Starting New with Todd Haug of Surly Brewing Company


G: Is there a beer that changed your perspective on what craft beer could and should be?
TH: At the time, Anchor Liberty Ale was THE hoppy ale you could get, there wasn’t any other IPA. Second to that was Summit’s Great Northern Porter. We used to rehearse down the street on University Avenue, not far from our new brewery, and we’d go to Johnny’s Bar across the street from the Summit brewery and have a Great Northern Porter, before I ever worked at Summit. That was the epiphany beer that made me more excited than I ever thought I could be about beer and working for Summit. I found out afterward that Summit used to wheel kegs across the street, so we were getting the freshest beer possible.

G: What’s the brewing philosophy in your brewhouse?
TH: Don’t fuck it up.

G: What does the new brewery allow you to do as a brewer that the old location didn’t?
TH: Building the new brewery has been a whole new experience for me, all the phases of construction from selecting architects to building it. This project is whole new ground for me and Omar and everyone at Surly. It’s nerve-racking as we are completely out of our comfort zone. We could have hired someone who had done this before to guide us, but what fun is that?

There is a reason why the beer turned out the way it did eight years ago. Yes, Omar could have hired a consultant, but we went with our gut and didn’t listen to someone telling us ‘you’re doing it wrong.’ That’s how we try to do things. If there’s an easy way to do it, we go the other way and do the opposite because we know there are other ways of doing things.

SurlyBP-23From a brewing perspective the new brewery will have a fully automated brewhouse. Fifteen years ago I would have said no way to an automated system, but as I get older and more into the process side to see an automation element in my brewery will be amazing. Not just from a consistency standpoint—to eliminate a lot of human variables—but it’s just too big to have a manual system. You can’t be in those five spots you need to be in to move valves and check temperatures.

We’re just starting Input/Output checks now, so all the cards that operate the pneumatics switchers, valves, and controls that actuate valves and sensors that give feedback to the computer are about to go live. I’ve never been to a brewery like this, never worked in one, ever. It’s a whole new experience for me, so that’s exciting.

G: What do you see as the “next big thing” in the craft beer world?
TH: Hopefully people will start to realize that a well-made helles lager, or a hefeweizen, or well-made English bitter is still a valid beer. A lot of people get stuck in the mentality of if they don’t like, it’s no good. That’s not technically true. People need to understand that just because they don’t like it, it doesn’t make it bad. If it’s not their preference, it doesn’t mean that product is of a lower quality.

Also, hopefully lower ABV beers get more popular. I know they are in other states, but not so much here. Surly makes low ABV beers, but they are not our biggest sellers. We want to see that pub culture grow—to be able to drink four beers and still walk home. But it’s the 6–8% beers that are popular, overwhelmingly hoppy or strong, and that limits us brewers. I know brewers would love to make beer they could drink all day.

G: Favorite beer and food pairing?
TH: It changes. It was my birthday recently and we went out and had the Oktoberfest Pizza at Pizzeria Lola and Hell. It’s a pizza with housemade sauerkraut, bratwurst sliced like peperoni, with a horseradish cream sauce on top. Paired with our helles lager, yeah that made me pretty happy.

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About Brian Kaufenberg

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

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