Surly By the Numbers
Surly’s tradition of anniversary beers was born from the same place as the collaborative beers—a desire to experiment. Haug gave us the lowdown on each of the anniversary beers so far. “The anniversary beers spun off from Darkness and quickly became a challenge of ‘Hey let’s do something that’s a crazy idea,’” said Haug. “Something that we don’t want to do more than once.”
The annual anniversary beer might have been Omar’s idea. At the time it was just me brewing. We’d just brewed our first twelve barrels of Darkness, and then I made this kind of hybrid Belgian Quadruple German Doppelbock kind of thing. That was One. We only made like 12 barrels of it. Omar was like ‘What are we going to do with 24 kegs of this beer?’ There was nothing like it in the market. No one was drinking 9% lagers that are malty and sweet. But that winter, Beer Advocate was just really taking off and Darkness started to get some traction online.
Two, we bottled. Two was a Cranberry Milk Stout. My wife’s dad has friends who have a cranberry bog up in Wisconsin, so I had access to a pickup load of cranberries at harvest. Literally drove up into the brewery in this pickup full of 1,200 pounds of cranberries. I didn’t expect them to completely cook down, but they went through the sieve and clogged the heat exchanger. It was a nightmare. I think I called Linda at 3am and said ‘I’m not done yet. I just hope I didn’t break the brewery.’ In hindsight it’s a beer that we’d probably never brew again.
Three was a braggot. Half honey, half malt. Basically a mead. Not many people make a braggot. It’s like a weird hybrid. It was a pain in the ass, the honey. That sounds like a good idea, until you try to figure out how you get the honey out. Three, we didn’t end up selling that, because that was right when we couldn’t sell growlers anymore. We didn’t do any bottles of Three because we didn’t have a bottling line yet and we couldn’t sell them ourselves.
Four was the espresso milk stout. That one, we wanted to bring coffee into the kettle, not post fermentation like we do with coffee bender. Which is a great idea until, you know, you do the recipe and you’re like ‘holy sh*t, that’s a lot of coffee.’ We basically took a French press approach. The coffee bags floated in the wort.” Haug said the experience of making Four prepared him to make Cultivate Farmhouse ale, as floating dandelion greens presented a similar challenge.
Five was what we always wanted to do with our sour beer program and that’s what started Pentagram. That was the first Brett beer that we did. We’ve learned a lot about processing, the fermentation, and the barrel aging with Five, and we translated that all into Pentagram.
Six was an interesting one. One through Five, they were all dark. Six to Ten are pale. Six was our first pale anniversary beer. We wanted to make a higher alcohol beer than we ever had. It was 14.9% ABV. Bone dry, zero residual sugars left, so the hops and some of the wood tannins really come across. Probably not the most balanced beer, but still interesting nonetheless.
We’d never done any traditional Belgian high-gravity beers, so that was a Belgian Strong Ale finished on Brett. I’ll open one this fall. I think it’s about time. It’s like a Belgian Trappist ale. Not dark, not hoppy, although with some traditional hop aroma, but not American hops.
Eight is an oat wine aged in rye whiskey barrels. I’ve been hesitant to do whiskey barrel aging because everyone does it. Stick it in the barrel and it makes the beer good. I don’t necessarily agree with that. Sometimes it works out. So this beer was engineered to be aged in rye whiskey barrels. Fifty percent oat, 50 percent malt. It’s almost like a barleywine made with oats and barley.
Haug said there are already ideas being discussed for Nine, possibly playing off the German word for no, “nein.” Additional specialty beers are already in the works, such as the recently announced collaboration with California’s Stone Brewing. He hinted at additional collaborations with bands and said that the brewery expansion will allow them to brew bigger batches of the brewery’s special releases. However, the brewery plans to expand distribution in Chicago and add accounts in Wisconsin and Iowa, so future Surly limited releases will probably still continue to fly off local shelves.
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