A Tour of Surly’s Brewery Reveals What All the Hype is About
By Chrissy Sarinske
I will be the first to admit that I am not a hipster. I’d rather listen to 80s pop than indie rock, and the only time I dress in vintage attire is when it’s Halloween. Usually I’m the last to know about the latest new fad or the hottest trend (case in point: I only just recently graduated from a flip phone to a smart phone), so it was kind of surprising to me that on Saturday night, I found myself surrounded by hipsters—and interesting beer-drinking aficionados—at the Surly Brewery tour in Brooklyn Center. It quickly became apparent that I was where the cool kids were, and that almost never happens.
Before this tour, I was sort of indifferent about Surly. I will always have a special place in my heart for an ice-cold pint of Summit EPA, and I'm really digging the local Fulton Tap Room/Brewery, and to me Surly seemed like, I don't know, a lot of hype. I had my Summit, I had my Fulton, why did I need Surly?
I soon realized I needed it for one good reason—it's delicious!
Clearly other people agree.
Production is expected to grow by 1,000 percent in the next two years. That’s one-thousand percent. The Brooklyn Center-based company (located just northwest of Minneapolis) wants to build a massive new facility, complete with a restaurant, beer garden, and event center. They're currently shopping for locations. And now I can say I was there on that tour before this home-grown microbrewery hit the big time and became a national powerhouse: when the facility was still small, the tours were run by volunteers, and Surly was a local beer sold only in Minnesota.
The good news is that you can say the same thing, too, if you hurry up and sign up for a Surly Brewery tour. (*Tip: The tours book out three weeks in advance. Sign up online Friday mornings between 8-10 a.m.) Tours take place Friday and Saturday nights, and last approximately two hours. Reservations, group-tour requests, and waiting lists don’t exist at Surly, so be sure to plan ahead when registering. See the “Tour FAQ” section of their website for more details: surlybrewing.com.
Our tour was on a Saturday, and we arrived shortly before 6 p.m. when the doors officially opened. After our friends Jodi and Walter, who invited Aaron and me to join them on the tour, directed us to a front row rock-star parking spot (one caveat of the tour: the parking is minimal), we grabbed our bags of food shelf donations (there is no fee for the tour, they just ask that you support your local food shelf by bringing in a donation; in 2011, Surly donated 16,030 pounds of food to the Emergency Foodshelf Network), showed our IDs at the door, and entered the tap room. Once inside, we were each handed five tokens to be used toward generous samples of Surly. Decisions, decisions. Throughout the night, I tried Hell, Furious, and Abrasive Ale, and then switched to water since I was the designated driver. Other choices included Bender, Damien, Smoke, Brett, and Bandwagon. Nobody was complaining. (Hey, not only free beer, but really good free beer, what's to complain about?)
The atmosphere was festive: Music was pumping, people were laughing and mingling, and you were encouraged to browse in the little merchandise shop where you can buy t-shirts, sweatshirts, fishing lures, posters, glassware, and disc golf drivers and putters. Unfortunately, you can't buy Surly there. They don't sell pints of beer, cans of beer, growlers, or kegs at the brewery.
After hanging out in the tasting room for awhile (*Note: There are very few places to sit, so if you don’t like standing, you're out of luck), we were directed to meet in the brewery area for an explanation of Omar Ansari’s background and how Surly started as a hobby brewery in the corner of an abrasives factory back in 2005, thus the explanation for the name of Surly's Abrasive Ale. The volunteer did an excellent job of making the story entertaining and informative. After a short break for more Surly samples, we congregated again in the brewery for the scientific explanation of the brewing process so we could learn how Surly is made. Serious beer-drinkers stood up front, hanging on every word.
Minnesotans are the envy of the craft-brewing nation for having access to this brewery. Esquire magazine recognized Surly Cynic as one of the "Best Canned Beers to Drink Now." Surly fans are so die-hard they have their own nickname—Surly Nation—and they're so dedicated they helped overturn a Prohibition-era law that prohibited breweries from selling pints of beer on their own premises. According to Northern Brewer, Surly is the fastest growing brewery in the U.S.
If you have a chance to go on a tour, I highly recommend it. As someone commented on our way out, "How often do you have a chance to taste pure genius in liquid form?"