"Oh, hey. You’re going to Minneapolis this weekend, right?"
Tortuous words for my friends, for sure, because they’re almost always followed by a request.
"Sweet. Think you could pick up some Surly for me? I’d like some … "
I’d go on, but the list gets longer every time. For a beer that is rarely available in Sioux Falls, our household seems to go through an awful lot of Surly, Minnesota’s rock star craft brewery. And I don’t mean rock star in a “these guys act too cool and flashy for the rest of us” way, but in a “I’m surprised people don’t line up for hours to buy tickets to see them” sort of way.
Except, in a way, they do. Surly Brewing has developed a culture of taste-heavy, off-centered beers that draw hundreds to their on-site events. Lines aren’t rare on the days that the hot brews drop - look for pictures of "Darkness Day" if you don’t believe me.
It’s easy to think that Surly is an overrated media darling. I did. But once you’ve become accustomed to Surly’s style - a canned beer with big bold flavors and a tendency to muddle the line between beer styles - it’s hard imagining anything else. And overrated beers don’t tend to outpace their production like Surly has. We used to get a handful of Surly’s standard selection at places like Monk’s, but since their rise to stardom, distribution has been pulled back to serve only Minnesota - and, now, primarily only the Twin City region. (Work on a new brewery has begun, which will allow Surly to expand their footprint. Thanks be to the beer gods.)
A rabid fan-base isn’t enough to force my friends to smuggle the beer back to South Dakota. It has to actually taste good. And it does. Across the line, Surly’s year-round beers - Furious (IPA), CynicAle (Saison), Bender (Brown Ale), Coffee Bender (Coffee Brown Ale) and Hell (German Zwickel) rank as some of my favorites in style. The usually picky reviewers at RateBeer and Beer Advocate agree, with these five beers grabbing an average score of 96.4 and 92 respectively - nearly unheard of within a brewery’s standard offering.
While I will unabashedly recommend all beers from Surly, I tend to gravitate toward Coffee Bender, which, as the name suggests, is a coffee-infused version of the original Bender. The concept is refreshing at its core - instead of developing a porter or stout with coffee notes, Surly uses the natural nuttiness of a brown ale to serve as the base for a clean coffee flavor. Where coffee beers are often murky and thick, Coffee Bender is clean. Crisp. Delicious, even.
On the hoppier end of the spectrum, Surly is perhaps best known for Furious, the IPA to end all IPAs. Fresh hopped to the gills with an impressive potpourri of hop styles, Furious exhibits the fresh floral flavor of a great IPA without verging into that weird perfumed taste. It’s my second favorite IPA, and recently it’s been giving my favorite (Odell IPA) a run for its money.
While distribution has been pulled, Sioux Falls still gets a nugget now and then. Monk’s still has a great relationship with the brewery, and Surly is always good at sending a few kegs down our way. (Attendees to this past Beervana will remember kegs of Furious and Surlyfest made an appearance.) In fact, if you’re curious what all of the fuss is about, head down to Monk’s on Tuesday, December 4th for their annual Surly takeover. The show starts at 5PM. You’ll be able to score a glass of Surly Darkness, so the rumors go, and you won’t be disappointed.
Surly Brewing plays the role of cocky upstart in Minnesota craft brew culture, but in a way that’s not abrasive (pun not intended). It’s the kid to Summit Brewing’s clean-cut businessman and Schell Brewing’s cool grandpa. But the hype is well-founded, and their growth is good news for both the craft beer industry and for us in South Dakota. Wait a few more years, and Surly will give us what they can part with.
Much to the relief of all of my friends.