the place in line. Sleeping in cars was a common theme.
Almost the entire event was cash only. You needed to cash to buy Darkness and cash to buy tickets to purchase beer. Having a ticket system made it much quicker to get a beer. There was never a line for beer. You simply walked up to a table, made your request, and handed over a ticket. End of transaction. There were ATMs available. Having a cash only event cuts down on the time it takes to run and sign credit cards. It also ensures that a technology error doesn’t get in the way of the fun. We were able to use a credit card for merchandise.
If you don’t like cutting, this event may not be one the you should attend. Since there isn’t a line, per se, but camps, you never
really knew who was in the group ahead of you or not. Some groups held down a slice of land and then waited as others joined them throughout the night. If I had to guess, 50 people or more got in front of me after I had been there. But, I wasn’t really worried. 1500 is a lot of people, and I knew I would be getting a wrist band. The people in the back were another story. If 50
people got in front of me and I was near the front (probably first 250), then who is to say how many cut in front of them. That being said, I talked to people who arrived at 7:30 AM that had wristbands.
There was at least one person I spoke to who cheated the system. In an effort to wrist band everyone quickly, the Surly people were not putting wrist bands on people, but handing the bands to each person. Because it wasn’t on, I know one guy who was able to get two bands. He just went up to two different people and got different times. He then put the early time on his wrist. It was cut off when he bought his first allotment and then he put the second band on. He, of course, thought this was funny. Especially because he sold one set at the event for $200. I’m not really sure how to fix that, other than to have the Surly folk put the wrist bands on, which takes more time.
The casks kicked really early. By 12:30, 2 of the 3 casks were kicked. I was happy to get to try all 3, but I wonder if everyone else had the same luck as I did. It was posted that they were on a first come, first serve basis, so people were aware. I just wish they would have had more.
Around 2:00 AM, a guy right near our camp began screaming obscenities and threatened to punch some other guy in the face. This went on for at least 5 minutes before his friend pulled him away. It’s too bad that someone always has to be “that guy” and get that drunk.
The only problem with leaving beer on a table is that some people don’t play by the rules. A few times, beers would disappear. Someone would walk by and grab a beer (open or unopened –it didn’t matter) off the table and keep walking. We didn’t have
any beer on that table unless we had sampled it and were happy with others sharing, but some people in our group had all of their beer out there and when it went missing, were pretty angry.
And then there was that one in every crowd, too drunk to make intelligent decisions guy. At around 5:00 AM, we heard and saw police lights. One of the guys in our group had been sleeping in his car and he shared the story. Apparently some guy had been
opening car doors and trying to get in. He opened our friend’s car door and grabbed him by the collar of the jacket. He screamed something about zombies before moving on to the next car. After a few more cars, he found one that was unlocked with the keys in
it. He drove a few feet before crashing into a fence while the owners were asleep in the back. How that happens, I have no idea. Pro tip – lock your car doors.
Who we Met
As you know from other posts, I love bottle shares at releases. You get to meet so many people. My favorite part of Darkness Day
was the people I met.
To our left was a group of 2 brothers, their father, and 1 of the guy’s best friends. This group left their camp to sleep in their cars.
Shortly afterwards, their camp was taken over by vagabonds. Two guys slept there all night. As the night wore on, other orphans ended up at their fire to warm up and talk for a few minutes before moving on. Although, one of the strays did leave a Duck
Duck Geuze on the table, so no harm.
To our right were 2 guys from Chicago. They hung out with us all night and then spent the coldest portion of the evening sleeping in their car. We actually met a lot of people from Chicago that night and the next day. All of them great guys who were happy to drink beer and share with strangers.
Lastly, the group we were with…we met them as we got in line at their camp. In our group were two pastors and two guys
currently in seminary school. That was difficult for me as I wasn’t sure what I was allowed to say. My mouth is usualy pretty inappropriate, though I didn’t feel that I had to curb anything I said and the pastors were even using some obscene language. Good for them. There was also some guy who drank so much he almost face planted into the fire . I don’t know what he does for a living, but he slept at the vagabond camp for most of the night. He was able to get up and buy his beer in the morning, although he looked pretty terrible, but everything was all right in the end.
We are already planning our trip back to Minnesota next October. This was truly the best bottle release I have ever attended and one that isn’t to miss for the future. While I was able to bring home 12 bottles of Darkness, it wasn’t even about that. It was about the night before. The beer sharing, meeting new people, and just hanging out with others who love beer as much as I do.
If you plan to attend Surly next year, grab some friends, have an organized plan of who is bringing what, get there early, dress warm, and be ready for the best bottle release you might ever attend.
Thanks Surly for putting on one hell of an event!