Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Surly’s 5th at Pizza Nea

"Omar, what do you think of Barking Dog Beer as potential competition?"

This past Wednesday, I met up with Cristof and Dan (of Sammy’s Golden Porter and Darkness Day fame) at Pizza Nea in Northeast Minneapolis for one of many celebrations Surly Brewing is having for their 5th birthday. Each of these events features some interesting variations on the Brooklyn Center brewery’s standards and seasonal brews.

The party we attended featured a cask of their Abrasive Ale (more or less a double IPA) that had been aged in oak barrels. I don’t believe I’d tried an oak-aged beer before, no less one that I’d also tried many times over in its original form (from both cans and tap). The oak aging, and more likely the cask conditioning, gave Abrasive a much smoother body than it normally has, making it dangerously drinkable. The 8.8% ABV didn’t hit me hardly at all until the middle of my second pint. Then bam! Sneaky.

Furious (left) and Oak-Aged Abrasive (right)

I’m not sure if I really liked the oak-aged Abrasive more than the original. I’ll say that I liked the first pint of it more than I would a first pint of normal Abrasive, but the oak got to be a little much after pint number two. For me, this is a great dinner beer and would be smart to pair with a meal of hot Asian barbecue, a spicy Mexican dish or a smoked salmon appetizer. I ended up ordering a shrimp pesto pizza to go with it, which probably wasn’t the smartest selection I could have made had I not been too buzzed to care at that point (afternoon snacks are key in these situations!). We also enjoyed a complimentary Furious with our pizzas, as that was the deal of the night – and apparently is the case on every Wednesday at Pizza Nea. Pretty cool of them.

All that aside, I sure as hell didn’t expect to meet and speak with the founder of Surly and the 2010 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year, Omar Ansari as well as head brewer and the brains behind their brews, Todd Haug. But guess what? I did.

Grant with Todd (head brewer) and Dean (expert Surly drinker)

It was way fucking cool of the two of them to show up at Pizza Nea that night, probably the smallest of all their birthday party events this year. Got to talk to Omar about cask conditioning and the legislative changes they’re pushing for around their potential expansion. Spoke with Todd about his Darkness and Smoke beers in particular, and told him how I actually like Smoke a bit more than Darkness (he agreed – shhhhhhhhh). Omar did a few raffle giveaways – the standard t-shirts, brew kits and hats but also 2008 (damn) and 2009 bottles of Darkness and a 2010 Smoke. I really wish I would have won one of those older Darkness bottles. Oh well.

All in all, it was a very fun night. Cristof, Dan and I have plans to meet up for one of Surly’s last birthday celebrations at Grumpy’s in Northeast Minneapolis tomorrow (Monday) so we can sample Pentagram, the sour beer aged in wine barrels that Todd put together for their 5th birthday. It’s a very limited release, so barring another snowmageddon (what is supposed to be a near-blizzard just started Sunday morning here in South Minneapolis…), we’re going to show up early in the afternoon Monday to purchase our “tickets” so we can get a glass of Pentagram. We’ll see how the weather pans out though. Either way, it’s lucky we have the day off from work!

Cristof isn’t quite as beer-obsessed as I, so when my camera battery died, he kindly took the opportunity to snap all the shots you’re seeing in this post. Thanks Cristof!



Grant and Dan (bread baker) debate opening a "brewkery" based on his "Sammy's Golden Porter" beer bread recipe


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