Starting New with Todd Haug of Surly Brewing Company

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A lot has changed for Todd Haug and Surly Brewing over the years. Now Haug and Surly are starting new with the Destination Brewery in Minneapolis.

By Brian Kaufenberg
Photos by Aaron Davidson

Name: Todd Haug
Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Works at: Surly Brewing Co., 4811 Dusharme Dr., Brooklyn Center, MN 55429 and 520 Malcolm Ave. SE, Minneapolis, MN, 55414

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The Growler: Turn-Ons?
Todd Haug: Clean yeast profiles, as far as intended fermentation characteristics. The beer should be as it was intended. That is the biggest thing for me. Good or bad, it doesn’t matter, as long as it was what the brewer wanted to do. It doesn’t mean I like every single beer. It might be a horrible flavor I’m not into. But if the brewer wanted to create that flavor and succeeded, that’s where my palate is at.

G: Turn-Offs?
TH: The opposite. A lot has to do with education. There is a lot of not very well made beer, not just in the Twin Cities but all over the country. An uneducated person, in terms of flavors, might consider it okay and not know the difference. Not to sound like a snob, but you don’t want your beer to taste like a bitter butter. But people think that taste is supposed to be there, but it rarely is supposed to be there.

The craft beer world has far outpaced the consumer’s education, so there is now a gray area. Just because it’s local and a new brewery and people are buying it doesn’t mean the quality is there yet. There is a race to open as many breweries as possible, but there isn’t enough consumer knowledge. It’s lacking.

G: What’s in your fridge right now?
TH: HUB (Hopworks Urban Brewery) from Portland. Three Floyds, of course. Surly. Lots of wine, Prosecco. Bloody Mary mix.

G: Where is your favorite place to put one back?
TH: Home. I traveled a lot earlier this year, so to enjoy a beer at home is great. I let my mind drift and not have to worry about safety at the brewery construction site or an employee coming up to me with a brewing question. I go to bars, but a lot of them are accounts and I have to be on point and talk about promos and beers and what’s coming next from Surly. I can’t just chill. At home I can sit on the deck, unwind and play my guitar.

SurlyBP-24G: What was your path to brewing professionally?
TH: I was touring the US with Powermad when I was 19, and our bass player Jeff, who works for Surly now, was a big craft beer guy. Every city we were in we tried the local beer, even though I wasn’t 21. So we’d get kicked out and we’d grab the beer to go and try all the beers back at the hotel. So when touring ended and I didn’t have a job, I was fascinated by beer and the way it all tasted different and I wanted to know why. So I started homebrewing and that set me on the path to my job at Summit Brewing when I was 21.

When I joined Summit, my creative and mechanical aptitude became useful in repairing equipment. I didn’t know when I was a homebrewer how intertwined those two things were—you can have the best raw materials in the world, but if your process stream is messed up, whether it’s a bad pump or poorly maintained equipment, it can ruin your beer. I learned that 20 years ago and since then it’s been a race to learn all I can to make it all work.

G: Who has been your biggest individual influence in brewing?
TH: I’d have to say John Lindberg, who passed away in 2008—he hired me at Summit. Mark Stutrud was away, and it was John who answered the phone. He was the one who called me in to work on the bottling line. It started there. Even though I didn’t get to do a lot of things, I got to watch and observe—welding, soldering, rigging. He was a big influence on that. Also, he taught me about the quality of the beer, which you can’t fake but you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles to do it.

G: Do you see any parallels between playing music and brewing beer?
TH: For me it’s a creative outlet thing. The creative process is similar, but brewing beer takes a lot longer to see results, so it’s a little more methodical—as far as an idea that might become a recipe, then creating a real recipe, and then actually brewing it. That process can take three months or even a year. But music is more improvisational for me. I don’t improvise everything I play in the bands I’m in, but I like to do it. Improvisation is about being in the moment, when like athletes, time seems to slow down. So it’s similar creatively, but one happens in the blink of an eye, while brewing is a little more planned out.

G: What keeps you inspired?
TH: It’s those little moments. I’ll try a beer that we’ve made and I’ll think that’s not quite there, it’s not quite good enough, that could be more consistent, then working with our staff, who do a great job, and work with them on those little things that get missed. It’s working out how to train and develop people better.

Then I might have one of our beers a week later and it’s like having the beer for the first time. That’s very impactful and I realize we’re on the right course, going in the right direction. We don’t have everything figured out, we don’t claim to know everything, but that’s what really keeps me inspired—the discipline that never ends.

G: What is the most gratifying part of your job?
TH: We just had Darkness Day and those events are pretty amazing. To have people really express how important our beer is to them and how good a time they have at our events. To hear how much people like our beer never gets old.

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Brian Kaufenberg is the editor-in-chief of The Growler Magazine.

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