Surly and Halloween go together like Michael Myers and a modified William Shatner mask. The popular Minneapolis brewery serves up a wide variety of scary good offerings such as the wickedly sour Pentagram, Hell, a German-style Helles and, of course, Darkness, a big, bad Russian imperial stout that’s so popular, it’s earned its own unofficial holiday. This year’s Darkness Day, which was actually a full weekend ode to all things beer and metal, helped kick off Surly’s month’s long Halloween celebration culminating with the public release of Darkness on Oct. 31 which will be preceded by the brewery’s All Hallow’s Eve-Eve Hall of Doom costume party and beer extravaganza.
If you’re looking to put together a killer beer lineup for your own Halloween bash (and why wouldn’t you?), Surly head brewer Ben Smith has you covered. His crafty recommendations which include a couple of Surly’s finest and some of his other favorite horror-themed brews are bound to fright as well as delight you and your guests.
First brewed in 2006, this massive imperial stout has grown into a monster-sized craft sensation. “The recipe hasn’t changed but I think the beer gets better and better every year,” says Smith. At 12 percent A.B.V. this jet-black brew certainly packs a wallop with a collision of dark chocolate and in-your-face-hops via a Warrior, Amarillo, and Simcoe trifecta. Darkness can be enjoyed fresh but is suitable for aging as the hop bite loses its grip and the beer mellows out. Vintages are distinguished by the annually rotating creatures that adorn the label—this year’s bottle features a terrifying minotaur courtesy of St. Paul artist Michael Jacobsen.
If possible, try and snag a bottle of one of the three barrel-aged variants which were exclusively released at Darkness Day—the Fernet-aged version is particular favorite of Smith.
For a different spin on an imperial stout, Smith recommends this “Mad Max”-inspired behemoth from his Minneapolis neighbors, Modist. If you’re a fan of rye, you’ll want to take Lord Humungus straight to the (thunder)dome—the combo of malted rye, chocolate rye, and caramel rye make up a jaw-dropping 53 percent of the beer. “You get a lot more of that spicy rye character which I really enjoy,” says Smith. “It’s still got that imperial stout backbone, but it’s quite different from Darkness which is more of your prototypical imperial stout.”
From Dark Lord to Zombie Dust, 3 Floyds offers plenty of can’t-miss Halloween beer candidates but Smith is particularly drawn to Permanent Funeral, the Indiana brewery’s collaboration with grindcore band Pig Destroyer. “The name and the art make it a perfect Halloween beer,” he says. “Permanent Funeral just sounds metal as hell.”
As for the actual beer, which 3 Floyds classifies as a pale ale despite having a double I.P.A.-level 10.5 percent A.B.V., Smith’s a fan of that too. “It’s a great drinking beer and it’s not too heavy. You can only have so many imperial stouts before you get tuckered out.”
TRVE (pronounced “true”) describes itself as “Denver’s true metal brewery” which is certainly justified considering head brewer Zach Coleman also happens to be the drummer for doom metal favorites Khemmis—his band and beers were highlights at this year’s Darkness Day. Smith is particularly impressed with World’s Blood, TRVE’s recently released funky and fruity golden ale which the brewery claims is one of the first American beers to use spontaneous microbes in a can. “There’s a little bit of weird Belgian stuff going on,” according to Smith. “It’s a nice easy drinking ale.”
“If I could get my hands on some Burial beer, I’d bring whatever I could get,” says Smith. The Ashville-based brewery known for its juicy hoppy offerings and pastry stout skillet series brew beers as well they title them. Case in point, this horrifyingly named double dry-hopped double I.P.A. that does indeed taste better than it sounds. Dominated by luscious notes of tropical fruit, this is a beer that even I.P.A. detractors will enjoy. Plus, there’s no better response to “Hey, what are you drinking?” than “Oh, just The Entrails of the Perished.”
This longtime Surly favorite made from the final runnings of Darkness (hence the child of Darkness moniker) finally made its can debut earlier this month just in time for Halloween. According to Smith, an addition of extra roasted malt adds to its rich, black color while dry-hopping provides an intense floral aromatic.
Though related, Damien is more hop forward, lighter bodied, and lower in A.B.V. (a mere 6.5 percent) than the beer which spawned it. “Drinking the two side by side is interesting,” says Smith. “They have similar components but they’re very different beers.”
Related Video: How to Pair Wine and Halloween Candy
Header image courtesy of Surly Brewing Co.