At some point in craft beer’s recent past, it came into vogue to no longer label beers with exactly what style they’re meant to be, or even evoke—as craft brewing continues to diversify at an exponential rate, brewers are like indie band leaders who lash out against the expectation to label their art for the sake of understanding. “It’s an ale” has become the equivalent of a music interview where the subject describes his sound as “really eclectic and experimental, man.”
Still, it’s usually not too difficult to suss out at least the ballpark you’re operating in—case in point, Surly’s newest canned offering, Doomtree. The beer is a collaboration with the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective of the same name, and Surly actively avoids putting labels on it, instead opting for a bit of welcome description: “This dark gold, toasty, aromatic, subtly spicy, bitter enough, dry-hopped brew.”
As for what that actually equals out to, the answer is somewhere between “a bigger British bitter” and “a smaller British ESB.” It’s a style that Surly has some experience in, given that they’ve been making a seasonal “Bitter Brewer” for years now. And so, unsurprisingly, this offering is solid, even if it is wreathed in a little bit of mystery.
The beer pours a very dark copper color that hints at no shortage of malt presence. And indeed, there’s a pronounced, toasty malt nose—if “toffee” is ever truly an appropriate descriptor, it’s certainly appropriate here. It’s not all malt by any means, though—there’s an orange marmalade-like citrus, and lots of grassy, herbal notes as well. It’s like half confectioner’s shop, half walk in the prairie.
On the palate, Doomtree is dry and fairly bitter, although cleaner and crisper than you would likely find in an imported British bitter. The bitterness isn’t truly assertive on its own, but it’s enhanced by the relative lack of residual sweetness to the point where it seems moderate rather than mild. Flavors are predominantly malt-forward, with a definite black tea-like maltiness and some of that caramelized toffee, backed up by grassy and herbal hops. The intensity of flavor is less assertive than the aroma, leading to a very quaffable pint can whose flavors are pleasant but could probably pop a bit more.
English bitter, in all its variations, is rarely a style that sets the craft beer world into a tizzy, but it’s still a style with a passionate subset of ardent supporters. This is also another offering indicative of Surly’s unusual tendency to avoid pigeonholing itself via its regular releases. People think of the brewery for its IPAs and dark beer, but take a look at what they’re making each year—there’s a saison in the year-round lineup, alongside fairly traditional takes on British ales and German lagers. For a brewery associated with the most American of styles, there’s an ever-present international undercurrent. Doomtree is a welcome addition to that side of Surly’s personality.
Brewery: Surly Brewing Co.
City: Minneapolis, MN
Availability: 16 oz cans