Surly Brewing Company: Minneapolis, MN

Surly Brewing Company is a staple of the Minnesota beer community.  Omar Ansari, Surly’s owner, is the son of German and Pakistani immigrants. Omar was given a beer kit in the mid-nineties, kept brewing as a hobby for a few years, and released a beer to celebrate the birth of his first child. It was a total hit. From then, he began to explore the commercial implications of his newfound skill.

At the time, Todd Haug was the head brewer at Rock Bottom Brewery in Minneapolis. Omar ran into Todd at a brewer conference in San Diego and began to recruit him to his brewery. Having a stable job and reliable paycheck, Todd wisely disagreed. Omar asked him 4 times before he decided to join Omar. In their agreement is the stipulation that Todd has 100% creative control of the recipes. 

Surly’s most widely produced beer is Furious. For a 600-bbl recipe of this stuff, it takes 1,500 pounds of hops and 40,000 pounds of malt. This beer is up to 70% of their production in an average month. Think about that. Insane. The informal name of the Surly brewery is the “Furious Factory.”

Given the size of the brewery and the astonishing new facility they now have just off University Avenue, I was shocked to be reminded of their independent brewery status. Omar used the old factory that his parents had used for the family business when he decided to open a brewery, so the costs of starting up were relatively low. After driving around town to pitch the beers to bars and restaurants, Omar had multiple people spit out his beer. These days, things are looking up for Surly as they have sixteen 600-barrel fermentation vessels in the brewery. With room to expand, Surly is managing to crush all expectations of how well a new brewery startup can work. 

In 2011, the Surly Bill became law. Governor Mark Dayton signed this legislation to stimulate the craft beer community in the state of Minnesota. Before this bill was signed, breweries were not allowed to sell their own pints on-site. Thanks to Surly, this is no longer the case. They broke ground on the new taproom-brewhouse facility in 2013 and began brewing there 5 days a week in October 2014. 

Surly grows their own yeast cultures in vessels in the brewhouse, which is pretty rare in today’s brewery world. They do their brewing on a Rolec system, based in southern Germany. Surly does not filter or pasteurize any of their products. The main step to rid the beer of solid particles is the centrifuge. 

The outdoor space at Surly makes summer the best time to visit. The lawn is covered in benches and fire pits and there are games for your children to make it a family affair. The bar outside is an easy option for drinking while enjoying the warm weather and the food inside is considered some of the best brewery food you can find. 

The tour was incredible. The guide brought us through the brewhouse and the final stage was up on a deck in the canning facility. There, they will distribute your commemorative glasses for tasting their beer. They offer you a few different batches with the opportunity to discuss the origin, recipe, and appreciate the flavors of them all. Though each tour is $5, they only keep $4 and give the remaining dollar to a non-profit in Minnesota. They have raised over $45,000 for charity since beginning their tours. It is part of Surly’s community partnerships under the umbrella of Surly Gives A Damn.

Surly is a monster in Minnesota. Summit and Surly are often thought of as the big dogs in the Twin Cities. Surly has grown quickly. The new facility on Malcolm Avenue is a great spot for a destination brewery, where people are lining up to get their products. Near the University of Minnesota, it is a short walk from many apartment complexes. For a fan of independent Minnesota beer, this is a definite stop.

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The final stage of the tour is on the deck above the canning room. This is the view of the production process.
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The Surly brand is so well established that they have a gift shop for brewery merchandise.
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The beer hall (taproom) is huge and the brewery is visible in the background.
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This outdoor patio is a destination in the summer. Food trucks cook food outside, the fires are lit, and the bean bags are thrown in the background along the base of the neighboring property.
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These 600-bbl vessels tower over the new facility, cementing their place as an established brewery.

SUMMARY:

TOUR PRICE: $5 

TOURS OFFERED: Must be booked in advance and online. Here is the sign up page.

Mondays: 1pm, 3pm, 5pm
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays: 1pm, 3pm, 5pm, 7pm
Fridays: 1pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm, 6pm, 7pm
Saturdays-Sundays: 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm

HISTORY: First brewed in 2005

THREE WORDS TO DESCRIBE THIS BREWERY: Charitable, Institution, and Vast

MY PERSONAL 3P SCORE (PRICE, POURS, AND PLEASANTNESS): 4.5/5

  • Keep the glass
  • 3 pours in the taster
  • An in-depth tour that includes seeing the canning line and using protective glasses
  • Beautiful facility with a well-run tour program

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