Untitled-2When I think Friday, I think potential and possibility.

There’s a whole weekend laid out before me, just begging to be enjoyed in whatever way I see fit. And typically, that involves spending time with friends and sampling several tasty craft beers and homebrews. Tonight, all the stars were aligned, and these two worlds came together as several of us had the pleasure of visiting Surly Brewing for a guided tour by the man himself, Omar Ansari.

As many of you who frequent this blog know, I’m an avid homebrewer. It’s my primary hobby. Something I think about more often than I probably should. Let’s just be honest with ourselves and call it what it is…a genuine passion. One of the few things in my 31 years on this earth that I feel has totally enveloped and fascinated me. The perfect combination of science and art. It’s a part of my life that I could absolutely envision becoming a vocation some day. Combined with my nearly 1o years in public relations and marketing, sometimes I wonder if it’s only a matter of time before I get the balls to make a run.

So, braving the bitter subzero Minnesota cold to head out on a Friday night to hang with one of the most innovative and inventive craft brewers in the United States seemed like the perfect way to kick off my weekend. We actually booked our reservation to take part in the tour more than a month ago, as the legion of Surly faithful is strong, growing, and very adept at filling out web forms. You see, this thing usually books up fast. And after visiting the website several times over the past few months and seeing every Friday night booked, I sort of felt like Charlie when he opened up the candy bar and found the golden ticket after my friends emailed to say there were a few open slots coming up. We jumped on it as quickly as we could.

dsc009471We arrived at the brewery just before 6 p.m., and walked into the front lobby where a couple dozen other loyal Surly drinkers milled about, discussing their favorite brews, what they expected to see on the tour, and whether or not there might be some free samples of Darkness at the end of the night. Fat chance, I thought to myself. Darkness isn’t something you just pass out to relative craft beer newbies or uninitiated beer drinkers. It’s liable to kill somebody through pure malt and hop overload to the cerebral cortex. 

After getting our bracelets and drink tokens (five each!), Omar instructed everyone to grab their favorite glass of Surly and follow him to the back where all the magic takes place. After a fascinating background discussion on Omar’s homebrewing experience and how he parlayed it into one of the most successful craft breweries in the country, we mosied on over to the mash tun, fermentors and bright tanks to learn a bit more on the brewing process. I still find it fascinating that, despite the obvious differences in volume, the process of homebrewing is nearly identical in almost every respect to how commercial breweries approach their process. It was also interesting to see the actual tanks where my beloved Furious and Cynic are produced.

During a beer and bathroom break, I wandered up the steps to their control panel on the mash tun, and saw most of the labels were still in Spanish, a remnant I’m sure from the original brewing equipment Omar procured from the Dominican Republic and shipped back to Minnesota more than four years ago. I also found it both intriguing and somewhat surprising that — as I stood there in this vast, relatively spartan warehouse populated with a dozen large stainless steel vessels — the beer that I loved so much was created from such an unassuming set-up. It was masterful in its simplicity. Don’t get me wrong…the skill and craftsmanship required to put it all together is nothing short of amazing. Omar, headbrewer Todd Haug and the entire Surly crew had clearly put their blood, sweat and tears into making the operation a reality over the past several years. But the evening was almost like Dorothy pulling back the curtain, and behind it was a handful of normal guys that just really loved putting out fantastic beer. No frills, no fuss. Just good beer. The beautiful uncomplicated nature of it all really impressed me, if that makes any sense.

We capped off the tour by contributing to the future wellbeing of the business (aka spending lots of money in the merchandise room), and left a very happy group of Surly loyalists. Thanks to Omar for taking the time to share his vision with the rest of us.