Surly Brewing – Great Beer, Even Better Food
February’s edition of Brewery Snapshot, featuring Surly Brewing, pauses coverage on Northern Ireland for a moment and foreshadows where The Wandering Gourmand plans to take readers next – to the Twin Cities. I was in Minneapolis last May for a travel writers’ conference. And, of course, no conference is just about the conference for me. It’s also about exploring the local craft beer and food scene any chance that I get.
For this particular trip, I arrived in the Twin Cities a day early and packed the afternoon with brewery visits and interviews. After visiting more breweries than I can remember, I stumbled into Surly Brewing famished and maybe a little drunk.
I was taken aback as I my Uber dropped me off at Surly Brewing’s well-manicured entrance. From the post-industrial look of the building to the metal fire pit planted in the center of the walkway, I wasn’t sure if this was a dance club or a brewery. Should I have opted for black car service instead?
Surly Brewing Story
Surly Brewing has made recent splashes in the news when their original head brewer, Todd Haug, announced his resignation after 10-years of service. Critics hypothesized the end of Surly Brewing. Clearly, the brewery sold out, and Haug left in opposition. There was even the rumor in November of 2016 that owner Omar Ansari and Dick Leinenkugel met. Headlines read that the forces of big beer evil had ascended on Surly Nation, and Surly Brewing sold. After all, industry folk can’t be friends, right?
As Surly Brewing announced shortly after, the rumors couldn’t be further from the truth. The only intention Ansari has with the brewery is to grow, not sell – which is why Surly promoted two long-term employees to share the role of head brewer. Jerrod Johnson will spearhead one-off recipes and barrel-aged beers at the original Brooklyn Center brewery, and Ben Smith will oversee the production of flagship beers at the “destination brewery.”
From its very beginning, Surly Brewing’s story has fallen on the cantankerous side – from Ansari suggesting to his parents that they turn their abrasives factory into a brewery to fighting a prohibition-era law that only permitted very small breweries to sell beer directly to the consumer. That abrasion, and stellar beers, has only been met with respect by Surly Nation. In the brewery’s ten years of operation, they’ve grown from two to 365 employees and recently acquired equipment to expand from 100,000 barrels to 200,000 barrels in annual production.
Surly Brewing Location
Surly Brewing’s 50,000 square-foot “destination brewery” is located in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. The neighborhood itself carries an interesting combination of families, college students, and industrial sections containing light manufacturing, rail yards, and grain silos. Surly Brewing is located amongst the industrial section. While other breweries, restaurants, and bars are nearby, none are walkable. The closest cluster – Urban Growler Brewing, Bang Brewing, and Lake Monster Brewing – are located on the other side of the highway.
No worries though as Surly Brewing is a destination itself with two restaurants and a beer garden that can accommodate 800 craft beer faithful. The main restaurant, the Beer Hall, serves not your typical bar food. Menu items include everything from smoked pork and brisket to a charcuterie board featuring braunschwager, pâté en croûte, duck rillettes, and buldog salami. They also offer burgers and large plates like flank steak and braised short rib.
Upstairs is the upscale Brewers Table, which delivers a mind-blowing fine dining meets beer experience in an approachable environment. The menu changes regularly. Diners can order individual courses or chose the four-course dinner with beer pairings (more on that below). The idea behind the brewers table is to not just tell restaurants that beer can pair as well with food as wine, but show them.
Many just head to Surly Brewing to drink beer. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Surly Brewing Beer (and Food)
As I sat down at the bar overlooking the open-kitchen in the Brewers Table, another customer asked the chef for his autograph. A sign that this wouldn’t be my typical dining experience. I opted for the tasting menu and told the waiter to surprise me with what he thought were the best dishes. I started with lamb tartare paired with Simpson’s Scottish Ale and Extra-Citra Pale Ale. The simpleness of the Scotch ale was lost to the iron of the tartare but the Extra-Citra paired perfect. The rawness of the dish brought the hops to life.
For my second course, the waiter brought rabbit terrine with the Bender Oatmeal Brown and the Cynic Belgian-Style Saison. The dish was a little too light for anything malt forward and the Nordic influences would have been overpowered by anything with hops. Thus, the Cynic was perfect to wash down the dish’s clean flavors.
For the third course, the chef surprised me with two Spanish influenced plates (probably my favorite of the night) – grilled octopus with salsa verde and pan-fried mackerel with blood orange and olives. The waiter picked out light beers to pair with the spice and brine – Where Strides the Bromeliad Belgian Pineapple Golden Ale and Surly Gose. The spice, the salt, and the subtle beers was a symphony to my palate. I don’t remember dessert…
Make it a Beer Weekend!
As you’ll see during my series on the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul are beercation worthy. Follow the series by signing up for my newsletter below.
Or, start planning your weekend today by checking out the latest hotel reviews on TripAdvisor. I stayed out at the Radisson Blu Mall of America. While I would recommend the hotel, its location isn’t the most convenient. It’s great for Mall of America visitors though!
Brewery Snapshot is a monthly column where I review a brewery that I stopped into on my beer journeys. I typically didn’t have the opportunity to interview the head brewer or owner.