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Surly But Happy in the Twin Cities

How an ex-abrasives salesman revolutionized beer in Minnesota



Less than a decade ago, if you wanted a decent locally-produced beer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, your only choices were Summit—a ubiquitous standby, founded in 1986—and maybe a couple things from Surly on tap, if you were lucky. A few years, some key changes in Minnesota alcohol laws, have changed everything. Surly is now arguably the best-known brewery in the state, with its capacity now pushing 100,000 barrels,|thanks chiefly to their legal efforts, the Twin Cities are now swimming in neighborhood breweries the way Bend and Portland are.

Surly was formed in 2004 by Omar Ansari, salesman for his parents' abrasive-materials firm in Minneapolis, and Todd Haug, brewmaster at the local Rock Bottom franchise. Omar, who got addicted to good beer during college, made a proposal to his father (who personally led tours through Surly until he passed away earlier this month) to convert the family company into a brewery—and, luckily for the Minnesota beer scene, he actually said yes, giving Omar $35,000 and a section of their business building to get started with.

Ansari's brewery grew rapidly out of its suburban-Minneapolis location, to the point where (much like Boneyard's location) every possible square inch of floor space was occupied by large fermenters. This, despite the fact that, until 2011, breweries in Minnesota weren't allowed to sell beer onsite at all—a law that Surly had a major role in changing.

Now, as of a month ago, Surly is headquartered in an enormous brewery/restaurant complex straddling the line between Minneapolis and St. Paul, a true "destination" facility that offers fine dining alongside some of the best beer the region knows. Bearded beer nerds will know Darkness, their yearly Russian imperial stout release, but for everyday drinking, try tracking down cans of either the Abrasive Ale double IPA or the Bender brown ale series, often released in variants with coffee or cacao added.

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