Hi there. I’m still gathering my notes from Cleveland, they were rather extensive, so once I have them in some order I’ll post. Also, IT’S FINALLY MARCH! March 2012 was the warmest on record in Chicago and while it’s snowing as I type this, I know that by the end of this month something will be blooming and that first whiff of spring air will send everybody bouncing happily around town. Fingers crossed, everybody.
Today I want to talk about a brewery called Surly because tomorrow at 2pm I will be entering a bar three blocks north and ordering several of their best option: Coffee Bender. The anticipation is causing me to watch the clock like it’s the last day of school and I’m making myself nuts. Especially because it’s Saturday night, it’s only 7 pm, and I have no plans.
A little back story: Surly is a lovely, rather small brewery just outside of Minneapolis. I had the great fortune to visit last December and it was one of the better tours and tastings I’ve been to. They’re tucked away in a neighborhood right off a major highway but you might as well be in the sticks. No curbs and gutters, pickup trucks, etc. but as it happens, that brewery has ingrained themselves with their neighbors and the city, maybe even the state, to the point that they pulled out of the major market of Chicago just so they could keep up demand in their hometown. How stand up is that! They had to pass a new law or two that would allow them to build an on-site tasting room next to the brewery which will change the way Minnesota brews from now on. They cleared the location and myriad concerns with their neighbors, and continue to seal the deal by throwing block parties wherein they supply the food and drink, all in surrounding blocks attend. They help with snow removal and small municipal hitches, all to keep the peace. Everybody wins. It might be one of the happiest blocks on earth.
Surly is no different from every other brewery you may have toured. They put the mouthiest, funniest guy on staff in charge of the tours and let him go, beer in hand (and encourages you to get one too, he’ll even give you a break halfway through to let you pee and get another). He dons the standard-issue brewery work shirt with his name stitched on, he tells stories about the build, the equipment, the area, the laws, how their wives and girlfriends are as much to thank for support as the people who drink the beer, and how everyone else’s jobs sure must suck because he gets to do this. Aside from particular elements akin to each brewery, those talks are almost always the same. Every now and again you get someone talking about how beer is made, where it comes from, etc. but the better tours contain the stories of inception (most of which begin with one guy’s burping, bubbling, amateur system in his basement and its ensuing disasters).
There will always be those guys, too. D&D dorks of beer, and you can spot them in every crowd. They wait until the exact moment to ask about canning vs. bottling, hop varietals and shortages, centrifugal filtration systems (hot), water purification methods, malt roasting times, etc. and they are at every single brewery. You get the feeling that, right along with the brewers, these were science club dorks that never really found a niche until they discovered very good beer. And you know what? I admire them, they found a cool, somewhat mainstream outlet that lets them truly nerd out and make people happy in the process. Good on you, geeks.
The taproom is fairly standard, metal tube furniture and high top tables, a few flat screen televisions on the wall, tile floor, and that rust red paint on the walls. A wooden bar with two sets of tap lines, and a big room of merch for sale off to one side. The tap list I’m sure rotates regularly but when I was there, they were definitely preparing for winter. Lots of stouts, dark ales, spices, chilis, and smoke. I had the Dumpster Fire which while very interesting was way too chili heavy for the pint that was served (12 oz or snifter, I’d have suggested), and in truth I choked down the last three ounces. I also had the Misanthrope which for you sour fans, is probably the beer you’ve been waiting for your whole lives. And while I know for sure I had one more and knowing me it was probably dark, I can’t tell you which. My friend Martin had three I didn’t have, so all together I tried the majority of the list. We here in Chicago get Furious regularly now so I didn’t bother with it (not my favorite).
Enter: my favorite, Coffee Bender (5.1 ABV, $6 16 oz can). This beer has all the things I want in life, at 10 am on a Tuesday. It tastes first and foremost, like coffee. Cold pressed, amazing quality coffee. Then the malty, mildly hoppy brown ale comes in. The creamy head acts like the crema from an expertly-pulled cup of espresso. Every sip elicits a sexy half-closed eyelid and a languid, “Mmmmmmmm” from my softening posture. It is a beer I want to slow dance with. It’s rich while being effervescent, slow while delivering that definite coffee punch, and if it was socially acceptable I would pour an entire pint can into my to go mug rather than the brewed Kenya I have in the container on my counter. Truly, it is one of the most beloved beers on my Top Five Desert Island Beers List. It’s not always easy to find, but I completely recommend seeking it out because if you love coffee, if you love dark beers, and if you love America, this is the beer you’ve been searching for and never even knew it.
Find it in your area at Beer Menus (but change the location, that’s set for Chicago). The prices can be shocking, though I suspect it’s cheaper in your neck of the woods, thanks to Chicago’s taxes. Our prices range anywhere from $6-9 per pint can, and four packs anywhere from $10.99 – $16.99.
Next up: I can finally let you in on a secret that’s been in the works for almost a year! Ladies in Chicago who love beer, drop me a line with your contact information or keep an eye out. We have you covered (finally)!