Here we are, awaiting Firkin Fest this weekend, so I decided it’s about time to bring out the article I’ve been sitting on for a year and a half: the Surly feature. Surly is my favorite brewery, and while not all of their beers are A+, they all offer something wonderful to explore. What I really like about them is that they don’t brew to traditional style; rather they brew what they think will taste good with a nod to a certain style. For example, Furious is usually described as a double IPA, but it contains too much malt for the style. The brewers at Surly just brew what they would like to drink and they have gained a rabid following because of it.

Surly Hell. 5.1%ABV. Very limited offering, available for about a month 1x a year.
Pours a clear golden-orange. It is unfiltered, but I don’t detect floaties. The head is bone white and dissipates quickly, even in my Duvel glass.

Smell is very sweet, light malt with a clean touch of dried apricot. Just barely there is a hint of white pepper.

Very smooth mouthfeel; goes down like buttery white bread. Carbonation is just right, not too much, almost feels like a cask beer.

The taste is super clean and the unfiltered nature of it gives it just enough breadiness to give it plenty of depth for the beer that is Surly’s tamest offering. This would hold up to all kinds of food pairings because it has a clean flavor, but it is so deep that even bleu cheese would pair nicely. After drinking it a bit, the hops come out a bit more and you can taste the faint bitterness. Treading water in there is fresh, lightly popped popcorn. Alcohol is faintly detected on the exhale.

Surly Furious. 6.2% ABV. Offered year round.
Furious is my desert island beer. When I wake up in the morning, I can remember I had some the night before because I’m still tasting hops as I brush my teeth. One of the great things about this beer is that to the seasoned Furious drinker, you can pick out variations in the batches from time to time. Rather than a distraction, this really lets me ponder the beer I am drinking and when I get an especially great batch it really blows me away. Sometimes I find floaties in it, sometimes I don’t. Usually the floaties clue me in that it’s going to be especially good but that’s not always the case. Another great thing about Furious is that the malt used in it is that same malt used for making The Macallan, a world-class whisky (and one of my favorites).

Pours a hazy red amber. Thick head that leaves lots of lacing down the sides of the glass.

Smell: lots of grapefruit with richly roasted malt. A hint of grassiness creeps up toward the end. Just the slightest hint of nougat.

Toasted malt and citrus blast away. The hops impart a pungent herbal and catty punch in the face. Slight alcohol warmth is present. Mouthfeel is medium light. Malty sweetness burrows through at the end along with orange peel dipped in molasses.

16 Grit. 9%ABV. Brewed once.
At the end of 2008, Surly brewed too much beer for the state of Minnesota to allow them to continue to sell growlers (a refillable 64oz. bottle) at the brewery site. As a thank you to the people who were loyal growler customers, they brewed a one-time beer where you could bring your empty growlers for a farewell fill on the four final days of the year. On the first day it was available I picked up the four empties I had sitting around the house and took a long lunch break to stand two and a half hours in line. The next day, I took my two empties and aching head to the brewery, but they had already run out. I talked to Omar, the owner, and he said they miscalculated the volume a bit – they used such a huge volume of hops in the dry hop process (where you dump hops straight into the tank while it is fermenting) that the hops had soaked up a major portion of the beer. I was about half an hour late for the last pour. The beer has since become legendary among beer geeks.

Pours a dirty Amber brown with a generous head if poured aggressively.

Smell has orange peel, lemon zest, fresh grass that has been dried out for a day, spicy white pepper.

In the taste there is a huge citrus presence with bitter orange peel and sweetened lemon. Light caramel in the body. Popcorn kernels roasted to the point of almost burnt. Green grass. Something is alive in here. Bitterness sits on the back of the tongue and hangs out, calls some friends over for dinner.

Thoroughly, utterly enjoyable. My wife calls this Mrs. Furious. Just as hoppy, but seductively sweet.

As it warms, some marshmallow is present and then in the middle, hiding amongst all the bitterness and citrus is a line of pure sugar sweetness, which balances everything with precision. Very faint alcohol presence, which is mind blowing considering the 9% ABV.

Had you been at the Watchmen meet-up, you would probably have been served this out of the trunk of my car.

CynicAle. 6.7% ABV. Brewed year round.
Pours a murky straw with a generous head.

Smell: very bright banana, dried apricot, coriander. A lively yeast smell is detected.

A mellow yeast with coriander comes through initially. White pepper is found along with a faint grassy hop flavor. A hint of dried banana comes through. At the finish is toasted malt. Deceptively drinkable for the high alcohol content.

This is the beer that converted a colleague of mine from Miller Lite. Now he has two bottles of Darkness in his fridge.

Surly Bender. 5.1% ABV. Available all year.
Pours an opaque dark brown with a smallish head.

Smell contains faint chalk, light molasses, brown sugar, and a hint of banana bread.

Deeply roasted coffee flavors. At first, a touch of burnt popcorn, chocolate and honey. Hops leave a dry grassy flavor with a hint of dry biscuit. Honey becomes more prominent as it warms.

This is a dangerously drinkable beer.

Surly Coffee Bender. 5.1%ABV. Available year round.
Pours a root beer brown. The head is a thick tan that stays around for a while. Beautiful.

Smell initially contains fresh coffee, then gives way to the distinct roasted malt of Bender. The coffee comes back again with the same smell you get from the residue of a freshly emptied coffee bean bag.

First taste is deep coffee, heavily roasted, and then more coffee. The taste that comes out would be like if you had been given a naked Sumatra bean that had been in the middle of a bag of chocolate covered beans. There is a bitterness here that regular Bender does not have; slightly orange rind with white pepper. Just the right amount of alcohol heat is felt on the exhale, giving this a very warm and comforting feeling. Mouthfeel is not too thick, something like 1% milk.

This is highly drinkable and the addition of caffeine makes it a good warm up to an evening of drinking fine beer.

Bitter Brewer. 4% ABV. Brewed early to mid summer annually.
Pours orange with burnt amber. A great whiff of fresh bright hops in the nose. The hops smell of dry grass and an earthy floralness.

Bright and crackery on the tongue, medium light mouthfeel. A very dry and refreshing bitterness jumps in immediately afterward. The carbonation is just thick enough to give it a casklike quality, and it immediately forms into a thick foam when it is swished around in the mouth.

The best way I can describe the taste would be almost like a dry biscuit or cracker made with a good amount of butter and sprinkled with dry sun-baked summer grass. Alcohol is imperceptible on the exhale. This is a great session beer to watch football with and drink all day.

Well, that’s it on my Surly notes. If you want to drink more Surly vicariously through me, check out the Darkness Day write up I did late last year or the SurlyFest tasting in the Oktoberfest article.


16 Responses to Beer Talk: Surly!

  1. Hilden says:

    I am SO thirsty right now.

    Damn it. Beer run tonight.

  2. leftybrown says:

    It’s been 6 months or more since my last taste of Surly. Living in California I can only get it through friends willing to break US Postal laws to mail it to me. God bless those men and God bless Surly beer.

    (Seriously I could use more Surly Bender, my favorite beer in the world!)

  3. maskedklaus says:

    You know, here I was, all happy, drinking my organic black cherry juice. I thought it just couldn’t get any better. Then you have to go and do this! Now all I can think about is how much I want a Surly. My cherry juice tastes like disappointment now…

  4. Tondog says:

    I’ve never had a Surly in my life. I feel like I’m missing out what with all the lavish praise you guys give it. Well, looks like this situation might have to be fixed sooner rather than later.

  5. Tiggermango says:

    Tondog, I know they used to carry it in the St. Peter MGM and I THINK they had it in the Mankato one too!

  6. MNGwinn says:

    No Smoke?

    16 Grit from the trunk was a highlight of that meetup for me.

  7. Zinswin says:

    Will probably have a review on Smoke later — I’ve never taken noes on it. But get this — it’s really tasty. I opened one of my bottles at MGC and we all had some. Abrasive Ale (the new name for 16 grit) is coming out next week. It is a limited run, but they made a TON of it, so it shouldn’t be impossible to find.

    Tondog, if you like hops, go for Furious first. If you like sweeter beers, go with Cynic. If you like brown ales, try Bender first.

    Above all, for the love of all that is unholy, pour it into an unchilled glass!

  8. MNGwinn says:

    I had Smoke at the Autumn Brew Review, and it’s probably the only smoked beer I’ve ever enjoyed. Damn good. I didn’t manage to snag a bottle though, and it’s probably too late.

    You’re dead on about Furious being highly variable. It’s calmed down a lot since the start – I remember not caring for the first few kegs I tried.

  9. DrLoveNKiss says:

    I need to find a way to get surly here in San Diego. Ever since I heard the high praise about it I have been searching my alcoholism stomping grounds to locate a bottle and it’s nowhere to be found. all we get is Stone brewery and they aren’t that great. Where can I order this stuff!?

  10. Ian (DJI) says:

    Oh Surly Furious! I remember you! I built a nest under a beer pong table and slept in it. In pain. So much pain.

  11. ELewis17 says:

    Zinswin you’ve created a monster. Started with CynicAle to get my toes wet. Fantastic. Moved to Bender and then to Furious. Really liked them all. Thanks for the write up.

  12. Zinswin says:

    Abrasive Ale (16 Grit) is out in stores!! It’s going to be hard to find for the next few days, and it’s a bit pricier ($16.99 or more for a 4 pack). It is better than I remember 16 Grit being, by the way. Todd at Surly is a mad fucking genius. Very much worth the price of entry. It is still limited, only going to be around for 4-5 weeks.

  13. Hilden says:

    Abrasive Ale is fantastic. And powerful. So powerful.

  14. MNGwinn says:

    I had a Surly Schadenfreude (their oak aged dunkel) on tap last night. It was nice, but not as good as some of their other beers. I didn’t get a second one.

  15. Hilden says:

    Wow. Didn’t even know about that one. Where at?

  16. MNGwinn says:

    Bryant Lake Bowl. It’s not on the big board, but they have it.

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