Location: Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Shocker, right? People who love beer begin homebrewing. In 1994, Surly owner Omar Ansari received a homebrew kit as a gift. Purchased from St. Paul’s legendary Northern Brewer, it became the gift that keeps on giving. The more Omar brewed, the more he enjoyed the craft. And the drinking. Omar’s first real beer came at age 14 at Munich’s Hofbrau Haus, and it made quite the impression. By his early 20s, the growing enthusiast was exploring the country, seeking out the best micro in every region he visited. Omar dabbled for years, regularly making batches that thrilled his friends. Why? Because it was great beer. Or because it was free, you choose. In 2002, Omar and his wife, Becca, had their first child, Max. Instead of traditional birth announcements, Omar created a beer announcement. An EPA was sent to scores of family and friends. Response was kind, and it motivated the new father to get serious. First came all-grain brewing, which quickly overwhelmed the garage. Soon Omar had so much equipment he moved it to the family business, and it has grown from there. In January 2004 inspiration hit the surly man. He loved brewing beer, but it wasn’t enough. He wanted to make more… lots more. The “Pilot Brewery”, Omar’s original “brewhouse” is in Surly’s brewery for test batches. The idea for a brewery was born. A building was procured (owned and occupied by the first-generation family business) and education undertaken. Beer education, Omar enrolled at the American Brewer’s Guild. Many texts and lectures were processed and a week at Otter Creek Brewing in Vermont ensued. Omar’s education wrapped up with an apprenticeship at New Holland brewing in Michigan. At the spring 2004 Craft Brewers Conference in San Diego, Omar met Todd Haug, an experienced head brewer at the Minneapolis, Minnesota, Rock Bottom. That was convenient, being that Omar calls the Twin Cities home. The pair actually attended the same junior high but hadn’t seen each other since. A month later, Omar visited Todd’s brewery and was blown away by his beer. Omar was convinced that the slightly hostile beermaker was bitter enough for the title of Surly head brewer. By fall, Todd was convinced, as well. A year of preparation followed. The family business’ 5,000-square-feet of industrial space was converted to a brewery, and other renovations included rebuilding the office area and installing a tasting room. Mmm, tasting room. Only two things remained. The first was to encourage the fine city of Brooklyn Center, Surly’s base, to change the law and legalize breweries. It didn’t take long, who doesn’t like yummy beer? And good beer makes for good business. (In other words, Surly said “Legalize it!” And it was done.) Next up? Find a brewery. We searched far and wide and finally found one right next door. Sort of. A great used brewery built in Wisconsin was there for the taking. The only problem? It was not in Wisconsin. It was in the Dominican Republic, which apparently is nowhere near the Midwest. After several weeks of international negotiating (translation: wading through b.s.), we had our equipment. A few months of finishing touches followed before they were ready to bring Surly’s vision of great beer to those with a thirst for finer refreshments. Sure there were setbacks; Omar somehow managed to cut his own water line. That happens. You move on. By the end of 2005, all systems were finally go. So there you have it — a brief history of Surly Brewing, Minnesota’s first new brewery west of the Mississippi since 1987. While you’re enjoying the full-bodied flavor of the beer, remember that it was more than 10 years in the making. We think it was worth it. We hope you agree. – www.surlybrewing.com
Abrasive Ale, AKA 16 Grit, D.V.D.A.