Surly Darkness Day on indefinite hiatus, brewery cites state distribution laws in decision

Surly Darkness Day is moving to Somerset Amphitheater in September 2018 // Photo via Surly Brewing Company's Instagram

Surly Darkness Day has been placed on an indefinite hiatus // Photo via Surly Brewing Company’s Instagram

Surly Brewing Co. CEO Omar Ansari announced today on social media and an email newsletter that his brewery will be putting their annual Darkness Day festivities on hold indefinitely. Pulling no punches, the state’s third-largest brewery placed the blame for their festival’s hiatus squarely at the feet of local lawmakers.

The craft beer industry is changing, and we need to change with it. Craft breweries outside of our state are growing through more options to sell beer, including directly to their customers. These opportunities are limited in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild is working to change our current laws and give consumers more choices. Currently, laws prohibit breweries that brew more than 20,000 barrels to sell growlers directly to consumers. The new bill would allow these sales, regardless of brewery size. We need to work with the Guild and our local legislators toward this end, hoping to give craft beer drinkers this option.

Put plainly: We want to sell Darkness bottles for you to take home from the Destination Brewery. Once we can, Darkness Day will return to Minnesota at our Destination Brewery.

In addition to growlers, Minnesota state liquor laws allow breweries producing under 20,000 barrels annually to sell 750-milliliter bottles, the size of vessel in which Darkness is bottled. Ansari also confirmed that Surly will continue to brew Darkness and distribute the cult-classic Russian imperial stout via local liquor stores in 2020. In keeping with tradition, Surly also announced their featured artist for their 2020 Darkness bottle design —local illustrator Barbara Guttman.

Surly Brewing moved their Darkness Days festivities from their original Brooklyn Center brewing facility to Somerset Amphitheater in 2018, expanding the event’s bottle-sharing and live music offerings into a full-blown, two-day camping festival format featuring nationally acclaimed metal and hardcore bands like Murder City Devils, Sick of it All, and Carcass. The brewery tried the same approach in 2019 with a slightly pared-back lineup featuring Black Lips and Eyehategod.

Despite the brewery’s efforts to create a destination festival, foot traffic at the 2019 Darkness Day event was light in front of the stage and around on the festival grounds. The one area that was buzzing with activity was the bottle pick-up area, where customers procured their sought-after bottles shortly before leaving the festival grounds.

Were Minnesota lawmakers to make the changes that Surly and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild are advocating for, the brewery would be able to make better use of its brewery’s Festival Field (which our readers named the best outdoor music venue in the state), without the same overhead and logistical concerns presented by the Somerset venue.

A bill to increase the growler cap to breweries producing 40,000 barrels annually was just introduced this week. In addition, the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild is organizing a public rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on March 3 from 1–2pm to advocate for a “wider array of packaged products available to purchase directly from a taproom, more opportunities for growler sales in restaurants/bars/liquor stores, and the ability for breweries to truly collaborate with each other and sell each other’s products if made collaboratively.”