Surly Brewing Company (Minneapolis, MN)

When I lived in Minneapolis, one of my major activities was playing Ultimate (aka “Ultimate Frisbee”) in the Twin Cities Ultimate League, and I met a lot of interesting people playing in that league (including a future mayor of Minneapolis). One of the people I’d regularly encounter in league play was a pretty talented player named Omar, who really liked beer and brewing. He’d occasionally brought some rather good homebrew, and even commented, somewhat jokingly it seemed, that one day he was going to open a brewery. Fast forward a few years to a visit of mine in 2006, we were visiting Gluek’s (a former brewery that still runs a nice tap room and restaurant), and the bartender urged me to try this new, extra-hoppy (this was 2006, before the great IPA explosion) beer from an upstart brewery called Surly, run by a local guy called Omar Ansari. Yup. He did start. First in Brooklyn Center, growing like crazy, and then in late 2014 opened a $30M+ flagship brewery in Minneapolis’ Prospect Park, in a former industrial area that, in the 1990s, I would have never in a million years thought would become a “beer destination”.

Surly’s new “Destination Brewery” is quite a the impressive, 8.2 acre campus, with pretty good access to the fairly new light rail line between Minneapolis and St Paul. In addition to the 100 barrel brewery, there’s a very large beer hall (almost 300 seats), with large garage-style doors opening onto an equally large outdoor patio. And even a second restaurant upstairs serving pizza. I was meeting up with my former boss Bob and his partner Kath for both a brewery tour and dinner in the beer hall before taking a tour. Even on a slightly warm Thursday evening at 5pm, not only was the beer hall packed, but I had actually encountered throngs of people making their way to the brewery from the light rail line as I walked over. I guess it is a destination brewery.

One of the nice things about the beer hall is that they’ve got a very impressive tap list, with over 30 rotating taps at the large inside bar. In addition to all the normal Surly beers that I can easily get at just about any beer bar in Minneapolis now (in many ways, Furious seems to fill the nice that Summit Pale Ale did when I lived in Minneapolis as the default “hoppy” ale on tap), they’ve dedicated most of the taps to specialty beers and limited releases. Myself, I found myself enjoying a 2018 Pentagram, a Brett Dark Sour.

Often with large breweries that also run restaurants, I find that the restaurant takes backseat to the brewery (I’m looking at you, Stone!), but I was really impressed with the beer hall food at Surly; they’ve got a more limited menu of items, but they seem to do a really good job with those items. We started with an appetizer of Brussels sprouts for the table; this seems to be one of the fad foods these days, but the rendition was good: more tender and crispy than greasy, with a light coating of sesame, some cilantro, and a spicy Thai vinaigrette, this was more of a refreshing appetizer than a heavy one.

For my entree, I went with a special: their Nashville Hot Chicken. I’m not sure why Nashville Hot Chicken is showing up on a lot of menus recently, but I’ve always loved the style: a thick, meaty, breaded chicken just dripping with a thick, cayenne-laced sauce, it’s somewhat like “Buffalo Wings” meets “Southern chicken sandwich”. In the classic Nashville style, it’s served bone-in sitting on white bread to sop up the sauce; Surly’s version is boneless and on a pretzel bun, but the combination works: the chicken breast was tender and moist, the breading firm, crispy, and not too thick (this gives you a relatively short dining window before the breading softens from the sauce), and a hot sauce that was, in a show that Minnesota is slowly warming to spicy food, actually “hot” and not just “Minnesota hot”. Add in some nice fries, and this was a good sandwich, and it’s obvious they’ve got an efficient kitchen; this sandwich definitely was fresh and not from a heat lamp or Salamander.

My trip to Minneapolis had enough excess that I eschewed dessert, but when Kath ordered a crème brûlée (one of my favorite desserts), I had to indulge a few bites; Surly’s rendition was a good, solid, crunchy-topped but creamy smooth version, with some blueberries for a bit of a fruit kick. Again, a nicely-executed dessert.

I was really happy to come to Surly, both to have a nice meetup with my old boss, and to see what had become of Surly Brewing’s latest expansion. I hope the beer and brand continue to innovate and do well.

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