Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries


Beer Reviews


Surly Brewing Co.
Brooklyn Center, MN

Style: Brown Ale
ABV: 5.0%

Eddie’s Rating:
one beerone beerone beerone beerone beer   (Recommended)

Brown ale has always been my one weak point when it comes to beer styles. I just can’t get into ’em. Maybe it has something to do with my mantra of either go all the way or don’t bother trying: brown ales, after all, are just whimpy-ass porters. Not as much color, a little less malt, no roast ’n’ toast, no hop profile to get excited about. Hell, most of them aren’t even brown any more. Tone a brown ale down a notch, and you’ve got a mild ale. Admittedly, milds do make great session brews, but if browns got any more exciting a funeral might break out.

So how are the folks up in Surly going to liven up a tedious style like brown ale? Well, for starters, they put their version, Bender, in a 16-ounce can. Different, I’ll give ’em that. Plus, it’s got my favorite non-traditional grain at the moment, oats, so my hopes are high for this one.

I pour it in a mug big enough for the task and watch a nice large tan head rise up, sporting a fine mesh of suds with pockets of fat bubbles. The head sits over a dark burgundy body with gorgeous ruby glints around the curves of the mug. If it tastes as good as it looks, I’m sold. The nose has hints of chocolate and cocoa, a tiny suggestion of roasted barley, but mostly aromatic malt. So far, so good. The palate is malt front and center, with a bit of tinny hoppiness ala East Kent Goldings (I’ve been wrong before … many times), but both of these are shoved out of the way by a ripple of cocoa, a touch of vanilla, and more than a smidgen of nuttiness from them oats. Another shot of hop crispness seems to close things out … but, chocolate notes linger. And linger. And linger, especially as the beer warms.

Although Bender’s packaging calls this one a brown, the death metal mavens at Surly concede on their web site that it’s really somewhere around a “brown/porter/APA.” I don’t think there’s enough of a hop pop to stretch this toward an APA, but it does indeed intrude upon porter country, mainly with that long chocolaty finish. Despite (or, most likely, because) of this, I actually enjoyed this take on the brown ale. Recommended.

Reviewed by Eddie Glick on January 18, 2008.
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