Serious Eats: Drinks

A Pint With: Todd Haug, Surly Brewing Co.

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Todd building a work platform for a new wort-spinning whirlpool. [Photographs: Surly Brewing Co.]

I've been a fan of Surly Brewing Co. ever since my friend Lee of Hoptopia gave me one of his precious cans of Furious, an intensely brisk IPA with some rich Scottish malt thrown into the mix. (Thanks, Lee.) Who's behind this awesome Minnesota beer? A rock star. Literally.

Name: Todd Haug
Location: Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Occupation: Head Brewer, Surly Brewing Co.

What's the Minnesota beer scene like? How does Surly fit into it? How has it changed in recent years? The MN beer scene has exploded in the last four years. Everybody wants to take credit for it but I think it is a result of everything coming together at the same time. Surly sells all of our production in MN, so people are pretty excited about our beers. With no end in sight, out of state brands will continue to come and go, but clean local/fresh beer will never go away!

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Todd, the young rocker.

How did you learn to brew? When did you know you wanted to make beer professionally? I became interested in local/fresh beer when I was touring the US in the metal band Powermad at the age of 19. During home stints I started homebrewing and soon was brewing 2-3 times a week. As music stopped paying the bills, brewery work started to. I picked up a part time job at Summit and really discovered what professional brewery work entailed. I was hooked and after a year of part-time work I started shift brewing. The good part: I developed my brewing/mechanical aptitude and met my future wife while employed at Summit. The bad: I was not creating new beer flavors. So I moved on, tried to get a paying music gig to no avail, and got a job at a local brewpub called Rock Bottom. Rock Bottom was the perfect place for me to create new and unique beer, so I took advantage of the opportunity for ten years. I left Rock Bottom four years and ten months ago to work for Omar and put Surly's brewery together.

How would you describe your brewing style? You make some seriously intense beers, like Furious, but also some sessionable beers...what do they all have in common? Regardless of ABV or IBUs, I always strive for over-the-top flavors and body, which come from high quality/unique raw materials, not filtering, and careful beer processing.

How do you develop recipes for Surly's latest creations? How do you get inspired? I have a knack for creating flavor combinations in my head, it's like writing music—hearing it in my head before picking up the guitar is the best example I have.

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From left to right: Ben, Sarah, and Todd on the canning line.

Why did Surly go with cans instead of bottles for most of the lineup? I've been a fan of beer in cans forever; Omar was receptive to my idea eventually. My wife Linda contributed the 16-ounce size idea. We brew with a high percentage of finishing hops and cans do not allow any light-struck off flavors to develop.

What's your favorite Surly beer to drink on a hot day? Bitter Brewer, which is our 4% ABV Americanized English Style Ordinary Bitter.

What are your favorite Surly beer and food pairings? [I like] Hell with sushi, Furious with anything blue cheese, Cynic and charcuterie, Smoke with pork and adobo from my wife's restaurant Cafe Twenty-Eight, Coffee Bender with French toast and bacon.

If you could only take five kinds of beer (and only one Surly) with you to a desert island, what would they be? Surly Bender, Fantome Saison, 3Floyds Topless Wytch, Piece Golden Arm Kolsch, and Russian River Blind Pig IPA.

Surly-loving volunteers are making an effort to do something good in a series of Surly-organized public service projects. How did this come about? What sort of good work are you doing? Omar started that. He and Mary Selke run the whole thing. Omar saw the huge potential our beer event volunteer base had for public service, and it has been a big success. Blood Drive at the brewery, Minneapolis Bicycle Greenway Cleanup, and food drives are just some of the ongoing efforts.

What's coming up for Surly? What will we see in the coming months and over the next year? We have some big process/material handling projects at the brewery this year: spent grain pump, malt handling system with new malt mill, can date coder, whirlpool install, new FV's installed, and maybe a new fall bottled/canned beer?

Any chance you're going to expand your distribution? Not in the near future.

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