When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in MN? Drink Surly. Today, I had the pleasure of drinking my second in a series of Surly special release beers. Less impressed than I had hoped with Four, I still had high expectations of Smoke. My father’s generous gift pours like a root beer, a bit of fizzy tan head, speckeled across the top. Searching for the scent of its namesake, a faint smoke appeared, blended with a porter sweetness and burnt malts. Simple, straightforward. The taste, was huge. Smoke is in your face, but in an incredibly pleasant way. I felt like I was sitting bonfire-side on a cool evening, “up north.” The sweetness continues, but hides fearfully behind the smoke, an aside hardly worth mentioning, but present enough to remind you the brew is indeed a porter.

The finish, while mostly a stinging-in-a-good-way type smoke, has slight hints of malt as well, roasted, burnt and earthy, again reminding you that you aren’t sipping liquid fire, but a well-crafted brew. There’s a sourness as well, a teriyaki that gets thicker and more pervasive as it warms in my glass. This less refined palate can’t search out the dark fruits the label claims are present. Perhaps a black cherry, soaked in alcohol…or something.

As my exposure to Surly deepens, there has become a dividing line. There hoppy beers have impressed me again and again. The dark ones, Four, Smoke and Darkness, have been less stand-out.